Copita Tequileria y Comida: Joanne Weir and Larry Mindel’s Mexico in Sausalito

| April 29, 2012 | 3 Comments
  • 3 Comments

Joanne Weir and Larry Mindel, co-owners of Copita in Sausalito, the restaurant born of a margarita making competition. Photo: Elisabeth Fall
Joanne Weir and Larry Mindel, co-owners of Copita in Sausalito, the restaurant born of a margarita making competition. Photo: Elisabeth Fall

Chef Joanne Weir and restaurateur Larry Mindel are opening Copita, a tequileria and eatery officially opening on May 1, though they are serving April 28-30 from 11am to 11pm, and the food world is abuzz about it. This high-powered partnership started with a margarita contest.

It takes a lot of chutzpah to challenge Joanne Weir to a margarita-making competition. Joanne Weir is a chef, a culinary teacher, television personality and kitchen consultant, sought after for her precise palate. Her most recent book is “Tequila, A Guide to Types, Flights, Cocktails, and Bites.” But Larry Mindel doesn’t scare easily. He’s a restaurateur with a golden touch. He has opened Ciao, MacArthur Park, Guaymas and Prego. He turned Il Fornaio from struggling bakeries into a very successful group of Italian restaurants. He’s the co-owner of Poggio Trattoria restaurant in Sausalito. I live in Sausalito and this is a beloved place for locals, where you often dine next guys who live on their sailboats at one table and Carlos Santana to the other side. And everyone marvels at how even the spinach is so amazing. But now he turns his focus south of the border.

The margarita competition has two differing versions. According to Larry, he concocted a “Lorenzo” heavy on the tequila, and lighter on the lime juice and agave syrup. He shook it with ice, then served it up, martini style, with a delicate salt rim. “It was really strong,” Larry said. “So everyone was tipsy by the time they tried Joanne’s. The second margarita was bound to win because the first was so potent.”

According to Joanne, “Larry’s was terrible. I love the taste of tequila and the acidity from lime, so a balance is what you want, with just a hint of agave so it’s not too sweet. Mine was perfect.”

Joanne Weir  with Fernando Guzman, the general manager and tequila curator behind the bar at Copita.
Joanne Weir (co-owner of Copita) with Fernando Guzman, the general manager and tequila curator behind the bar at Copita.

When drinking tequila based cocktails, I almost always find myself wanting a margarita made with a blanco with spicy food or a Don Julio Anejo straight up with milder, more savory Mexican. In ambitious hands tequila cocktails can often get too complicated or sweet to be food-friendly. The manager and “tequila curator” of Copita, Fernando Guzman, has changed that notion. His margaritas were excellent, and the cocktails all had a delicate touch that kept them bright, citrusy and food-friendly. He made a “Mexican 75” with sparkling wine, tequila and lime juice, as well as a “Raspado” with shaved ice, tamarind juice, and mescal with a salt and chili rim. But the ‘Prado” was Joanne’s proclaimed favorite. (She had just set down a plate of Mexico City style quesadillas filled with potatoes and chorizo and topped with crema and queso fresco.) Joanne is as charming as she is talented, so when she declared this cocktail with corazon blanco tequila, maraschino liquor, fresh lime juice and egg whites “sexy” we all vigorously agreed.

The rotisserie, considered the heart of Copita.Larry and Joanne’s common spot is not only their prowess in the food industry, but also a love for Mexico. Neither could nail down their favorite spot there, but Mexico City, Oaxaca, and both coasts were mentioned with much affection. In particular, they sited the Pacific side as influential of the ceviches. Their menu has the basic, fresh fish with tomato, onion, cilantro and Serrano chili, as well as halibut with mango and cucumber, but it’s the shrimp aguachile that they both get a little dreamy-eyed over. “I could eat this every day,” Larry said.

There are no fiesta platters at this place. “I hate pushing away from the table at a Mexican restaurant too full from rice and beans and cheese,” Larry said. “This is more refined. More like Mexico.” Though he admits, an almost promiscuous regard for tamales, “They are my biggest passion. I like them all. I had a grandmother from Texas who used to make them by the hundreds for the holidays. Pork is my favorite, but the chicken ones here are made with wood-roasted meat.”

Their rotisserie is the heart of the menu, and their spit roasted chicken is seasoned with chile guajillo and served with pickled spring vegetables and heirloom beans with housemade chorizo. “It’s Mexican, but with a California sensibility,” Joanne said. “Everyone working with me in the kitchen is from Mexico, and all of them are passionate about food. We work to keep it fresh, seasonal and light. We are all learning a lot from each other.”

