You might have seen the lights on at the old Hamilton Cafe building in past few days. That's because the long wait is over, and Beso Bistro and Wine Bar has its official opening Monday in the building left vacant by the old Hamilton Cafe.
"They're making us excited because they're excited for us," says co-owner Erika Correa about neighbors in Hamilton, some of whom have filed in during the "soft" opening that started Thursday.
Erika Correa is the wife of executive chef Leo Correa, and they are residents of Bel Marin Keys. As owners of Picante in San Rafael, this is not their first restaurant, so the mood in the intimate, well-appointed space is more festive than anxious.
"At first we just brought in our families and a few others so that the chefs could work out the kinks," Erika Correa says. "All the food that's been coming out of the kitchen has been phenomenal. One lady came in Thursday and brought in four people on Friday. On Friday night we had a couple come in for lunch and a few hours later they came back for dinner."
The old Hamilton Cafe was gutted to make way for a shiny new floor, new tables and chairs, a granite bar, and new light fixtures and wall hangings. One of the last upgrades made was the replacement of a grease receptor, which had to be buried behind the restaurant.
Smiles abound between Erika and her husband and the small staff as they moved quickly and efficiently through the last-minute preparations. The opening gives Hamilton residents a second choice — besides Cafe Joel — for dining out without leaving the confines of the old military base.
"We want to be the neighborhood restaurant," Erika continues. "We have the museum next door which has been very supportive, and the (Unity in Marin) church across the street. We will eventually offer brunch on Sundays."
For now, the hours will be 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., then 5:30-9 p.m. every day. In a few months, they'll remain open in those middle three hours, Erika Correa says.
Leo Correa was the executive chef of Horizons in Sausalito for 26 years before going out on his own. (Horizons is now closed with plans to reopen as the Trident in April of next year after a remodel.) Correa's specialty there was seafood, and Beso will offer California cuisine with an emphasis on seafood. Beso will also feature a signature Peruvian dish from Correa's mother country, called lomo saltado, a kind of beef stir fry.
Beso means "kiss" in Spanish and when I asked about the genesis of the name, Erika started talking about being head over heels in love. I quickly filled in the end of that sentence with the laughing woman and her shy-smiling chef husband; but no, that was my own projection. Even though they've only been married one year, and even though one of Leo's Valentine's Day gifts to his bride-to-be was a trip to Machu Picchu, the head-over-heels inspiration goes to two distinctly smaller beings: Leo and Erika's two little chihauhaus.
"We are crazy dog people," Erika says with a laugh, "and our dogs love to kiss, and he loves asking for besos from our dogs."
Sounds like inspiration for a cocktail waiting to be invented: The Pooch Smooch.
In any event, Beso is primed for a welcome kiss.