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Sep 17, 2011 11:02 PM

First Dinner at Mateo's Cocina Latina

Word spread through the office on Thursday that Mateo was opening that night. We went for dinner. It was phenomenal. I've been in Sonoma County for 20 years and don't remember a more highly anticipated restaurant opening. Mateo's came through in every way. We got there around 9 pm. All but one table was full, as was the bar. We ruefully recognized that this was the first and last time we'd ever be able to walk in and get a table without a wait.

The room is lovely. Melanie posted pictures previously, so I won't recap. I will add that something magical happens when the diners in a restaurant are so happy to be there and have so much affection for the chef. There was a feeling of community in the room. Over the years that Mateo has been in our farmer's markets, and with his pop-up, Tendejon de la Calle, he's created a genuine bond with so many people.

Service was excellent. The various staffs (kitchen, bar, front room, bus, etc) were completely in sync and created a smooth flow. An amazing feat for opening night. The staff seemed as happy and enthusiastic to be there as we were, perhaps also because of Mateo's warm personality. Our server, Luis, was attentive, friendly, and knowledgeable. He made us feel comfortable and at home.

We started with cocktails. Scott Beattie was behind the bar. Both he and Luis recommended we try
his take on "La Ultima Palabra" ("The Last Word") (about $9). If I remember correctly, it was mescal, lime juice, green chartreuse, maraschino liquor, and St. Germaine elderflower liquor. I don't remember any one meal that turned me into a foodie. But I will remember the cocktail that started me thinking about drinks the way I think about food. This was serious. Mr. Beattie, thank you for introducing me to a new world.

My husband and I ordered identical appetizers and entrees. We've learned that an important marriage-extending strategy is to reduce the likelihood of one of us out-ordering the other. That's decreased the number of our arguments by at least 50%. Apologies for the small number of dishes we tried and therefore review.

We started with a salad of jicama, pear, and figs. This was beautiful on the plate. The purple of the figs and the dressing contrasted with the cream-colored jicama and the yellow-green of the pear. I don't remember what was in the dressing, other than tastes of citrus and a "complex" salt. Happy. Perfection. I think this was $10.

We had the "fried fish" at the recommendation of both Mateo and Luis. I think these were sand dabs. This plate was also beautifully presented. We each had two sand dabs, dusted in what tasted like blue corn ground to a slightly-finer-than panko texture. The sand dabs were moist and sweet. They come bone-in and were easy to filet with the skeleton completely in one piece. Each sand dab was paired with a delicious accompaniment. One was a salad of summer-perfect cherry tomatoes. Hard to imagine such a thing, but I liked the other even more; a mayonnaise-based salad of sweet white corn that exploded with flavor. The mayonnaise had a feta-like flavor that I can't further place. The sand dabs had a schmear of a smokey (likely chipotle) aioli on top. There may have been greens on the plate as well. This was $18 or so.

We shared a dessert Luis modestly described as a berry sorbet. Ha! It was a perfecta trifecta of an updated trifle. From bottom to top; a chilled strawberry compote, a delicious crumble, and the sorbet. I don't remember how much this was. Whatever it was, it was worth it and I advise ordering your own. I was a little sad to have to share it.

The entire dinner from drinks to dessert, before tip, was about $87. We thought this was an outstanding value.

What else can I say? I tried not to have super high expectations given that it was their opening night, but I needn't have worried. Have fun!


From the website:

Open for Dinner starting September 16
Dinner hours on Fridays and Saturdays from 5:30-11pm and Sunday-Thursday from 5:30-10pm

Lunch service will begin Monday, September 19 with Brunch starting Friday September 23
Lunch is served from 11am Monday-Thursday and brunch is served from 10am Friday-Sunday

All seating is first come first serve, however on busy nights you may call ahead
to place your name on the waiting list. Please call 707-433-1520.

Cocina Latina
214 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, CA 95448

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  1. glad you made it to enjoy maestro Granado's brilliant food. we made it there Sat just before 6 and didn't have to wait for a table, though by the time our order reached the chef the kitchen was going full bore so we had a normal wait for our food given the fresh, cooked to order nature of everything they serve. on our night the fish was local rock cod, and we had it via a fish taco(two per order, $8), in a very thin blue corn meal crust, one young woman in the corner of the cocina was exclusively devoted to making tortillas, and they were exemplary; we ordered a side of the olive oil tortillas which were excellent as well. we also enjoyed the jicama salad, and our main course was the cochinita pibil, a delightful rendition that came with a modest portion of black bean puree and perfectly cooked rice -- the pork was in such a generous mound that two of us sharing didn't finish it ($16.)

    midway through our meal the main dining area was completely full, the area around the bar was thonged with folks standing, and more were waiting outside to get in. the outside, rear dining area was quite comfortable, and we had a direct view of the kitchen going through their first weekend initiation. the second turn of the tables had likely accommodated the standing crowd, which was mostly gone by the time we departed a little after eight. corkage is usually $20, waived if alcoholic drink orders from their menu equals that amount, but since they lacked proper flutes or an ice bucket for our champagne, it was waived for us. they were also not prepared yet to serve coffee, so we didn't have dessert, though they sounded great, based on fresh seasonal fruits and berries. we wished our best to the maestro on departing, which of course he thoroughly deserves for feeding so many of us so well all these years without a fixed eating/drinking establishment.