By Jonah Raskin
E ditor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience. We invite you to come along with our writers as they—informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves—have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do .
Belly up to the long bar at Tres Hombres at 10pm on a Saturday and it's like Acapulco at the height of the tourist season. But saunter in on a weekday afternoon and it's more like a sleepy Mexican village. The upscale restaurant in Petaluma's new Theater District complex has been open since the end of September, and though it has received mixed reviews from locals, it feels like it's here to stay.
Granted, there are nuances to work out in the kitchen, in the dining room and on the menu. We performed our patriotic duty and mentioned our concerns to the chef. But the food looks great and tastes good, and it's a fun place to hang out for an hour before or after a movie, or to eat, drink and revel. At the bar, there are more than 70 different tequilas to choose from, and on the menu there are salads, burgers, tacos, tostadas and fajitas. Chef Gray Rollin, who looks like a surfer and made the surfer scene in Maui for years, makes traditional Mexican food with an Asian twist. It's colorful, spicy and it wants to explode with all kinds of flavors. Local Mexican food has rarely, if ever, been this exciting.
On a quiet Tuesday afternoon, a pal and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch while elderly ladies dined at a neighboring table. We started with pints of Lagunitas pale ale ($4.50) that came with chips and first-rate salsa. We ordered a small guacamole ($5.25) that was quite large, but was deemed too salty. We both had the "spicy tortilla soup" with strips of red and green tortillas that I loved but my pal found too spicy.
Then we shared an excellent caesar salad ($7.50), a large chile verde entrée with tender chunks of pork ($12.75) and a veggie burrito ($10.50) with bite-sized bits of zucchini, broccoli and carrots, along with delicious black beans and rice. It all came at once, which was too much at one time, and we couldn't eat it all. For dessert, we tried the Baja banana ($5.25), deep-fried bananas with cold ice cream and rich chocolate sauce that would have fed four.
Soccer was on the TV screen behind the bar, and music on the sound system, but we were able to carry on a conversation about Petaluma's restaurants. We agreed the more the merrier, and that Tres Hombres is the best Mexican restaurant in Petaluma, surely the best new Mexican restaurant in Sonoma County, and maybe just the best Mexican restaurant in the North Bay.
Chef Gray Rollin looks like he doesn't have a Mexican bone in his body, but he knows how to cook Mexican dishes, and he's training Mexicans to cook their own cuisine, which he says he enjoys but finds a bit loco. In fact, bona fide gringos are cooking some of the best Mexican food anywhere these days, from Petaluma to Puerto Vallarta, so don't hold it against the men in the kitchen at Tres Hombres that they don't all hail from the heart of Mexico.
Tres Hombres. 151 Petaluma Blvd. S., Petaluma. Open for lunch and dinner daily; brunch, Saturday–Sunday. 707.773.4500.
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