In these days of enormous restaurant rents and diners’ tiny wallets, more and more chefs are taking it to the streets, setting up small, trailer-style diners or ultra-casual roadside stands serving top
But forget luxe taco trucks or alleyway shacks – Sonoma chef Mateo Granados has created a “pop-up,” operating a full-scale roving restaurant out of a warehouse in a remote vineyard in southwest Healdsburg.
In true restaurant fashion, diners make reservations, sit at a table, enjoy professional service, and tuck into a world-class meal complete with wine. The difference with this destination is that twice a week, Granados and Co. set up the show for the 5 p.m. start time, and at the end of service after dusk, they break it all down and drive away.
The idea is as common sense as it is economically clever for the acclaimed chef. The space is an unused wine production facility tucked between a winding country road and expanses of vineyards. Granados, meanwhile, known for his white jacketed presence at Sonoma’s major farmer’s markets, has catering trucks sitting at the ready, plus a skilled crew and even a professional Wolf range outfitted with wheels.
And so, on Wednesday and Thursday nights, the two come together in a most delicious way: to present exquisite modern Yucatan-California cuisine, in an experience called Tendejon de la Calle, or “taste of the street.” Literally, Granados backs his truck up to the door of the cavernous barn and rolls out his range, plus long picnic tables draped in brightly colored oil cloths that make a striking contrast against patchwork walls crudely lettered with “tool room” and “shop.”
No matter that his kitchen sits on a concrete floor, beneath a galvanized steel roof and directly under a large “biohazard” sign left from the facility’s functioning days.
At the premier dinner last week, Granados and his partner, Randy Tweedle, pulled out the stops, putting out sensational a la carte selections like a silky Tierra Vegetable celery root soup dolloped with thick fava bean pesto ($8), and Manuel’s warm asparagus salad dotted with Cara Cara oranges and Redwood Hill raw milk feta ($9). (Manuel’s produce comes from his farm across the street from the warehouse, and he often helps in the Calle kitchen).
The star starter was Preston Vineyard goat head cheese tossed with Middleton Farm pickled rhubarb and White Crane spring greens ($10). As Granados explained, the cheese was a labor of love, in peeling the goat head, braising the brain for three hours, then pressing it with the cheeks, tongue and bay leaf for three weeks until it achieved the perfect buttery tender consistency. For each order, he crisped the cheese with a coating of cornmeal and a quick turn with duck fat in a sizzling pan.
“It tastes goat-y,” he said proudly to his enthusiastic guests, but this diner found it to be more exquisitely rich, deeply savory and creamy.
While the menu changes frequently, expect high-end fare like a Salmon Creek Ranch duck breast entree, the juicy meat slathered in Middleton Farm rhubarb sauce and showered in Manuel’s pea and fava tendril salad ($18). An opening night special was Jones Rabbit Farm rabbit paired with Angelo’s quail marinated in Granados Familia secret spices alongside a scoop of baked calabasparra rice and sauce escabeche ($19). The rabbit and quail were fresh-caught that morning, Granados explained, dancing their caramel-colored carcasses across a grill to show off the freshness.
Free with each meal: a stunning wine education. Service is BYOB, meaning every good guest brings a bottle of extraordinary wine to put on the long picnic table and share. Just remember to bring a corkscrew and glasses, too, otherwise you’ll be drinking your Preston Vineyards Zinfandel out of a biodegradable cup intended for seasonal agua fresca ($3).
Just don’t expect formality: Throughout the dinner, guests “popped up” themselves, leaving the table between courses to visit the kitchen, tour the vineyards stretching as far as the eye could see, and pausing to play with a visiting dog.
Good to Know If You Go: Periodically, Granados will invite guest chefs, such as Franco Dunn, who appeared April 21. Walk-ins are welcome, thought it’s best to call ahead and ensure a seat, at 707.623.5474. Payment is cash or local check only.
Details: Tendejon de la Calle, on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5 p.m. to dusk. 9607 Eastside Road, Healdsburg, 707.623.5474, mateogranados.com.