While most of the pleasures of Todos Santos are accessible throughout the entire week, the weekend does hold a few special treats that make it a great time to venture to town.
Weekender’s Friday: A Little Todos Santos Magic
Erick and Michael of Michael’s at the Gallery
Each weekend on the main street of Todos Santos a subtle transformation takes place. At the Galeria de Todos Santos long-time Todos Santos resident and artist Michael Cope calmly cleans his brushes, puts them away and pulls out his knives. His wife Pat coolly closes the gallery’s books, sets them aside, and lights a series of fires in the garden. His fellow artist Erick Ochoa collectedly covers up his latest canvas, dresses in black and prepares his mind for delivering to the people of Todos Santos exactly what they deserve. Which happily turns out to be mouthwateringly delicious Asian Fusion cuisine served in what that morning was the sculpture garden of Galeria de Todos Santos, but is now this evening one of the best restaurants in town, Michael’s at the Gallery. This transformation takes place only on Friday, Saturday and sometimes Sunday nights, and being a part of it is worth the trip to Todos Santos alone. Michael mans the open-air kitchen and what a great show it is. He cooks up Vietnamese crab cakes, tuna poke, seared tuna with wasabi butter, shrimp and scallops in Szechuan or red curry sauce, filet mignon, Mu Shu Pork, wok-tossed fish in Chinese black beans, and fish in teriyaki or wasabi sauce. Every dish is excellent, every time. Erick mans the bar and he and Pat work together to make sure guests always feel well attended and have what they want. Fire pits throughout the dining area add to the lovely ambiance of the garden and help ward off any chill night air. It’s a wonderful Todos Santos experience. Reservations strongly suggested. Tel: 612-145-0500
Weekender’s Saturday: Art & Theater
Last night you met Erick Ochoa in a supporting role but today you’ll meet him as the President of the The Palapa Society of Todos Santos, AC, a Mexican non-profit that benefits the children of Todos Santos. The Palapa Society has had a huge impact on the local community through Bridge-to-English, its after-school English language program that pairs local kids with native speakers of English. The Saturday morning art classes run by Erick and other artists such as Gloria V are not only an opportunity for the kids to gain some excellent instruction from established artists, but an extension of the opportunity for them to hear and speak English. Volunteering
Volunteering at the Palapa Society
with the art classes is a tremendous amount of fun, a great way to get involved with the local community and a nice path to being an active part of this artists colony for a while. Art classes are usually held at The Palapa Society, but the class often spearheads public art projects around town – you can see their handy work in many places, including their latest mural of the fisherman’s beach along the back wall of the Parque de Pinos. The Palapa Society is such an exciting thing to be a part of that Peter Buck of the rock band REM now organizes an annual Todos Santos Music Festival to raise money for it and help fund the numerous scholarships that it provides not only for the Bridge-to-English program, but for the high school and university education of Todos Santos students. For more information contact Donna Viglione:
After your volunteer session, mosey on over to one of the town’s many great food establishments for lunch, taking your pick of several charming cafes, killer local joints, and taco stands – Caffé Todos Santos, Cafélix, Ataxcon, Taco George’s and Miguel’s are all great options. But be sure to leave room for dinner this evening at El Teatro Luna Azul – Blue Moon Productions. Started by long-time Todos Santos residents Isabel Smyth and Raul Cavazos, El Teatro Luna Azul brings the idea of dinner and a movie to a whole new wonderful level. Once in a blue moon, i.e., whenever they feel like it (which tends to be most weekends during the season), Isabel and Raul invite the public to their huge, open air theater space where they show fascinating, hard-to find movies ranging from classic to controversial, musical to mystery, altered lives to the altered planet. Prior to some shows – but not all – they serve creative meals featuring seasonal fruits and vegetables fresh from their on-site garden, prepared in their open-air kitchen. The movies are great fun, but they are perhaps more famous for their live theatre productions in which they use local talent to bring comedies, musicals and the performing arts to the community. Isabel and Raul also host full moon drumming and music nights, and they’re known to get in hot bands for nights of salsa dancing. All-in-all it’s worth checking into their web site periodically to stay up-to-date: teatrolunaazul.com
Now if it happens that Isabel and Raul don’t have what you’re looking for on the Saturday night you’re in town, it’s always worthwhile to check in with the Hotel California and the Hotel Guaycura as they both regularly book fun bands in on the weekends. The Groovetrotters and Tim Lang are great additions to the music scene to be on the look-out for, and it’s worth noting that the Todos Santos Music Festival will be in January at the Hotel California.
