Casa Las Katarinas: Real Mexican food in Grass Valley

11056584_10153506177817948_1287611304842173873_nWHEN LAS KATARINAS MEXICAN restaurant closed in historic Nevada City last fall, it was like losing an old friend. The food was delicious and authentic, and husband-and-wife owners Dave Francis and Delia Gutierrez were gracious hosts. During its 10-year run, the restaurant often was full, drawing locals and visitors alike.

Now, after a brief hiatus, Dave and Delia are reopening their restaurant in a much bigger location. Casa Las Katarinas (or “ladybug” in Spanish) is at the top of Alta Sierra in Grass Valley on Hwy. 49, where Scheidel’s restaurant once resided.

“Now we can seat twice as many guests as we did in Nevada City,” says Dave. He and Delia scouted out about a dozen locations, from Folsom to Grass Valley, before settling on Alta Sierra. The restaurant serves dinner from Wednesday-Monday and is closed on Tuesday.

The Spanish Colonial-style dining room seats about 70 people and a mezzanine seats another 25 diners in a roomy configuration. It has a commercial kitchen that is five times larger than in Nevada City, as well as parking for 80 cars.

Dave and Delia have spruced up the interior with fresh paint, new tables and chairs, wrought-iron railings and other details, creating an ambiance that is redolent of a restaurant in Mexico City or Oaxaca. (You won’t find pinups of the Corona “beer girls” on the walls).

The menu is authentic Mexican. It is designed by Delia, a Mexico City native who received her culinary training in the Mexican capital, and more recently, the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. Many of the recipes are from her mom’s kitchen, with Delia’s own touch. “My passion is cooking,” she says. “I’ve been cooking since I was 14 years old.”

Some of our favorites include Puerco Enchilado, seared shredded pork topped with onions and cilantro, served with Spanish rice and beans and warm tortillas; or Burrito Suizo, a flour tortilla with grilled chicken breast, poblanos, mushrooms, sour cream, guacamole, and covered with a house made green poblano sauce.

Delia has added some new items to the menu, such as Michiote de Pollo, a chicken thigh marinated in Mexican spices and dried chiles, then cooked in a banana leaf; or Elote Asado, fresh grilled corn on the cob, coated with crema agria, queso fresco and chile piquin.

Other items include burritos, camarones (shrimp), chile verde, chile Colorado, carne asada, fajitas, fish tacos, enchiladas, and tinga (shredded beef with sliced onions and a sublime chipotle sauce).

Casa Las Katarinas has vegetarian and vegan items, such as a vegetarian burrito (mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, rice, beans, sour cream and guacamole). All vegetarian dishes are prepared fresh daily, without lard, MSG or corn starch.

11219323_10153506018277948_8433462332667411166_nThe desserts also are authentic and homemade: Mexican flan, Pastel de Zanahoria (carrot cake); PoPo (a Spanish brownie infused with Azteca chocolate, served with vanilla ice cream); or Sopapillas (a favorite Mexican fried pastry). Casa Las Katarinas also has a children’s menu.

The wine list features local, regional and state wines, house sangria, and house wines. The beers include popular Mexican imports, such as Negra Modello, Dos Equis and Corona. Margaritas are made with agave wine (lower alcohol content than straight tequila), and Fox Barrel Cider from Colfax also is offered.

The wait staff is professional and courteous. Dave and Delia rehired most of the waiters and waitresses who had worked for them in Nevada City. “They’ve been with us for 10 years and know our customers by name,” says Dave.

Ladybug Lane

In Nevada City, Las Katarinas was known as the “ladybug restaurant” to the regulars. The new location includes an entryway called “Ladybug Lane,” complete with ladybug memorabilia.

One of them is truly unique. It is a colorful ladybug figurine, from one of the restaurant’s regulars, that traveled to outer space. Delia’s son-in-law is Garrett Reisman, a former NASA astronaut who brought the ladybug aboard the International Space Station in 2008.

A certificate reads: “This object traveled a distance of 40,153,970 statute miles before returning aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.” It is on display in the restaurant with a photo of Garrett.

(Photos: David Wong)

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