Growing up in Morocco‘s Casablanca, Bo Bendana was warned that every girl had to learn how to cook, or no one would marry her. “But I don’t want to get married!” 12 year-old Bo told her mother. In spite of her resistance, Bo’s mother taught her to cook. That early introduction to savory ingredients and exotic spices contributed to the success Chef Bo is enjoying in Mexico’s Baja California.
Her “Moroxican” (Moroccan-Mexican fusion) restaurant, Mi Casa Supper Club, with its airy Mediterranean-style décor and oceanfront location less than an hour’s drive from San Diego, is drawing patrons from both sides of the border for open-to-the-public dinners, private parties, and holiday festivals.
California transplant, Bo Bendana, is putting Rosarito’s cuisine on the foodie map.
Mi Casa Supper Club Is Born
In 2006, Bo Bendana and husband Dennis Sein moved from their home in Newport Beach, California to Rosarito Beach. Rosarito is just a short drive over the Mexican border on Baja peninsula. The first fledgling concept for Mi Casa Supper Club began when Bo offered a dinner at her home for eight people to raise funds for the Boys and Girls Club. Much to her surprise, that dinner was sold for close to $1,000.
Friends urged her to open a restaurant, but Bo was not ready to take on such a major undertaking at that time. But those friends insured her that whenever she was willing to cook, they would come. So Bo and Dennis – a wine connoisseur and collector in his own right – started hosting gourmet dinners with food and wine paring in their own home, once a month. The dinners were private; a membership card was necessary to gain admittance to the dinners.
The private suppers were wildly successful. The monthly menu would always include dishes that were not the most common, and guests were at first a little apprehensive: rabbit, lamb, duck, escargot. Appetizers ranged from raw oysters to pumpkin mussel soup with toasted peanuts. The dishes were painstakingly prepared and pared with fine wines, and in the end, their guests raved about them and clamored for more.
Word of the delectable dinners eventually got out, and Bo suddenly found herself flooded with phone calls – many from outside Mexico and United States – from people eager to snag an invitation to the home dinner parties. “I couldn’t do that,” says Bo. “They were strangers and this was where we lived with our two young children.”
After careful consideration, Bo and Dennis decided to open a semi-private restaurant. Mi Casa (“my house”) Supper Club is open to the public except for one Saturday evening per month, when they continue with the “members only” eight-course food and wine paring dinner party.
The restaurant location couldn’t be better. Just off the highway, with ample parking, the beautifully appointed dining room overlooks the deep blue Pacific, providing a stunning panorama for sunset cocktails or suppers.
Mi Casa is a little different than the typical restaurant style. For one thing, it’s only open on weekends. And then there’s Bo’s cultural approach to cooking. Because the basis is Mediterranean, by default it ends up also gluten-free. Everything is fresh and made from scratch, even the sauces. “I was forced to learn how to cook,” laughs Bo, “which in retrospect, was a very good thing.”
In addition, the restaurant’s menu changes every month, and has included such mouth-watering specialties as juice-oozing short ribs, poblano escargot in epazote compound butter and parmagiano cheese, coffee almond crusted swordfish with potato pave and carrot puré, and dark beer ice cream.
“One of the dishes that our guests love is Zaalouk,” explains Bo. “It’s a cooked salad made with grilled eggplant (aubergines), tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, olive oil and spices. It’s a common side dish to many meals in Morocco and is usually served as a dip with crusty bread… but at Mi Casa we serve it in smoked paprika sopes. It’s representative of my “Moroxican” cooking.”
Most of the culinary emphasis in northern Baja focuses on the gastronomy in Tijuana and the growing popularity of the Guadalupe Valley wine country in Ensenada. With Mi Casa located between the two regions, Bo has worked diligently to bring respect to the foodie reputation of Rosarito. “18,000 Americans live in Rosarito,” said Bo. “A lot of them don’t want to drive to Tijuana or Ensenada, they’d rather eat here, at the beach.”