Weekender’s Sunday: Bird Watching and Dharma Talk
After the excitement of Saturday night, a calming Sunday morning of reconnecting with nature and your inner serenity is just the ticket. The early morning quiet of Sunday morning is the perfect time to get out in the lovely surroundings and observe some of the 135 bird species that have been spotted around Todos Santos, including several endemic species such as Belding’s Yellowthroat, the Cape Pygmy Owl, Xantus’ Hummingbird, and the Mexican Thrasher. Todos Santos’ unique confluence of three different eco systems – desert, ocean and marsh – attracts a large diversity of birds and most visitors add to their lifetime birding lists during their stay.
Then head over to La A.R.C.A. in the historic district where ordained Buddhist priest, passionate poet, avid artist, renowned physician and somatic therapist Robert Hall gives a Dharma talk on a particular topic each Sunday morning, followed by a period of guided meditation. A founder of the Lomi School and member of the Spirit Rock Mediation Center’s Teacher’s Council, Robert has focused his long career on the integration of mind, body and spirit. He has taught thousands of students all over the world and served as a mentor to hundreds more. Now, in his so-called retirement in Todos Santos, residents and visitors alike can be inspired by his Dharma talks, and find calm in his guided meditations. http://www.eldharma.com/
Enjoy a nice lunch at one of the town’s enjoyable lunch spots such as as Bistro Magico, Compa Chava’s, El Pastorcito or Pura Vida before heading back to Cabo or La Paz in the afternoon.
Famous Iron Chef Rick Bayless created an episode called Todos Santos Magic for the recently-aired Season 8 of his PBS series, Mexico, One Plate at a Time. We created much of Rick’s itinerary for the Todos Santos segment, and Sergio appears in a fair bit of the program with Rick. Now you can enjoy some of the same, off-the-beaten path places and activities that Rick did – as well as a few more gems he didn’t have time to get to!
Food Lover’s Day One: Treasure of the Sierra de la Laguna
Doña Ramona at her stove
Today you’ll head into the Sierra de la Laguna mountains to meet Doña Ramona, a woman honored by the state of Baja California Sur as a state cultural treasure – and you’ll see why soon enough! Working in the outdoor kitchen that her husband built for her 50 years ago, Doña Ramona, with help from her daughters and daughters-in-law, will instruct you on preparing incredibly delicious beef or fish machaca in the traditional manner, using her family’s metate (grinding stone) to shred the meat, cooking it over the wood-fired stove in her kitchen, and serving it up with traditionally prepared tortillas and other side dishes that you’ll make yourself. Doña Ramona is a fabulous cook, but it’s actually the pottery that she makes for cooking and dining for which she has won such great acclaim, and during your class you’ll see why leading Todos Santos restaurants like the fabulous Café Santa Fe use her pottery in their kitchens. It’s a cooking class unlike any you’ve ever had before, and what made her one of the stars of the Rick Bayless show on Todos Santos!
This afternoon head back to Todos Santos to relax and treat yourself to a trip to La Bodega de Todos Santos, the town’s only wine store that exclusively features Baja California vintners. Started in 2010 by California wine country native Mac Sutton, La Bodega is the perfect complement to what he describes as “the incredible, inventive gastronomy of Todos Santos” and reflects his philosophy of Eat Local, Drink Local. There are tastings on Monday nights from 5 to 8 PM, with 3 glasses of wine for 140 pesos and complementary tapas, and there is also Big Red Wednesday (same hours), during which guests can buy red wines by the glass and enjoy tamales and tostadas from Doña Guillermina. It’s a wonderful introduction to Baja wines. Mac and his sweetheart Perla Garnica are also the organizers of the most excellent GastroVino Festival de Todos Santos. Building on the extraordinary success of their debut 2012 festival, the 2013 festival will be May 18-19, and will again feature wine and food pairing dinners, Baja wineries, local restaurant cuisine and live entertainment. It’s definitely an event to mark down on your calendars! La Bodega’s regular hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 12-7 PM.
