“If You Want Me I’ll Be in the Bar”

I have always loved that line from Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’ but The Chef and I have given it a revised meaning. Whenever we get a chance, we like to eat at the bar. Of course, the obvious reason is there is often a couple of stools open at the bar when all the tables are full. That gives us a chance to go out for lunch or dinner at the last minute without reservations.

Perhaps because my mother was a bartender I have always like to hangout and talk to the person who has the keys to the liquor cabinet. If they are good, they will know the menu and be able to give you the inside scoop on the food while shaking up your cocktail or pouring your glass of wine. This often leads to conversations and exchange of information with other patrons at the bar. If, on the other hand, you don’t feel like indulging in bartalk, you don’t have to but you are still right there at stage center—-a good restaurant after all is good theater.

A case in point was lunch recently at Mateo’s Cocina Latina in Healdsburg. The Chef and I were returning to San Francisco after visiting friends in Mendocino. As we neared the Central Healdsburg Exit The Chef declared a great hunger and thirst. She knew we were only five minutes from Mateo’s, so expectations were high. And were fulfilled, I might add.

At any rate, we were on the early side for lunch with plenty of empty tables but we opted for the bar, where The Chef ordered a bartender’s special, a margarita made with mezcal and a mixture of spicy bits including diced radish! Yes, really, and it was delicious. I opted for a trad margarita made with mezcal blanco.

We consulted the bartender on lunch choices. He knew the source of most of the food and the names of the producers and suggested some personal favorites and offered good tips on lunch choice. You can’t find that information on Yelp or even at a table for two.

—The Chef (Ann Walker) and (The Wine Chap) Larry Walker