At the Atalaya Café in San Rafael, opened by chef and Sante Fe native Sam Gallegos and his wife, Helen Reid, Gallegos presents a unique menu that blends Spanish and Native American cuisine, with an emphasis on the cross-hatched chili, indigenous to the New Mexico.
Gallegos aligns its formative roots with our Californian seasons and enhances its cuisine with skill and a French touch gleaned from working in the kitchens of great chefs such as Gary Danko, Ming Tsai, Mark Kiffin and Corey Lee.
Those familiar with Bistro Ginolina, the former restaurant on this bustling corner of Third and B streets, will find the space visibly refreshed and less formal. While the general layout is the same, and a large chunk of the renovation budget was spent on behind-the-scenes necessities, it feels brighter and more open under a high plateau ceiling with pewter star pendants descending. While not overtly dramatic, the couple took inspiration from New Mexico-inspired artist Georgia O’Keeffe.
Colorful fresh flowers on the entrance table are under a hanging animal skull, reminiscent of O’Keefe’s painting “Summer Days”, and two O’Keeffe-inspired works by local artist Marci Velando are exposed. Polished vintage silverware collected at the Alameda Pointe Antique Fair showcases class and understated beauty.
The restaurant appears to be building up a local clientele, making good use of the small waiting room at the entrance with two small tables and a dark wood banquet under a large window overlooking the street. Food preparations can be viewed from the adjacent copper bar which seats six. The scene comes alive with the din of conversation overtaking the soft background music.
A nice touch in any restaurant is the hospitable offer of a pre-meal snack to not only ward off hunger, but also as a welcome gesture. Sometimes it’s an easy token token like a parched piece of wand with a small bowl of lifeless oil. But it’s a nice start when something comes hot and ready for a spread of soon-to-melt Straus Family Creamery butter and Marshall’s Farm natural honey. In Atalaya, you will sit in front of a delicious Sante Fe sopapilla, a sweet soufflé more common in Native American regions. Don’t have enough? You can order a basket of four for $ 6.
The starters combine creativity and seasonal sensibility with a slight French touch. Celery soup ($ 6 and $ 8) incorporates spring pea shoots and broad beans. A simple salad ($ 12) highlights the spring season with chicory leaves, leaves of small gems and grated radishes lightly dressed in a fresh herb vinaigrette, topped with a slice of Manchego cheese and topped with ‘a flower, a typical touch. The products come from Fiddler’s Green Farm and Marin Roots Farm.
Artistic beauty arrives on a plate with the Visual Textured Hot Spring Vegetable Salad ($ 16) with mini kale leaves, lime green Romanesco, bold purple cauliflower, feathery Brussels sprouts and an egg duck poached with a yolk ready to be stitched to further enhance the colors. A buttery whole grain mustard sauce softens the crunch.
The main menu is divided into Sante Fe style folds (tacos), entrees (spicy enchiladas), and platters. Folds are a fun approach to making your own meal. Homemade flour tortillas are wrapped in an open paper envelope and served next to a mini sizzling cast iron skillet with a choice of mixed peppers, seared chicken, pork belly or hanger steak ($ 17 at $ 21), each paired with a mix of ingredients collected in mounds on a plate on the side. Our marinated steak ($ 21) topped with diced green peppers was accompanied by a quartet of toppings ready to combine and roll into a taco – a fire-grilled Chimayo red salsa, creamy guacamole, grated Monterey Jack cheese and crunchy fried onions. It comes with a smaller version of the aforementioned simple salad.
The apartments are a Sante Fe-style enchilada that moves away from the familiar. Along with one with veggie chili ($ 18) and another with red chili pork ($ 20), there’s a classic green chili chicken ($ 20) that has been slowly cooked in grease. duck. It’s topped with Napa’s blue corn tortillas and Rancho Gordo posole and goat’s eye beans. The pile swims in a pool of chili broth topped with melted Monterey Jack cheese and sprigs of fresh herbs. Sounds harmless enough, but be aware that, as our server shared, it’s seven out of 10 on the spicy scale. Showers in the heat will appreciate the spoonful of crème fraîche which calms the heat up a notch.
The ‘plates’ are impressive and allow me to plan my next visit when I can further explore the varied tastes and presentations. Tender Seared Mount Lassen Trout ($ 27) is served over braised leeks with roasted celeriac; Chimayo red chili braised pork ($ 24) is served with crème fraîche, mache leaves, baby carrots and turned potatoes; the seared chicken breast ($ 24) is topped with wild mushrooms and leek bread pudding, and a side of rosemary mashed potatoes soaks up the juice from a generous serving of braised ribs ($ 35).
Pastry chef Myranda Eversol-Rose has three desserts ($ 12) on the menu: three milk cakes, a hot chocolate budino with Straus vanilla ice cream, and a lime pie. I can only speak for the latter, but it’s a standout element – a chewy citrus merengue filled with a buttery graham cracker crust with hints of fresh whipped cream, the perfect sweetener for a spicy meal.
Wines, by the glass or by the bottle, are displayed on rustic wooden shelves with black pipe racks behind the bar ($ 8 to $ 14 and $ 30 to $ 150). Although the list is limited, Reid says the selection is based on Gallegos’ intention that diners see at least one favorite. She describes the strain as “familiar but high”. Most of the wines are from Napa and Sonoma, with a Hollister rose. A short list of draft and bottled beers includes Seacoast Pilsner from Coronado Brewing Co. and Mission IPA from Mission Brewery ($ 6).
For a short while Atalaya was open for lunch, but Gallegos decided, at least for now, to focus exclusively on dinner, where being well taken care of with attentive service and finely executed cuisine. and focused on spices warrants a repeat visit.
Leanne Battelle is a freelance food writer. Email him at [email protected] with your comments or restaurant recommendations. Or you can follow Marin’s food scene at instagram.com/therealdealmarin.
Address: 901 B St., San Rafael
Cuisine: New Mexican with Californian touches
Noise level: high
Alcohol selection: Beer and wine
Corkage fee: $ 20 to $ 35
Vegan dishes: Limited
Gluten free selections: Yes
Organic offers: Yes
Dog friendly: No
Hours: 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday
Rates: $ 19 to $ 25
Summary: Chef Sam Gallegos and Helen Reid’s first restaurant offers creatively-prepared, seasonal New Mexican cuisine and light vegetarian fare in a casual Georgia O’Keeffe-inspired display case in San Rafael.