This evening enjoy one of Todos Santos many extraordinary restaurants. The Café Santa Fe has long been justly considered one of the best restaurants in Baja, and a meal there should be included in any Todos Santos itinerary. Another option is the lovely Landi’s, where high Mexican cuisine is served in a lush garden setting.
Chef Dany at the Hotel California
Food Lover’s Day Two: Preparing the Perfect Meal – It Takes a Village
Today you’ll take in the glorious scenery and nature of Baja, all the while preparing for the evening’s master cooking class with Hotel California Executive Chef Dany Lamote. Start the day off with a trip to Basilfields, a beautiful organic farm that supplies many of the restaurants in Todos Santos. Here the owner will give you a tour of the farm and help you pick out the fruit or vegetables you want to have transformed into tortillas for the evening meal. Yep, that’s right. Whatever fruit or vegetable strikes your fancy – spinach, tomato, strawberry, nopale, basil, mint – we’ll take it to a local tortilleria that will turn it into a batch of fresh, delicious tortillas for you by the end of the day. With the tortillas in process, head out for a desert canyon walk to learn more about the beauty and bounty of the desert, then reward yourself for your exertions with lunch at one of the town’s great local restaurants like El Pastorcito – best place in town for tacos al pastor, or Compa Chava’s – a cute local joint serving up dynamite ceviche. After lunch head over to the beach at Punta Lobos to procure the final ingredient for tonight’s meal – the fish! Todos Santos is home to two fishing cooperatives whose captains and crew are all 4th generation fishermen and you’ll buy the fish from them right as they land with the day’s catch. Doesn’t get much fresher! After stopping to get the tortillas, you’ll head to the Hotel California where Chef Dany will be waiting for you with a multi-course dinner menu and the Baja wines and tequila to match each course. If you’re lucky there’ll be avocado milkshakes for desert. While the cooking class at the Hotel California is extremely fun and very informative, you can also choose to have a wine-pairing dinner prepared for you at Dany’s own restaurant – Santo Vino – which specializes in the wines and cuisine of Baja. It will be a magnificent feast either way!
Food Lover’s Day Three: How Sweet it Is
This morning find your way over to Los Colibris Casitas for a Huevos Rancheros Master Class with local lawyer-turned-chef, Iker Algorri. Connoisseurs of huevos rancheros may argue among themselves about what makes great huevos rancheros great, but they all agree that the secret is in the sauce. And it should be known to all comers that Chef Iker has created the definitive huevos rancheros sauce– the Coloradito. So this morning you’ll learn from the master himself about his Coloradito Sauce, and a few others as well, so that you too can return home a true Mexican breakfast master.
Chef Iker Algorri at Los Colibris Casitas
Now as some of the sauces might have a little kick to them, your next stop should be Paleteria La Paloma, surely one of the best ice cream shops in Baja and home to an inspired range of local ice cream and sorbet flavors including lemon-rosemary, rose petal, passion fruit, pitaya, corn, mamay and guava, as well as the more traditional fare. Ice cream not your thing? Then keep on heading to the edge of town to the dulcerias, or sweet shops (Rick Bayless enjoyed a stop here.) The Todos Santos dulcerias are famous for their locally-made candies including cocada (coconut macaroons), jamoncillo (milk and piloncillo – unrefined sugar), zorrillada (milk, piloncillo and requeson – a special kind of cheese), coyotas (sweet baked empanadas with cajeta or cheese) and chimangos (sweet fried bread). You can also often find local honey from the ranches as well as damiana – a local aphrodisiac – in liquor or leaf form in season.
