Duke’s Spirited Cocktails, a relative newcomer that was highlighted in the Summer 2016 issue of Edible Marin & Wine Country, offers an impressive list of craft cocktails with names like “Unicorn Tears” and “Mr. Bojangles,” the latter filled with exotic ingredients such as elderberry, clarified honeydew, sage and pink peppercorn. Not to be left out of the party, nearby restaurants Barndiva, Mateo’s Cocina Latina, Campo Fina and local tapas hotspot Brava’s also boast impressive cocktail repertoires.
I am wholly unprepared for the experience I’m about to have at Mateo’s Cocina Latina. On the outside, it looks like just another Mexican-inspired California-cuisine restaurant. But as soon as I step inside, I realize that this is something else entirely.
Chef-owner Mateo Granados greets us with enthusiasm, talking a mile a minute and clearly excited about a new fruit he’s discovered, a “Mandarin-quat,” which he hands us to smell and taste. Seamlessly, he leads into a discussion of cocktail ingredients, showing us how he chars citrus so that it releases its oils, eliminating the need to add bitters and toning down the acidity.
It becomes obvious that everything Mateo does has a dual purpose: to taste incredible, and to honor the ingredients themselves. More than once, he tells us: “The life of the animal defines how you should cook it.” Hearing him talk is more than inspiring. He knows every last detail of his sourcing, supporting only local producers like Healdsburg’s Front Porch Farm and Preston Farm & Winery, farms that practice sustainable, responsible and humane farming and animal husbandry.
Mateo’s story is a combination of the American Dream and the pinnacle of authentic “farm-to-table” cooking. Of Spanish and Mayan descent, Mateo was born into a family of butchers in Yucatán, southeastern Mexico. He moved to the US, speaking no English, and began working as a dishwasher in San Francisco. Through hard work and talent he moved up to be a cook and was trained in classic French methods under Chef Julian Serrano at the renowned Masas. He left Masas to work with Chef Margaret Grade at West Marin’s beloved and highly acclaimed Manka’s Inverness Lodge. Next up were stints at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen, also in Healdsburg, as well as winemaking. Returning to his roots, Mateo began selling Yucatán tamales based on his grandmother’s recipe from a food truck before opening his own restaurant in 2011.
It’s no surprise, then, that Mateo runs an impeccable kitchen with an emphasis on creativity and precision. Everything served at Mateo’s is housemade, including butchering done in-house. The chef butchers whole animals himself, utilizing every part—including the fat, which he saves in a huge tub and uses to cook nearly everything. He pickles, ferments and crafts condiments from vegetables grown in his own yard.
Our meal is a string of incredible plates, one after the other, all paired with drinks. Highlights are the slow-braised lamb ribs fried in pork fat; black cod with steamed rainbow chard, romanesco and cauliflower; wild forest slow-braised chicken shank with toasted polenta, steamed escarole and baked delicata squash; and an extraordinary cut of beef from West Petaluma’s Progressive Pastures that Mateo pairs with an earthy, small-batch mezcal, a pairing that’s mind-blowingly good.
Three hours, 10 courses and many spirituous libations later, we leave buzzing with Mateo’s energy and passion for local ingredients, feeling revolutionized and lucky to have experienced such a raw expression of the combination of his history and California’s future.