Acclaimed Bay Area chef Moniz, community leader Senum to open authentic taqueria in Nevada City

Two years ago this month, we wrote exclusively that a bakery and brewery called Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co. was in the works on lower Commercial Street in Nevada City, helping to create a hip food-lovers hangout near its farmers market. Three Forks just celebrated its first anniversary, and now Wheyward Girl Creamery, Nevada County’s first commercial cheese maker, has opened next door.

Now an authentic Mexican taqueria featuring fresh, local ingredients is going to open in the former location of Pete’s Pizza at 239 Commercial Street in front of the Boardwalk, our magazine has learned. The new restaurant is a partnership of former Nevada City Mayor and community leader Reinette Senum and well-known Bay Area chef and restaurateur Jason Moniz, whose culinary resume includes opening-day chef at well-respected restaurants such as Flora in Oakland, and Tres Agaves and Locavore in San Francisco, Plank at Oakland’s Jack London Square and Barbacoa and Table24 in Orinda.

It’s a small culinary world too: Moniz is the son of Barbara Jenness, an award-winning cheese maker who co-owns Wheyward Girl Creamery with Roberta DesBouillons.

In an interview this weekend, Senum confirmed that she and Moniz had struck a deal with the building’s owner, plan to raise $20,000 in local loans for remodeling and improvements (a plan that worked for Three Forks), and she expects the restaurant to open in October. Jason’s spouse Amber Justis is a marketing executive at famed ad agency BBDO in San Francisco, and the group is brainstorming on details for the taqueria including a name, decor and the like.

The new restaurant will add further vibrancy to lower Commercial Street. Senum has been instrumental as a founder of the Nevada City Farmers Market and the Commerical Street Boardwalk, a hub for the popular First Friday Art Walk. She also is a founder of the Nevada City Farm-to-Table Banquet. We’re glad to see her becoming a business owner in a corner of town that she has helped shape.

Just up the street are other popular Nevada City restaurants, including Matteo’s Public, Ike’s Quarter Cafe, Sopa Thai and the New Moon Cafe, as well as Treats’ artisan ice cream.

Nevada City’s “food, wine and art” revival

The new restaurant also comes as Nevada City is experiencing a food, wine and art revival: the Spring Street neighborhood is emerging as an arts district, including a new KVMR building and FoxHound Espresso, as we reported in our magazine; local artist LeeAnn Brook is opening an art gallery on Spring Street, joining DANK at the Miner’s Foundry Cultural Center; and a swank cocktail lounge called “Golden Era” is planned for the old Cirino’s building on Broad Street. It will open this fall.

Moniz has been cooking in the Bay Area since the mid-’90s and opened numerous successful restaurants. Though he has opened award-winning high-end restaurants, Mexican food is a passion, and he has traveled extensively in Mexico on culinary journeys.

In Diablo magazine, Moniz described Barbacoa: “A lot of tacos, very simply done, al pastor, onions, cilantro, maybe a little queso, but very simple, very straightforward, like what you would get in Mexico. But what we’re also trying to do is bring some of that Northern California sensibility to it, using higher quality product, a little more seasonal.” The menu at Barbacoa, named one of the Bay Area’s 10 best taco joints, is here.

Fresh Mexican comfort food

The cuisine at the taqueria planned for Nevada City will be similar: Mexican comfort food. All of the items will be reasonably priced — around $10 and under for a meal.

The ingredients, including tomatoes and other veggies, will come from local farms whenever possible. Menu items might include tacos (al pastor or marinated pork, tinga or shredded beef, pollo adobado, camarones, vegetarian), burritos (tinga, pollo adobado, camarones, ranchero), soup de aztec (chicken and red chile soup, topped with cilantro, avocado and tortillas), fresh salads, grilled corn, guacamole, and churros for dessert. Wheyward Girl could make cheese for the restaurant, such as ricotta.

The restaurant also will feature live music. And it will offer “gratitude bowls” like Matteo’s, and place an emphasis on treating workers’ well, a growing trend among successful restaurants.

Chef Moniz and his mother Barbara Jenness’ participation in adding vibrancy to the local food scene reminds us of the period decades ago, when San Francisco artists such as Charles Woods and David Osborn and others relocated to town, invigorating the arts.  They transformed the Miner’s Foundry and helped launch KVMR 89.5FM Community Radio. We are grateful for Reinette’s volunteerism in town and wish her the best of luck in this new venture.

(Photos: Jason Moniz by Diablo magazine; Reinette Senum by Beverly LaFae; street tacos by Barbacoa)

Jeff Pelline

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