Al fresco eatery delights with local ingredients, eco ambience
By: W. Scott Koenig
In the past decade, Baja California Sur’s culinary options have evolved from tourist-friendly eateries and fish taco stands to include elegant, design-forward al fresco farm-to-table dining destinations. Restaurants such as Hierbabuena Hortaliza in El Pescadero, Jazamango in Todos Santos and Flora Farms in San José del Cabo offer dishes crafted of fresh produce gathered from onsite gardens, meat procured from local ranches and seafood sourced from area fishermen, co-ops and aquaculture farms.
The foothills just north of San José del Cabo in particular have evolved into fertile farm-to-table ground. Dense palm forests provide shade while runoff from the Sierra de la Laguna mountains during rainy season accommodates natural irrigation for restaurant-tended gardens in this otherwise arid region. With the abundance of gardens, local ranches and availability of oceanic delights, this area is also fertile ground for imaginative chefs.
In addition to Flora Farms, the foothills are home to farm-to-table restaurants Los Tamarindos and the restaurant at Acre — an eco-resort founded in 2011 by Canadian friends Stuart McPherson and Cameron Watt. Acre is actually 25 acres of lush foliage with high-end treehouse accommodations, event space and an organic garden. The al fresco restaurant and bar are nestled in a deep sea of palms and greenery and, according to the resort’s website, are the “heart and soul” of the property.
Acre’s executive chef Alex Branch has helmed kitchens in Mexico City, Playa del Carmen and most recently chef Enrique Olvera’s Manta in Cabo San Lucas. He honed his skills working in Asia, Europe and Australia. His travels inform the menu at Acre where dishes are described as a “marriage of global influences and local ingredients.” Indeed, during the five-course tasting menu we enjoyed, recipes referenced ingredients, flavors and techniques from Italy, the Mediterranean, Peru, Africa and Mexico.
An example is the playfully-named “Porktopus”, a combination of crispy pork belly – ubiquitous on the Baja peninsula – and tender grilled octopus, a staple of the Mediterranean. The pork is bathed in a slightly sweet, profound and sumptuous manchamantel. The Poblano-based mole combines tomatoes, chilies, nuts, seeds, spices and fruit — typically pineapple, plantains, apples, raisins and apricots. A dense, malleable and spicy oblong of North African harissa adds texture and another dimension of international influence.
The ceviche of callo de hacha consists of fresh, flavorful and firm local scallops presented in a pool of piquant aji amarillo — used in the preparation of classic Peruvian-style ceviche. It’s topped with avocado dollops, pickled onions, cilantro and serrano chilies, which contribute to the Mexican aspect of this dish. By serving the scallops atop the sauce instead of mixed with it – a la ceviche Peruano – the callo can be enjoyed au natural or given a dredge in the aji amarillo for added flavor and heat.
The burrata salad features a bright bed of crisp farm-fresh mustard greens, cured Acre toy-box tomatoes and luxuriant Italian burrata – stracciatella cheese mixed with cream and encased in mozzarella. The entire affair is served in a zesty, decidedly Mexican dressing of habanero and tomato. A duo of accompanying crostinis can be used as a delivery vehicle for any of the tangy dressing left after one has finished the salad.
For dessert, we enjoyed Acre’s exquisite key lime merengue in a velvety, pungent lemon cream while our 11-year old son finished a bowl of house-made coconut ice cream with toasted coconut shavings as he not-so-patiently waited for us to eat and drink our way through the tasting menu and suggested wine pairings.
The only disappointment of the meal may have been the wine pairings. While a Spanish verdeo, Sonoma pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon from the Mexican state of Coahuila were all outstanding – and well-paired – wines from Baja California were notably absent and sorely missed. It’s also a missed opportunity for the restaurant to introduce diners to the award-winning varietals and blends from their neighbors to the norte and further fulfill their mission of offering local products.
Acre does boast an impressive program of refreshing cocktails and also work with palenques in southern Mexico to produce a line of fine mezcals — ranging from a simple, sweet and peppery espadin to a complex and fruity tepextate that’s redolent of sweet plantain. We sampled the mezcal at a small bar in a palm clearing outside of the dining room with the charming and intelligent Roxana — who provided us with an education on the production of and proper way to sample the agave spirit. Acre mezcal can be purchased in the restaurant’s adjoining gift shop.
The tasting menu at Acre is a splurge-worthy $1,450 pesos (approx. $80/US) and an extra $900 pesos (approx. $50/US) for the pairing. Appetizers range from $245 pesos (approx. $14/US) for the Acre Salad to $610 pesos (approx. $34/US) for a dozen locally farmed oysters. Individual entrées range from $325 pesos (approx.$18/US) for bao buns stuffed with al pastor to $765 pesos (approx. $43/US) for an aged 12-ounce Prime NY Strip.
Acre is located on Calle Sin Nombre (street without a name), Animas Bajas, 23407 San José del Cabo, B.C.S., Mexico. Be prepared for some dirt-road driving, but nothing a 2WD rental car can’t handle. Reservations are required and can be made by calling +52 624 171 8226 or visiting www.acrebaja.com.
San Diego-based lifestyle writer W. Scott Koenig is founder of the blog AGringoInMexico.com, author of the book 7 Days in The Valle: Baja California’s Wine Country Cuisine and has written for Discover Baja Travel Club, Destino Los Cabos, DiningOut San Diego and SanDiegoRed. Scott organizes and conducts professional and private culinary tours of Baja California and has assisted with film and video productions in the region. He has worked with the Food Channel, the BBC, KPBS and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).