Pork jowl in mole verde at La Calenda.
When Thomas Keller first let wind that he was going to open a Mexican restaurant in Yountville, the response was immediate: lots of eye rolling and sarcastic remarks.
But like Rick Bayless in Chicago, Keller soon proved this gringo knew exactly what he was doing. Keller may not have made exhaustive trips to Mexico to immerse himself in the intricacies of the cuisine. But he did the next best thing; he hired a chef de cuisine with impeccable credentials and know-how, Kaelin Ulrich Trilling, who was raised in Oaxaca by his mother, Susana Trilling, the noted culinary teacher who owns the cooking school, Seasons of My Heart in Mexico.
As a result, Keller’s La Calenda, which opened in January, is a triumph.
I finally had a chance to check it out a month ago, when I dined at lunch, paying my own tab at the end.
Housed in the former Hurley’s.
La Calenda is mere steps away on Washington Street from Keller’s other establishments: The French Laundry, Bouchon Bistro, Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc, Ad Hoc Addendum, and the group’s lush culinary garden.
The former Hurley’s has been transformed into an airy, colorful space reminiscent of a Mexican hacienda.
A trio of pork tacos at El Molino Central.
When a noted chef tells you the name of a restaurant he thinks is the very best in the Bay Area, your ears can’t help but perk up.
And when he reveals that it’s an unassuming taco joint, you really get intrigued.
Such was the case when I recently interviewed Chef Louis Maldonado for a story in the San Francisco Chronicle Food section about his favorite places in the Healdsburg area.
Maldonado, former chef of Spoonbar in Healdsburg and now culinary director of Mugnaini Imports in Healdsburg, was effusive in his praise for El Molino Central in Boyes Hot Springs. So much so that when I found myself in the area last week, I just had to try it, paying my own tab at the end.
The back of the restaurant.
El Molino Central is a tiny place with a tamale-sized kitchen. Inside, there’s barely room for two small tables, and the counter where you place your order. Lest you think you’ll have to eat your food standing up, you will find a cheerful patio in the back with picnic tables, covered by a trellis and a revolving ceiling fan. You’ll have to walk through the compact kitchen to get to it, though — or go out the front door and walk around the building to the back.