It’s not a large restaurant, with 50 seats indoors and 15 outside. It has a low-key, casual elegance. The rotisserie is the focal point; it’s embossed with decorative tiles from Mexico. Bowls from the local Heath Ceramics are stacked on the counter—a blend of Mexico and Sausalito that seems very natural. The bar itself is polished hardwood, reminiscent of an Old World cocktail spot in Mexico City with bottles of premium tequila displayed. There are a few tables outside on the sidewalk for people watching on Bridgeway Avenue and a glimpse of the bay. I pictured sitting out there on a warm evening, sipping a sexy Prado and having seasonal salsa and ceviche. I’ve started putting the word out with friends and neighbors in Sausalito, “It’s going to be a very good summer.”

Prado cocktail. Photo: Erin Gleeson
“Prado” made of corazon blanco tequila, maraschino liquor, fresh lime juice and egg whites. The “sexy” tequila cocktail at Copita. Photo: Erin Gleeson

Recipe: Prado

Serves 1

From “Tequila, A Guide to Types, Flights, Cocktails, and Bites.” by Joanne Weir

A prado is a grassy “meadow” or “field” in Spanish. This aptly named drink is the loveliest green. Airy and light, with a generous dose of agave, this cocktail is sure to impress. Its heavenly foam crown is most easily made by employing an interesting technique: remove the spring from your cocktail strainer and use it in the shaker as a whisk!

2 ounces blanco tequila
1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1 ounce maraschino liqueur
1 egg white
1 flamed lime peel for garnish*

Combine all of the ingredients except the garnish in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice and shake vigorously for 5 seconds. Using a whisk or the spring from the cocktail shaker, whisk the drink to create a little bit of foam. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the flamed lime peel.

*Flamed Citrus Peel
Remove a 2-to 3 inch-long piece of citrus peel using a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler. To flame the peel, light the end of a toothpick or bamboo skewer with a lighter. Hold the burning toothpick or skewer about 2 fingers above the rim of the glass and warm the outside of the peel. Then, holding the peel just above the flame, sharply squeeze it, propelling the oil from the peel through the flame and into the glass. Drop the flamed peel into the cocktail.

Copita Tequileria y Comida
739 Bridgeway
Sausalito, CA 94965
Phone: (415) 331-7400
Facebook: Copita Tequileria y Comida
Email: info@copitarestaurant.com
Business hours will be 11am-11pm

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Category: bay area, Bay Area Bites Food + Drink, chefs, cocktails and spirits, restaurants, bars, cafes

About the Author ()

Maria Finn lives on a floating houseboat in Sausalito, where she grows a rooftop container garden, despite the salty winds. She’s the author of the book, “A Little Piece of Earth, How to Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces” (Rizzoli, 2010), and the memoir, “Hold Me Tight and Tango Me Home” (Algonquin Books, 2010) , which is in development for a television series with Fox Studios. Her novel-in-progress, “Sea Legs and Fish Nets,” loosely based on her experiences working on an all female fishing boat in Alaska, is a finalist for the Pen/Bellwether Prize, founded by Barbara Kingsolver for novels that address issues of social justice. She writes for Sunset Magazine, Afar Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. Visit her website at mariafinn.com and follow her on Twitter @mariafinn.
  • Dinner Guru

    I run a large dinner group in the city.  We called to get a reservation at Copita for 12 on Cinco De Mayo.  We were told that would not be possible since it was so close to their grand opening on May 1.  I could understand if the request was prior to the opening, but after its opening, would they not then be ready for business.  Is the establishment then not able to take reservations?  Not impressed so far with Copita.  If not being able to handle the business wanting to come in is an issue, then what will happen when a plate of food gets ordered???  Come on Copita, Sausalito will surely want you to do better than that.  

  • Mexican Food Fancier

    It’s better they told you they couldn’t handle your group than to take a reservation and give you a sub-par experience. I actually think it’s good that they said no. Give them a chance to figure out who they are.

    My concern is that the whole thing is about as Mexican as 5 de Mayo, as in, not very. Cocktails, roast chicken, Joanne Weir and Larry Mindel don’t add up to such a rico menudo in my book, but who knows? Sounds more Cal-mex than Mexican.

  • Traveler

    Ate there a couple of weeks ago with my wife while on vacation from Florida. It was fantastic!! The food, the service, the margaritas, the whole experience was great!!