First Bite: Dazzling but Disappointing

Elevating Bay Area Mexican cuisine beyond burritos and sides of rice and beans is commendable. C CASA, for instance, brought fresh and innovative tacos to San Ramon just a few months ago. However, Cielito Cocina Mexicana and Cocina Hermanas, both new to Danville, bring little spark to the food while going all in for ambiance.

My recent dinner at colorful Cielito—with its shiny tile, raw wood, and funny furry chairs—which opened in June, started with a $15 cup of ceviche: One tiny, chewy shrimp, a load of diced jicama, and a few overmarinated scraps of halibut came with darkly fried tortilla chips.

Another dish’s chips were light and delicate (if too salty), making the thick, overdone chips with my ceviche all the more perplexing. The pozole was fine, spicy and satisfying, but there couldn’t have been an ounce of pork in the whole bowl. I imagine the ceviche was fine (and perhaps chock full of shrimp) the day before, and my ladleful of pozole just missed the meat (the dish-up dish arrived two minutes after I ordered it).

Fancying itself as a farm-to-table restaurant, Cielito serves impressive vegetables with the carne asada. But aside from thick rings of grilled red onion, the produce was not sympatico with Mexican cuisine: crisp broccolini, French beans, and roasted, peeled sweet peppers). The modest portion of the flavorful, grilled skirt steak came with made-to-order tortillas and a piquant tomatillo sauce. All were excellent but the "poblano" potatoes (dull and limp), and the $28 charge curbed my enthusiasm.

No doubt, this is a beautiful and inviting restaurant, with a spacious patio and full bar (try the spicy Diablo margarita). And I imagine my visit was more anomaly than normal (a neighbor’s short ribs looked both generous and delicious). Still, it’s clear Cielito is, in its opening weeks, more style than substance.


445 Railroad Ave., Danville, (925) 725-4732, Dinner nightly, lunch Mon.-Fri., brunch Sat.-Sun.