THIS SUMMER’S MUST-HAVE MEAL IS BEING SERVED UNDER A TREE IN MEXICO

If you love great food and unforgettable dining experiences, here’s a sweet little road trip that should be on your itinerary this summer.

Acclaimed Baja chef Javier Plascencia and photographer Jaime Fritsch have brought their Animalón pop-up south, serving an 8 course meal under a century-old oak tree near Plascencia’s restaurant Finca Altozano in the Valle de Guadalupe. There’s a deck built around the base of the vast tree, which has multiple trunks arching outward to form a domed canopy. With thick foliage drooping around the perimeter, and lanterns hanging from its branches, the unique outdoor space feels almost like an enclosed restaurant.

On its own, the special, peaceful setting is worth the two hour drive from downtown. But the $90 ticket also includes eight courses of chef Plascencia’s outstanding food, and impeccable dining service throughout a leisurely and memorable meal that beautifully captures all stirrings of Baja wine country in our collective imaginations.

If it wasn’t such a gorgeously rendered paean to Baja-Med cuisine, I’d almost think of it as a consolation meal. When Plascencia stepped away from his restaurants in San Diego earlier this year, our culinary scene lost some of its shine. His presence elevated our national profile, and his insistance on sourcing a broad spectrum of traditional Mexican ingredients literally brought a greater palette of flavors to our city.

But nothing compares to visiting Plascencia in his element. For this Baja excursion, expect to be treated to star ingredients sourced from the region’s farms and oceans, like locally-farmed Kumamoto oysters, served within a bed of seaweed, topped by a grape from the vineyard you’ll pass on the way in. The next course, you may encounter a potato blini topped with caviar. All of them feature such beautiful presentation, you’ll stop to take a picture. I think I saw more photographers at this dinner than at a press conference with the mayor.

Limited to 50 tickets per day, the pop-up runs until September 9th, with seatings at 5:30pm and 8:30pm. Courses will change depending on ingredients and inspiration — during my visit, we were treated to the freshest imaginable uni, sous vide smoked abalone, buttery yellowtail aguachile, tender pork jowls in green olive mole, and this ranchero inspired cut of steak.

This dining excursion may be factored into a Baja day trip, but take my advice and gather a group of friends to stay in the valle overnight, so you can embrace the optional but highly recommended drink pairings with each course — $40 treats you to a curated bevy of local wines, and potentially barrel-aged beer, sweet liqueur, or mezcal.

If you don’t go, brace yourself. Because your social media feed will soon fill up with photos of friends who did — if it hasn’t already. And unless you happened to make it to Noma Mexico, you will feel as though you missed out.

Tickets here.

Photos 2 and 6 courtesy Lindsay Bullis