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Sep 27, 2007 06:03 PM

Laja (SD)- Dress Code

I am headed to Laja this Saturday night for the first time. Can anyone tell me what to expect in terms of the dress code? Do men need jackets? Or is it more similar to the Gaslamp with its dressy-casual attire? I am sooo looking forward to this meal- I want to make sure we look appropriate!

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  1. It's not super formal, but it is dressy. I wouldn't say a jacket is required, but he won't feel out of place in one.

    1 Reply
    1. It's dressy-casual. Button-down shirts and jeans for guys, simple dresses on the women. I didn't see anyone in t-shirts, but it's not a very fancy environment.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Josh

        Agree with Josh jeans and a button up w/ dress shoes is just fine. Last time I was at Laja the place was empty, really we were the only two people in the place. I hope they are doing well. Please report back, as I'm planning a return trip in the near future.


        1. re: stevuchan

          Thanks guys. I will report back on both Laja and on tonight's dinner at Manzanilla. Mmm... I'm getting hungry already.

          1. re: bethsd

            Please do! I am hoping to get back there sometime soon myself, and try Manzanilla this time too.


      2. After two amazing, but completely different, dinners at Manzanilla and Laja, we left Ensenada at 12:15pm yesterday to drive home. We arrived in our San Diego driveway at 6:15pm. Yes- 6:15. The six hours included a bathroom break, a gas stop, several re-routings by TJ police, then a cash bribery discussion with a TJ policeman who pulled us over for running a phantom stop sign. Still, that left a full four hours of sitting at the Otay border crossing thinking about the previous night's dinner and discussing the question, "Was it worth it?". The collective answer was yes, it was worth it to experience Laja, but no, we will likely not be returning anytime soon (and by soon I mean within this decade).

        We started at Manzanilla on Friday night. With 2 bottles of wine for the 4 of us, the bill came to less than $100 dollars per couple. Unbelievably reasonable for such great food, service, and atmosphere. I had never eaten upstairs there before and really enjoyed it. We started with a rather large amuse bouche- a tortilla espanola. Simple, but sooo good we all wanted more. Then, we shared orders of smoked clams (my favorite from our last visit), yellowfin tartare, and beef tatare. Once again, I thought the clams were the best. The tartares were very good, but weren't really unique.

        For dinner, I had the pescado del dia- the yellowfin- which I end up getting every time because I get there so infrequently. The grilled fish came with perfectly crisp-tender vegetables and an almost-sensual tasting risotto. There is something about the way they spice the food here. It is truly spicy and flavorful without being spicy hot or tasting overly salty. I would like to learn how to do that. My husband enjoyed his duck with risotto so much that I barely got a bite. I think it was very good.

        Saturday night was Laja. We did the seven course tasting which was $760 pesos per person without wine. The final check after 3 bottles of $50- $80 dollar wine between 4 people came out to about $250 dollars per couple. For those of you worried about thier business levels, good news, the dining room was nearly full. The dress code recommendations were perfect- we were all in nice jeans and dressy tops and we fit right in.

        The first two courses, a carrot veloute soup drizzled with chive oil and a salad of mixed lettuces with figs and parmesan cheese were very very good. The soup tasted rather ordinary at first, but got richer and fuller with every bite. The salad was so crisp- and the figs added the perfect amount of sweetness. It was rather jarring after Manzanilla the night before to go from the heavily spiced food to the much more simple preparations that just highlighted the ingredients, and I think that might be why it took me a few bites to really appreciate both dishes.

        Next came a bluefin tuna tartare which was dressed with a simple oil that had been infused with cippolini onions. It tasted lighter and fresher than any tartare I have had before- it was a completely different class than Manzanilla. The tartare was followed by handcut fettucine with white clams in olive oil and garlic. The clams were so plump and tender and the pasta was so soft (not mushy overcooked- light and soft) that you barely had to chew. This was my favorite dish.

        For the main courses, we started with a roasted rock cod with roasted piquillo peppers, eggplant and onion and a puree of fresh almonds and leeks. Wow. The aroma of the four plates hit our table while the waiter was still five feet away. This was my husband's favorite. It was so flavorful, but didn't taste like they used many spices- they just managed to really coax every bit of flavor out of every ingredient. I wish I had the vocabulary to describe better- all I can say is amazing.

        The lamb may have been just as good, but I was so overstuffed at this point I couldn't tell. It was braised and roasted local lamb with mustard greens and butternut squash gnocchi. Again, we could smell it before we could see it, and spent a few moments just fanning the aroma towards our faces and drinking it in. The only disappointment of the evening- my husband's lamb was seriously overcooked to the point of being medium well to well done. Since I was too full to eat mine, we switched plates. I did, however, manage to eat every one of the gnocchi. They were so sweet that they almost tasted like carmelized squash- and I felt like I had eaten dessert.

