I have heard Drew’s name around the campfire when traveling with my Off Road buddies. It didn’t mean anything at the time, I guess I was not thinking clearly. My partner, Eric Morley, had been telling me for months that, just like the wine, Deckman’s was a “Must” experience in the Valle.
Eric and I finally found ourselves at Deckman’s, late in the evening, on a Sunday. They were happy to take us in as the last guests of the night. I dropped Eric and our guest off at the front entrance while I parked. Remember—in the Valle at night, it is pitch black!
This was where my love affair with Deckman’s restaurant and Drew began. As I walked into the open-air kitchen, I saw Eric talking to Drew like they were long lost friends. I assumed that Eric knew Drew and had just never eaten at the restaurant. That’s when Drew walked over to me with a big smile on his face, a firm handshake and a hug. He showed us a table right in the heart of the action and told us he had some special wine for us to try. We were given one of his best servers who quickly showed us around the menu and made some great recommendations.
At Deckman’s, the entire kitchen is outside and in plain view as you walk into the seating area. The flames roasting vegetables, the open fire cooking tortillas, and the variety of meats on the grill all make for an incredible aroma begging you to order everything on the menu. I am a steak person so I immediately notice a rib eye on the grill, the size of a small car. It’s perfectly seasoned with sea salt and flame. I already know that’s what I am going to order.
Drew is known for his seafood and, more specifically, his oysters. You do not want to miss the oysters. The corn tortillas and fresh bread show up to the table with a wonderful green dipping sauce. This is about the time where the grilled items start showing up along with more fresh seafood, eclectic vegetables seasoned and cooked to perfection, platters of yellow tail sashimi with peppers and fresh olive oil, grilled quail, and the most amazing, roasted, melt in your mouth, bone marrow you have ever tried.
It’s at this time that the grilled rib eye shows up. It is always cooked to perfection, served on a family size platter, sliced thin for the table to enjoy, and has the most incredible flavor I have ever tasted in a steak. The combination of sea salt, a hot fire on the grill, the wood used to make that fire, and the time it has been cooked, all equal absolute perfection.
On a few occasions the meal has been accompanied with the smoothest and most delicious mashed potatoes I have ever tasted. Drew was happy to share the recipe—Butter, Cream, Potatoes!
If you have room for dessert, order up. I have tasted a little bit of everything he has on the menu. I suppose it’s the farm to table aspect of collecting fresh eggs, milk, and cheese (and I am sure the list goes on) that makes his desserts stand above all others in the Valle. My favorite is his chocolate tarts and vanilla ice cream.
Deckman’s is a special place for everyone to enjoy. Plan on a wonderful experience that you will never forget. Come early and enjoy the landscape and the views. Stay for the food and wine. Introduce yourself to Drew and feel at home just like I have this last year. Hopefully I will see you there.
Cheers! Jim Riley - CEO of Adventure
My trips to Baja traditionally start early in the day so I can beat San Diego traffic as I blast towards the border as I crave some street tacos and a Mexican Coca Cola in a bottle. I have Motown music on the radio, thanks to Candela Bar in LA. I know that after crossing the border, a few quick rights, and one big left towards the toll road, a little more than five dollars in toll payments, and a terrific view, I will be just north of Ensenada.
My first stop is always El Trailero Taco Stand along the highway. My standard order is three Al Pastor tacos with fresh avocado, no onion, and an ice cold Coke. There is something about sitting in an open-air restaurant looking out at the busy streets that immediately transports me to another time and place. Maybe it’s the year’s worth of race team stickers posted all over the walls and air ducts above the grill. Or maybe it’s just the incredible memories I have shared on that patio with fellow racers and friends that have helped me support the orphanages over the years. Regardless, I feel like I’m at home.
After a great meal and a few bucks, I am ready to hit the Valle. My first stop is at the Santo Tomas winery. They are the oldest winery in the Valle and have an incredible selection of wines and olive oil. I am always greeted with a smile from Ruben as he dazzles me with some new knowledge at the wine counter. Ask him to take a tour and you will never think of wine the same way. He is a master at description and Baja wines.
