The gentle perfume of cinnamon, orange, and warm milk hangs like a halo around a bowl of arroz con leche, or Mexican rice pudding. Light streams in from the window as the scent drifts upward and using a soup spoon, I start fanning the bouquet toward my face, inhaling deeply. It’s a seminal food moment, captured forever in my memory, angels singing and birds chirping. Until I get a little too excited about the whole thing and splatter the warm rice on my face and clumsily lose my grip on the spoon. The bartender pretends not to notice, but clearly I cannot be taken anywhere.

It’s hard not to get enthusiastic about Cascabel, the newest addition to Santa Rosa’s Montgomery Village restaurant lineup. Though just a few weeks old, there are already several menu standouts at this casual tequila bar and grill, including a sweet-and-savory Oaxacan mole, meltingly soft barbacoa, spicy shrimp ceviche and homey arroz con leche.

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Restaurant review: Hip, eclectic Cascabel more than just a tequila lounge

Tareq Fakhouri, owner of the 8-month old Cascabel Tequila Lounge in San Rafael and adjoining restaurant Crepevine, had long envisioned having two side-by-side eateries offering distinct dining experiences.

“I like the idea of giving customers something unique,” he shares. “In one, you can have a nice lunch and latte and just a few feet away, enjoy a festive, upbeat, cozy lounge for tapas and a margarita.”

As Fakhouri designed, there is nothing quite like Cascabel in Marin. The intimate atmosphere is hip and comfortable with eclectic furnishings and colorful artwork. The narrow room is lined with wood, and eclectically outfitted with vibrant upholstered chairs and couches arranged in cozy groupings accented by lamps with fabric shades on top of thick wood tables. Bold red chili-shaped glass pendant lights hang from above, but the lighting is dim causing some visually challenging menu viewing for the spectacle dependent.

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Inspired Oaxacan cuisine at Santa Rosa’s Cascabel

If ever there was a snapshot of an American melting pot, it’s the new Cascabel Mexican Bar and Grill in Santa Rosa’s Montgomery Village. The stylish bistro is owned by the Jordan-born Maher Fakhouri, who once served brunch to Jordan’s King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein at his other restaurant, Savor Open Kitchen café in San Francisco.

Fakhouri and his cousin, Cascabel co-owner Tareq Fakhouri, also run the eclectic American-Mediterranean-themed Crepevine restaurants in Santa Rosa and throughout the Bay Area. There, they serve dishes like the one the Arabian king enjoyed — a Mazatlan/California crèpe stuffed with avocado, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, sour cream, salsa and peppers.

Cascabel, meanwhile, offers Oaxacan inspired cuisine. The sophisticated fare is rich with regional molé sauces and cheeses, Mexico City-style barbacoa, Yucatan style cochinita pibil, and coastal Sinaloa-style aguachile. It’s proof that in cooking, while heritage can help, true success comes from talent, enthusiasm, and excellent ingredients.

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