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Mateo's Grand Opening Sneaks Up on Healdsburg

The newest Mexican restaurant in town opened up last night, as did the latest Healdsburg hot spot -- it's the same place, Mateo Granados's Cocina Latina on Healdsburg Avenue

You did not read about it in the paper, you did not see any billboards, and it was not supposed to happen – officially, at least.

But Wednesday night was the “soft opening” of , the long-awaited return-to-kitchen for the former chef, .

A drive-by sighting led this reporter to stop in, where I found the diners and bar patrons about equally divided between in-the-know locals and accidental tourists.

Granados’ time “in the streets” as a tamale truck operator, Farmer’s Market kitchen and in-demand caterer lasted over five years, but now seems like the right time to open a restaurant of his own.

Healdsburg’s mixed drinks maven a part owner, ran the bar with his usual attentiveness, checking the drinks mixed by his new crew and encouraging experimentation of the 60-some tequilas on the menu. (Beattie will be keeping his “day job” at the across the street, if you’re concerned.)

Maura Harrington, co-owner of the , tried some of the appetizers and, as she put it, “seven tequilas. It was terrific,” she happily summarized.

“We’ve been fans of Mateo’s for years,” said Edson Howard, who with his wife Anne Howard (of the ) was enjoying  Pescado Frito del Día at one of the long tables in the new restaurant. “We know this is what he’s wanted to do, and we’re so happy for him.”

Gregor and Christina Nelson  of did the tasteful, very appropriate signage and menus, and they were in attendance as well, clearly enjoying the warm opening night. “We’ve been waiting for this night for about a month,” Gregor said.

The menu is as expected, a Yucatec-slanted list of appetizers and entrées, antojitos to comidas, though it will be a floating one too: Fresh, local, sustainably-grown produce, meats and dairy are prominently promised on the menu, and a list of suppliers given equal weight to the wine list.

You won’t find “mole” per se on the menu, but the no-less-regional Cochinita Pibil, described as “slow-roasted suckling pig marinated in annatto seed, served with cinnamon-cured red onions and traditional tortillas.” See what I mean about crediting the local supplier?

Tacones – a tortilla chip in a cone shape, with a choice of four fillings -- should work as ideal bar food, as the tequila bar that runs the half length of the front room is inviting. If not compelling. I tried two of Beattie’s custom drinks – a Margarita del Verano with Arette Blanco tequila, including a “salsa fresca” of cucumber, jícima and cherry tomato.

“You can eat those too,” Beattie reminded me when the margarita was gone. I did; they were deliciosa.

With my second margarita – a Sandia Linda, with fresh lime and watermelon juices – I had a side of Trio de Calabazas Fritas (“slow-cooked caramelized mixed squash with raw milk feta and crispy pumpkin seed crackers”).

The restaurant is medium sized and people-friendly, with adequate lighting and plenty of rustic seating in keeping with the “cucina Latina” theme.

To-go items include cold tamales in 6-packs, or tortillas in 12-packs. Grab a bottle of Chef Mateo’s El Yuca Mayan Habañero Sauces – and another appropriate 6-pack – and you’re ready to take the moveable feast home.

Should you stay in, however, the Bebida Latina menu offers cervezas, vinos, about 60 tequilas and several signature mixed tequila drinks,

As good as Mateo’s food is, and as deserved is this self-branded opening, it’s probably going to be the tequila bar that makes or breaks Mateo’s Cocina Latina as a Healdsburg must. A few others have attained that status: Dry Creek Kitchen. The Flying Goat. The . . 

We’ll be hanging out at the tequila bar, just to see how it’s all going.

Sandra September 15, 2011 at 05:09 PM
So glad to see another Mexican restaurant in So.County (Viva La Raza!)... but why did he call it "Cucina" (the Italian verison) and not "Cocina (the spanish version for kitchen). If this is Latin food and especially Mexican, why shy away from the correct spanish word?
Christian Kallen September 15, 2011 at 07:31 PM
Sandra, he didn't call it Cucina - you're right, the correct name is Cocina Latina, it's my late-night mistake. Tequila will do that to you...

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