Playa Las Palmas
This afternoon walk off your morning indulgences at one of the most beautiful beaches to be found anywhere, Playa Las Palmas. Nestled between two rock cliffs, this beautiful expanse of sand is framed by a huge grove of Washingtonian palms growing right up to the beach and a fresh water spring that has created a lovely marsh area for birds. There are horses that live in the palms so don’t be surprised if they come over to see if you’re carrying any leftovers from your foodie endeavors. If you don’t feel like the beach then take your stroll in town and enjoy the town’s many terrific art galleries and creative shops.
This evening enjoy one last meal at one of Todos Santos’ restaurants relatively new restaurants started by young Mexican Chef Sergio Rivera, who creates spectacular seafood, sushi and steak dishes at La Casita Tapas and Wine Bar. You can’t go wrong!
About 50 miles north of Cabo on the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula is a pueblo magico called Todos Santos – All Saints. And truly, the handiwork of all the saints seems to be reflected everywhere in our home town. It’s easy to imagine that St. Anthony (San Antonio), the Patron Saint of the Desert, had his hand in the underground springs that make the town a true desert oasis, thick with palms, lush with lagoons and filled with the birds they attract. St. Francis (San Francisco), Patron Saint of the Environment, seems like a sure bet for the town’s seemingly endless miles of pristine beach – home to 5 of the 7 turtle species found in the world, host to surf breaks that make the town one of the best surfing destinations on the Cape, and favored people watching spot of gray whales on their annual trip to Baja because they can get so close to shore. St. Isidore (San Isidro), Patron Saint of Agriculture, almost certainly got in on the act with the vast orchards of mango trees and fields filled with strawberries, chilies and herbs, while St. Peter (San Pedro), Patron Saint of Fishermen, could easily be the wily soul who ensured no natural harbor in the town to keep the waters from being overfished and therefore full of bounty for the intrepid local fishermen, masters of the surf launch and landing.
But perhaps the saint who most shaped the town with his piece of manna was St. Aaron (San Aron), the Patron Saint of anyone who lives a passionate life. Todos Santos may be a tiny town but it is filled with Mexican and expatriate artists, chefs, musicians, fishermen, photographers, philanthropists, surfers, sculptors, farmers, film-makers, potters, spiritualists, naturalists, adventurers, entrepreneurs, explorers, yogis and more, all pursuing their passions in this paradise that draws, inspires and drives them. The result is one heckuva place to indulge your passions for travel and adventure so grab your St. Christopher (the Patron Saint of Travelers) and head to Todos Santos for (at least) three perfect days.
Now perfection, like beauty, is really in the eye of beholder, so we’ve created 3 sets of 3 perfect days, each of which shows off a particular aspect of the town and the surrounding environment.
These days it seem like the world has gone just plain crazy for Baja cuisine. The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Public Radio – these are but a few from the 4th estate that have lined up to gush over chefs and restaurants that are giving Baja – heretofore best known to outsiders as a totally rad surf scene dude – a bona fide “food scene”. So while it was the surfers who first made the terms “firing” and “shredding” famous in Baja (all surfspeak for surfing really well) it’s the chefs who are breathing new life into the terms in the culinary revolution that is sweeping the peninsula.
But what exactly is it that the chefs are firing and shredding? Of course there’s the bounty from the two seas, and all that great produce from the organic farms that populate the region. But most of Baja is desert and when you look out at it, it can seem kind of desolate, maybe a little forbidding, definitely thorny. What’s there to eat? Turns out, quite a bit (if you don’t mind getting your fingers pricked)!
Sergio preparing pitaya at home
Take the pitaya. The Baja peninsula is covered in this cactus andChef Danyof Santo Vino/Hotel California likens the fruit of this plant to a red kiwi. He loves to cook it up with ginger and butter to make sauce for his Cabrilla (sea bass), and he’s also found that it makes a zingy vinaigrette for his salads. Our local ice cream stores in Todos Santos and La Paz report that pitaya ice cream is a perennial best-seller, notwithstanding the fact that the pitaya fruit is disgustingly healthy, packed with cancer-fighting antioxidants and Vitamin C. In fact, Juice Generation, a chain of smoothie bars in New York City, is promoting the pitaya as “the next big superfruit”, following in the footsteps of pomegranates, mangosteens and acai.
