There’s a fresh crop of traditional Mexican herbs and chiles growing in the French Laundry’s culinary garden, planted just for use at La Calenda, a casual new taqueria from, yes, Thomas Keller. The restaurant opened quietly last week at 6518 Washington Street, just blocks from the famous restaurateur’s three Michelin star flagship the French Laundry and his other businesses Ad Hoc, Bouchon Bistro, and Bouchon Bakery.
La Calenda, which inhabits the former home of Yountville dining standby Hurley’s, is among the least formal in Keller’s restaurant group. It’s also the first to draw inspiration beyond California and Europe. A full menu of Oaxacan fare is below, including tacos ($11-13 for two), tamales ($6-7), larger plates like pollo en mole negro ($22), and desserts like rice pudding and churros.
Executive chef Kaelin Ulrich Trilling developed the menu, which draws on producers from Northern California like Rancho Gordo (for its heirloom beans) as well as ingredients from Mexico, like Mexican-grown corn that the kitchen is nixtamalizing for its own fresh tortillas. Trilling’s mother, Susana Trilling, is an authority on Oaxacan cuisine who runs Oaxaca’s Seasons of My Heart Cooking School. Her son, who is 26, was born and raised in Oaxaca. Most recently, he worked as a consultant on Oxomoco, a buzzy Mexican restaurant in New York, and before that, he was executive chef at Bajo Sexto Taco, a Jonathan Waxman restaurant in Nashville.
Beyond its embrace of Oaxacan food, La Calenda — named for Oaxaca’s tradition of community parades — also showcases goods from Mexican artisans. Its wooden plates are made in Guerrero, Mexico, and its traditional mezcal pottery is from Oaxaca, as are its clay pitchers, red bowls, and hand-blown glassware.
To drink, La Calenda serves wines from California and Mexico’s Valley of Guadalupe and Santo Tomás Valley, beer (including a Mexican lager made specifically for the restaurant by Beryessa Brewing in Winters, California), and 30 mezcals plus cocktails like a mezcal Negroni (with portobello infused Campari and Punt e Mes).
Keller and team have been relatively hushed on the opening of La Calenda, a restaurant project that marks an eyebrow-raising departure for the chef. (Asked for comment, Keller’s team directed Eater SF to La Calenda’s website). Finally speaking to the New York Times last month, the chef explained that Yountville had options for American, Italian, and French food (including very expensive tasting menus) but could use something new like Mexican.
For the record, nearby Rutherford does boast the popular La Luna Market & Taqueria, and farther south in Napa is Gran Electrica, a pricier newcomer with roots in Brooklyn that earned a Michelin Bib gourmand recommendation this year.