Laja versus Per Se?
Last week, my wife and I took two friends to Valle de Guadalupe. The friends had asked us to arrange the visit to coincide with their return home to the East Coast after a trip to Maui. Our friends are well traveled and live with a view of the New York City skyline from their hillside New Jersey home. They are rather serious when it comes to fine wine and dining. Before we crossed over the border, one friend mentioned their recent dining experience at Per Se, Thomas Keller’s restaurant. She reported that the food was excellent (in spite of what she said was a ridiculous price).
I have eaten many meals over the past several years at Laja and, in contrast to others on this board, have always found it quite good. We brought our friends there for dinner and the following day our friend made an unsolicited comment, comparing Laja to Per Se. She felt the food was equally good and added that the complete experience at Laja was more memorable than Per Se.
I have eaten at Bouchon in Napa Valley but never at Per Se, Ad Hoc or the French Laundry and I make no such comparison. However, I must admit that last week’s meal at Laja was fantastic. More surprising, neither chef Jair Tellez or Andres Blanco were at Laja that night, just the rest of their team members. Impressive.
We stayed at La Villa del Valle which has opened (unofficially) a new restaurant, designed by Alejandro D’Acosta, the brother of acclaimed wine maker Hugo D’Acosta. (He has also designed the wine cellar which is under construction and has to be seen to be believed). The restaurant may have a few bugs to work out but they have just hired up-and-coming chef Diego. Like Laja, this restaurant has organic gardens on site. Previously I believe dinner was only available to hotel guests but the new restaurant is a destination itself. It will have to prove itself as the two or three miles of dirt road between it and Highway 3 are a challenge at night. There is a shorter route off the El Tigre road but it is poorly signed and is not passable during the rainy season.
A plus for la Villa del Valle's restaurant is the price of their Vena Cava wine (made with grapes from their small but expanding vineyard and two of Hugo D'Acosta's vineyards); $25. That is the same price if you buy it from the hotel to take home.