        I thought we would get a choice of desserts at the end, but they brought us both. There was a pomegranite granite with melon and guava sorbets which I did not appreicate. I found the flavors to be almost jarringly incompatible. Maybe it was just too sour for me after the sweet squash. After that came a crisp chocolate brownie-like dessert with vanilla ice cream that wasn't on the menu (I assume that they had run out of the lemon panna cotta that they had listed). Despite my protestations of being too full, I ate every bite. It was perfectly bittersweet and not too rich.

        This was the best one-two punch of dinners that I can remember experiencing. And I don't want to overstate things, but Laja may be the best all around meal that I have ever had. It is just such a shame that it is so difficult to get over the border these days- and I am not sure that I will go back unless there are some significant changes in the process...

        9 Replies
        1. re: bethsd

          Re returning from Laja: this year (2007) the Tecate border crossing has been much better than TJ. For me, even on Sunday nights it's been only 2 hours or so; on other nights an hour or less. It's not a 24-hour crossing, though, so you have to plan ahead. If you're at Laja or Sylvestre you're already partway to Tecate, too. Be careful of the big trucks, don't pass where you can't see, and leave while there's still lots of daylight so you don't have to drive at night.

          1. re: jayporter

            I'll second Jay's recommendation to cross in Tecate instead of Tijuana. It will take you out of your way, but it is faster and less frustrating and/or stressful. If you want a taste of Tecate before crossing, read "Tequila, Lemon and Salt" or "Enchiladas, Rice and Beans" buy David Reveles, both a compilation of short stories about life and love in Tecate (almost all of them contain food)

            1. re: DiningDiva

              We went through Tecate, but we still left Adobe Guadalupe at 10 AM and arrived in our driveway (in La Mesa, just off the 94) at 3. It was grueling.

              1. re: Alice Q

                Any border crossing in San Diego County is a difficult, lengthy and often frustrating wait, particularly on Sunday, and most especially a Sunday that is either the last or almost last day of a major holiday. The congestion has been brought to you by the DHS which is located in Washington DC and truly has no concept of the impact of political policy (and this post will not be about political policy). Last week the border state governors from both the U.S. and Mexico met and the single biggest item on their agenda were the back ups on the border. As the govrnor of the state of Baja California said, border crossing policies create monumental traffic jams FOR Mexico, increase pollution, increase crime and increase the opportunity for dishonest cops (US and Mexican) to shake down crossers. Clearly, it is a situation that must change before it implodes. So until Washington decides to implement some systemic changes to the way it manages our border crossings frustration and chaos will reign. Coming back is the single biggest reason I won't go to Baja (Norte) with any regularity.

                If getting back quickly is a priority, I would have left Adobe Guadalupe earlier than 10 AM. It still 60-90 minutes to Tecate and another 45-60 minutes of SD back county roads. Same thing with leaving Ensenada or PN or Rosarito to cross at Tijuana, I would leave very early in the AM (as in daybreak, 6 or 7 AM). It's easier to cross very early on a Sunday morning or very, very late.

                The border crossing is a PITA, in Tecate the pain is just a little shorter and a little less painful.

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  The day we went through they had one lane open - and the traffic was backed up for MILES. We would have been better off at San Ysidro, but how would you know. We definitely plan to leave at the crack of dark to come home next time. (And to be honest - I think it actually took longer than that - it's all just an unpleasant grueling blur at this point - I think I blocked it out!)

              2. re: DiningDiva

                nice to see Reveles getting some mention. great short stories.

                1. re: ibstatguy

                  I believe he is one of the featured authors at the 2nd Annual International Book Fair at City College this weekend. I love his short stories. I think he really captures life on the border so well.

            2. re: bethsd

              Outstanding report beth!
              My mouth was watering on your descriptions of the food at Laja..
              Too bad the restaurant can't hire a private bus to go down for the Saturday evening crowd and return safely to the will be worthwhile for them to look into.

              1. re: Beach Chick

                Thanks for the great report Beth, The menu sounds very close to what we were served last visit. I've recently had the same problem at the all of the borders. I've had less delays at Tecate, but from now on I will be extending my trips into the weekdays.


            3. When I went I was in nice pants and Tmmy Bahama shirt. Laja can be very warm. The time Iwas there I found the inside to be so warm it was almost stilfling and leacked any cross ventilation.