The tuna, or prickly pear, is the fruit of the nopal cactus, another ubiquitous Baja dweller. While Chef Dany likes to use the prickly pear for his dynamite fish salsas, and others like to pair it with tequila for a zingy barbeque sauce, Chef Rick Baylesslikes to make Fresh Prickly Pear Ice as a refreshing dessert, and many folks in Baja share this enthusiasm for sweets made from tunas and regularly cook up prickly pear jelly, prickly pear syrup and prickly pear candy. Like the pitaya though, the tuna is ridiculously healthy, being high in magnesium, taurine, Vitamin C, calcium, potassium and antioxidants.
The leaves or paddles of the nopal are another great staple of Baja cuisine. Sergio Jáuregui (yes, our very own Sergio ofTodos Santos Eco Adventures) likes to make what he calls nopal “quesadillas”. He cleans the paddle, grills it on both sides, then melts his favorite cooking cheese onto it – usually Oaxaca or Manchego – and fries it up. Delicious! (In that deep-fat fryer / comfort food kind of way.) Chef Dany’s favorite way to eat nopal paddles is equally tasty (and far more healthy): he puts it raw in salads with cubes of onion, tomatoes, local fresh cheese (queso fresco), parsley and cilantro – magnifique!
There are many more cactus plants from the Baja desert that make great eating, including the biznaga – which many chefs include in their chiles en nogada – and yucca, whose lovely white flowers make a great stir fry in Chef Dany’s wok.
But the real test of any Baja food is: can you make a margarita with it? And for all of our featured cacti here – the prickly pear, the pitaya, the biznaga and yucca – the answer is a resounding YES! Just swing by Santo Vino or the Hotel California some evening and prepare yourself for a most delicious treat (and don’t be afraid to try it at home either!)
Brown-Garitas for Everyone!
Chef Iker Algorriof Café Brown likes to use a plant local to Todos Santos – damiana – to make his world-famous Brown-Garitas, a sure crowd pleaser:
1 shot of of tequila
1 shot of controy or triple sec
3/5th shot of damiana
Splash of lime juice
Splash of fresh orange juice
Blend it up, serve with love and enjoy! Oh, and damiana is widely considered a potent aphrodisiac so best to enjoy your Brown-Garitas with friends!
If you’d like to learn more about cooking with Baja foods please contact us about our Cooking Adventures Week here in Todos Santos. It features fun, informative classes with both Chef Dany and Chef Iker, as well as lots of time in the glorious nature of Baja, checking out the bounty of the ocean and desert.
Thanks to Janine Wall for her help with this article.
Photo by Jocelyn Mathe for the Journal del Pacifico article, Surfing Santeños
When you head out to the surf breaks of Todos Santos you don’t see many people who can trace their ancestry back through five generations of Todos Santeños, but 23-year old Dany Torres can. While many Mexican residents of Todos Santos prefer to leave the water well enough alone, Dany’s grandfather used to go body surfing at La Poza (please don’t try this at home!) and his father met his Canadian mother while working as a dive instructor in Cabo. It’s a family that clearly loves the water, but it was an American who gave him his first surf board at the age of 12 and, like his surfing American neighbors, it completely changed his life. Now a budding architect in Todos Santos with several projects underway, Dany says “Surfing defines my days. I surf early in the morning during the week because of work commitments, but on the weekend I’ll often surf all day long.” As a dual Mexican-Canadian citizen he has plenty of options for places to launch his career. But for Dany, there’s no place like home. “I’ve surfed all over mainland Mexico, California and Canada and I really love surfing at home the best. Not only are the waves great, but there is no territoriality. I’m actually one of the youngest surfers around which is great because the older surfers are very laid back and really happy to share the waves. That relaxed atmosphere just adds to the magic of this place.”
This profile is part of our article, Surfing Santeños, published in the Summer 2012 issue of Janice Kinne’s Journal del Pacifico.