Don Bauder 9 p.m., Aug. 22
Ensenada trip part 1: Carbone's
Last weekend, I trekked down to Ensenada to spend the weekend with friends nearly dying of heatstroke during a bicycle race through the Guadalupe wine region. I incorporated as much local dining as possible into the trip because opportunity knocks almost constantly in the food- and drink-saturated hospitality zones. I had to work as hard as I could to spend $150 dollars over the course of the weekend, hotel and every other expense included.
The first noteworthy stop during the trip was Carbone's Grill House, which is at the corner of Calle Delante and Bucaneros in Ensenada. It's certainly not a secret, but it was new to me.
As far as I know, I started this whole "potatoes" thing a little while ago, Ed Bedford ran with it, and then ran with it a little more. Now I've got the reins back and I'm confident that this most recent magical potato experience sets new standards for excellence in stuffed spuds.
Carbone's has managed to enhance the experience of eating baked, stuffed potatoes in a way that defies the reality of potato bars and how they never really caught on in the States. "Papas" cost fifty pesos each, which is about $4, and come topped with everything from plain cheese to the "specialty of the house" that had enough meat and salsa piled on top to give the average vegetarian nightmares for a week. All the papas are available as tacos for about $1.50 each.
A significant number of the papas on the menu contained pineapple, which is pretty cool, but I had to go with the "papa campirana" with green chilis, corn, cheese, and sour cream because I have a soft spot for the rajas (peppers). Instead of merely stuffing a baked potato, Carbone's kitchen transformed the tuber into something halfway between a mashed and a baked potato, then stuffed it into a tinfoil schooner that held everything together for a second round of toasting in the oven.
Sweet, salty, cheesy, starchy festival of awesomeness. I wouldn't eat one of these every day. No, that's not true, I totally would and I'm glad that Carbone's is all the way in Ensenada so that I don't have the opportunity to feast on papas until familiarity breeds contempt and overindulgence breeds deep-seated loathing of self and spud.
It seems that Carbone's stays open late and that the stuffed potato might be the ultimate food to cap off a night of drinking, but I found the papas were perfect for warming up and having a few beers before starting the night-out in earnest as well. However they're handled, it's tough to go wrong.