When I leave Santo Tomas I like to make a quick stop at the local cheese store. It’s just east of Santo Tomas winery before the first light on the right. And yes, directions are that easy in Mexico. The cheese is fresh and they have over a dozen choices to choose from. It’s my wife’s favorite thing to enjoy down there or when I bring it home. Besides, if the border wait is long, it could be your dinner.
My next stop is Monte Xanic. They have been producing luxury wines in the Valle for thirty years. You must have an appointment to tour the facility but it’s worth the extra effort. Besides, you know Baja United if you are reading this—they will surely get you an appointment if you ask. The drive up to Monte Xanic is stunning. Some of their oldest vines are at the entrance on the East side and on the West side is a flower farm where you can see them harvest almost year around. You gain access to the property by passing a lake and the hillside winery. You are able to taste through a number of varietals but I like to try the ones that are not available anywhere else but there. You can’t go wrong with the Gran Ricardo or the latest Grenache for 2018. Take your time and enjoy the view.
Sometimes when I leave Monte Xanic I head over to the Russian Empanada restaurant. Most people don’t know that the Valle is filled with Russian immigrants but in 1905 the Mexican President, Porfirio Diaz granted a Russian sect 13,000 acres in the Valle De Guadalupe. It’s worth the stop and it’s only five minutes from the winery. The easiest way to order is just ask for one of each type of empanada. Another major discovery for me in the area. They have a great little store there to buy dipping sauces and olive oils.
The final winery for my day is always El Cielo. This is one of the most beautiful properties in the Valle with all the amenities you might need. The winery itself is a must see with the barrel aging rooms and beautiful area for tasting wines. This is the place that I realized Baja Mexico had some of the most incredible wines. I was introduced to the Cappicornes Chardonnay here and knew that would be my next favorite wine. Period.
Jim Riley, CEO of Adventure
Baja Is Calling
If you don’t know what I’m talking about then you have never been to Baja. This is a magical place that hits your soul and never leaves. I am fortunate enough to have been traveling South since 1983.
In the 80’s, the roadside was plastered with Corona Beer stands where you could buy beer by the case and you had to return the empty bottles. Those were the days when the surf line-up consisted of one local on a swap meet board and a couple dolphins in the distance. We bought cheap roadside tacos and fresh bread from the Panaderia.
Now it’s tough to find a surf line-up not filled with surfers and fisherman. The Corona beer stands are overrun by OXXA stores (selling all kinds of good stuff) and the taco stands still sit in the same places.
I like to go on a weekday to avoid the crowds and discover the real adventure that now resides on the roads of the Valle De Guadalupe. The best parts can be found in the wineries and the restaurants. Almost every place is down a dirt road and feels undiscovered. The doors are open, the signs are welcoming, and the wine is terrific.
It’s nothing like Napa where you feel like you need a reservation and a Porsche to get through the gate. As a matter of fact – a good old fashioned pick-up truck does just fine in the Baja wine country. I have made countless friends in the last twelve months of traveling through the Valle. All you have to do is stop and say, “Hello.”
Most wine owners are unassuming and willing to tell their story. I was surprised to hear how successful many of them were. They are almost untouchable amongst their corporate lives in Mexico City, yet here they want to share every detail of their passion for wine.
I could talk about each and every wine and what I love most about them but this story is more about encouraging you to get in your car and drive South. In less then an hour from the Tijuana border you will reach Hwy 1. From there, head East and look for the first sign that catches your eye. Don’t be afraid to hit the dirt road and create your own adventure.
Get out of your comfort zone and see what genuine Baja hospitality is all about. The restaurants are a little harder to find but if you ask a local, they will tell you where the best chilaquiles are every time. After you spend a day down there, you will know why Baja is calling.
CEO of Adventure
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