“The markets are full of mandarins, apples, sunchokes, berries, oranges…they all come with the season,” says Chef Roberto Alcocer of Valle, a California Michelin Guide restaurant, delighting in the gifts of winter in Southern California.
As he composed the winter menu for Valle, Alcocer says he played with these flavors, as well as rich meats associated with hunting season, like quail and duck, woodsy alliums, root vegetables and mushrooms, and of course, the abundant offerings of the Pacific Ocean, including king oysters and luminescent abalone.
“It’s the traditional flavors that come to mind when you think of winter, but with a Baja vibe,” he explains.
Cozy and Comforting
Usually when Alcocer mentions a Baja vibe, we start dreaming of cool, fresh dishes like his legendary ceviche, but for winter he’s gone in a heartier direction. “We want people to feel warm and cozy and comfortable,” he says, referring to the braising, roasting and grilling that’s got his kitchen team all fired up this winter.
One of the dishes that Alcocer says best embodies the earthy spirit of the winter menu is the barbacoa de pata, which is barbecued duck from Sonoma’s Liberty Duck Farm, served with a green pea purée and grilled onion. Alcocer says the flavorful ducks are always a favorite among Valle’s guests and he’s excited to pair them with hearty winter flavors.
He also delights in the richness of the grilled king oyster, served with celery root fettuccini and porcini butter, and the trifecta of caramelized, grilled and pickled onions served with Texas’s Rosewood Ranches wagyu.
The season’s sunchokes are roasted and paired with black and white garlic to complement the catch of the day from Oceanside’s own Harbor Pelican Market, resulting in a dish that’s wholly sourced from within just a few miles of Valle, while the marinated grilled quail on the tasting menu is flown in daily from Valle de Guadalupe — to truly convey that Baja vibe.
A Feast for the Senses
To really appreciate the splendors of the season, Alcocer recommends booking a table early so that you can take in the winter sunset (which happens right outside Valle’s windows between 5:30-6:00 p.m.) whilst enjoying a cocktail. Frida’s Kiss, a combination of blanco tequila, elderflower liqueur, pomegranate, and lime, will mirror the spectacle of the setting sun with its rosy hue and mellow notes of sweetness and piquancy; but there are also several options with warming spices, including the Polanco, a mole-infused whiskey with ancho chili liqueur and chocolate bitters, and the Maravilla, a spiced apple cognac enlivened with orgeat, lemon and sparkling wine. For those who’d prefer a robust red wine, Kerubiel, a blend of syrah, cinsault, grenache, and mourvèdre that’s been described as like a Chateauneuf-du-Pape with a spicy kick, from Baja’s Adobe Guadalupe vineyard, perfectly sets the stage (and the palette) for the meal.
An Appley Ending
As a finishing touch, Alcocer’s choice is the Manzana, a fuji apple tarte tatin with cold apple mousse. While we would never suggest that Chef play favorites, he humbly counts this dessert as “one of the highlights of the season.”