Sabor de Baja Festival
In 2013, Bo and Dennis came up with an idea to do a “white summer party” with food and wine paring in an effort to bring more attention to Rosarito. Bo approached Hugo Torres, owner of the renowned Rosarito Beach Hotel. The hotel was made popular mid-century as the hot spot for Hollywood stars and starlets. It was a match made in heaven – the hotel’s romantic rooftop terrace with food, wine and music, and at the town’s beloved hotel – both expats and locals have great affection for Mr. Torres who was also the former mayor of Rosarito and has done much for the community over the years.
The first Sabor de Baja (“Taste of Baja”) in 2013 was a success, and the subsequent 2014 celebration was even better, necessitating moving the venue from the rooftop to the much larger space in the oceanfront gardens. Almost 500 people paid $60 each, dressed in white, to attend Sabor De Baja this past August 27th in the gardens, sampling some of the best food and drink in Baja.
“With her great reputation among Baja ‘foodies,’ Ms. Bendana was able to attract most of the guests plus the best chefs in Baja,’ Mr. Torres proclaimed.
Thirty-two restaurants and producers of wine or beer combined for the pairings. The winner chosen this year by the panel of judges was a pairing of Martin San Roman from his new restaurant La Terrasse at Guadalupe Valley with a wine from Vinecola Alximia, also in the wine valley. Chef San Roman paired marinated pork with hibiscus and grape sauce with an Alximia Libis blend.
Celebrity judges were Sam Zien (Sam the Cooking Guy), Scott Koenig (The Gringo in Mexico), Joaquín Fernández Rizo, Javier Gonzalez, and Javier Plascencia.
As for Bo, her favorite was the pairing of the People’s Choice winning dish – a cone (made of wonton), filled with fresh tuna tataki and ponzu sauce, citric juice, wasabi with mango and Persian cucumber topped with an avocado/wasabi cream. The perfect wine selection was the 2013 Madera 5 blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
“Baja’s cuisine, wine and craft beer are having a wonderful resurgence, thanks in part to attention from celebrity chefs including Anthony Bourdain,” said Rosarito Beach Hotel owner Hugo Torres. “And Bo Bendana has done a wonderful job in organizing these exceptional elegant events.”
What’s Up Next?
Vivacious Bo Bendana continues to attract attention and celebrities to Mi Casa. On March 5th, Chef Chad White, aka The Seafood Maverick of San Diego, will collaborate with the Moroxican Chef for an outside-the-box, seven-course menu. Chef Chad is known for his intensely creative style and “organic fearlessness.”
Some of the menu courses will include bruschetta beef tongue with caper béchamel sauce, lamb kidney asado with smoked escabeche and potato and mole verde, and Moroccan stewed tripe with green olives and turmeric risotto.
Tickets are $60/person.
When asked about her new expat haven, Bo beams, “I just love this town! The people have been very kind and generous to me and make us feel like we belong here. Every single day we are grateful to be living in this town – we embrace the, um, ‘imperfections.’ We don’t like cookie-cutter style living. We’d rather drive over a pothole than be stuck in traffic for 3 hours!”
Bo has her own special way of giving back to the community. Instead of looking for older, more experienced chefs, she hires students from the culinary school of Rosarito. “They’re very passionate and they’re young and have dreams,” she says. “I love that! I don’t want someone who’s going to work for me for 10 years. I want to help train newbie chefs who want to make a future for themselves and to open their own restaurants.” The students bring Bo wonderful new ideas of working with Mexican food which she combines with her Moroccan training, creating the Moroxican fusion.
And the people of Rosarito are responding enthusiastically.
Bonus Mexico Travel Resources:
*All photos courtesy of Mi Casa Supper Club
About The Author
Patti Morrow was born with insatiable wanderlust, eventually following her passion into a successful career as a freelance travel writer, blogger and photographer. A self-proclaimed “adrenaline junkie,” she specializes in women’s adventure travel with a focus on baby boomers. Patti has traveled throughout most of the United States and around 50 countries and islands abroad. She has 100+/- bylines in over two dozen publications including the Washington Post, International Living Magazine, Travel Girl Magazine, Divine Caroline, CNN iReport. Follow her adventures at Luggage and Lipstick, Facebook and Twitter.
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