Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ostrich, Deer, and Quail in the Baja Wine Country

Review: La Casa de Ladrillo Restaurant

by Betty V.

On a bright sunny Saturday afternoon this January, my husband and I decided to drive into the Baja Wine Country for a day trip of lazy adventure. We approached the town of San Antonio de las Minas at the entrance into the Valle de Guadalupe and made the first right into the small village when we observed the flags signaling us that there was some sort of restaurant "that a way". Not knowing what to expect from what appeared to be some out of the way taco stand and hungry, we took a chance.

We parked the car a few blocks away as we wanted to walk on this perfect winter day. We walked trough the town, passed a flowing creek on our way towards the flags that signaled us to walk down the dirt road to the restaurant.

At the end of this dirt road, we found a sign that said Ostrich, Quail, and Deer. "What the heck?" was our first reaction. We entered the premises and found quite a surprise. Welcome to La Casa de Ladrillo (House of Brick)

To start off, we sat on the comfortable sunny tree lined patio and ordered a pitcher of Jamaica, a cold juice drink made from the hibiscus Sabdariffa flower - a bit more tastier and much more interesting than a typical coke or that awful Monster caffeine enduced soft drink! LOL!

Talking to the hostess, it turns out La Casa de Ladrillo was originally a typical house on a small piece of ranch land. It was turned into a restaurant about 4 years ago.

Arnaldo Pedrin Peralta, owner of La Casa de Ladrillo, worked as an accountant for 30 years when he decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship. He had several businesses until the big Mexican devaluation of the peso in 1994 hit him hard. After this devastation, he decided he'd had enough and headed north to Juneau Alaska to work in the fishing industry. As it turned out he ended up working in the food industry instead. He also worked in a hotel where he meet several international chefs that showed him better ways to prepare and showcase food.

With this experience he came back to his native Ensenada. He began by working as an insurance agent. But that was short lived. He was then offered an opportunity to run the Hacienda restaurant down the street from his current La Casa de Ladrillo. He did this very successful for several years.

La Casa de Ladrillo serves a typical Northern Mexican style food. It serves its famous Barbacoa (lamb pitt barbeque). However, their food is not exactly your typical Mexican food as most people may know it. They specialize in Deer, Ostrich, Quail and Crab served in the traditional Mexican style. The food is hardy tasty country style. This is down home cooking in the Valle.

Hidden at a dead end of the street nestled next to a creek with many trees, the outdoor ambiance is picturesque and decorated with traditional Mexican artifacts. The indoors area is very homey, warm, and inviting with an old stove as a centerpiece. The restaurant, gardens and the entire property is serene, extremely neat, and clean.

We ordered their famous Barbacoa. It was served in an aluminum foil shaped dish to keep all the juices warm. The shredded meat was juicy with plenty of the strong succulent flavor that we expect from a lamb dish. Each bite was just a treat for us meat eaters who love that unique gamey strong taste. It came with corn tortillas, a dish with sliced limes, onions, and cilantro along with a side dish of fresh country style beans, not refried - more like a bean soup.

We are in Mexico eating the way hearty Nortenos eat and it was good. Truly, this was simply a great meal both filling and delicious. Boy was I satisfied with this place!

Señor Arnaldo and his staff were friendly and their service was excellent. With local Baja visitors like Jaime Andrade and Martha Mallet with Aimee Andrade and Gabriela Meza from Tijuana who made the 1 hour drive south for a day trip especially to visit La Casa de Ladrillo, this place is a word of mouth establishment that is a destination because it can't be found on the main road.

After our meal, Señor Arnaldo spent some time with us giving us the story of the restaurant. He told us how a group from Mexico City came from the TV station Televisa to tape a show on him and his famous Barbacoa. They were featured in a Mexican gourmet program showcasing regional cuisine from the north part of Mexico. He told us about his long term plans to expand it and to add a playground for children and more gardens over time. No rush here, just something there plan on doing soon. Hey, this place is laid back and really a neat find so let's not change it too fast right!

This is a place that I will definitely be visiting often, not only because the Barbacoa is my favorite, but because I want to try their Deer and Ostrich next time. In fact, I am bringing my mother with me because I know, being from the Sinaloa area, she would appreciate the truly Mexican flavor of this hearty place. I can't wait!

From Rosarito drive south on the toll road about 40 minutes. You will reach a toll booth as you enter Ensenada. About 1/2 mile past the toll booth, you will see a sign that says RUTA VINICOLA (Winery Route), turn off and go east for about 15 minutes, as you come down into the valley, you will see the town of San Antonio de las Minas, make a right into the town (only 1 street), make a right on the first street and go down till it ends

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