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Grassroots Graton - June 2015

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Grassroots Graton - June 2015

by Heather Granahan

Gratonites and our visitors have been peering into the gardens and bright gilded façade of the building in downtown Graton for years wondering when the promised tea house would open. A year ago I told y’all to watch this space for news, and now I am thrilled to share that Jessica Barrilleaux has at last triumphed over many obstacles and opened the gates to the Bambú Tea House in downtown Graton. For now open Friday-Sunday, it is well worth the delays, and deserves some serious space here. 

The gardens have taken full advantage of the wait and matured into a rich tapestry of five timber bamboo varieties, native grasses, exotics and edibles curling around the ponds and little golden Thai Spirit House. Birds and frogs adopted the habitat and add a soundtrack to the regular live musical offerings by local players. 

The soft opening in May is a testament to one woman’s inspiration, determination and tenacity. No less than 6 years of planning, building, fundraising, and blessings by a visiting Bhutanese Rinpoche are behind the gem-like café and gathering place. The glowing walls and crafted details are born of Jessica’s years as a painting contractor and interior designer; wall colors are copied from Laotian temples in Luang Prabang; the roof peaks replicate Thai temples.

Jessica’s journey has been full of challenges to make a building that was never before a food-service venue into a licensed facility with full ADA access to the whole building and gardens. Every inch has had her eye and hand on it – building, painting and planting. Along the way she has faced innumerable inspections - one passed then rescinded on the eve of a planned opening over slight imperfections; battles over turning the front garden into parking spaces; and even a broken knee. Each demanded change meant thousands of dollars more, which for a single owner with no deep pocketed backers meant repeated grassroots fundraising efforts. Jessica repeated swimmer Diana Nyad’s motto “Find a way”, and with a faithful cadre of friends succeeded at last.

So much more than just another cafe, the peace and art-filled setting is Jessica’s vision, inspired by a lifetime of travel and love of entertaining and creating beauty. Her many trips and love of natural nutrition are echoed in the painting on the wall of Southeast Asia and in the seasonal, farm-focused menu, brought to life by Chef Holly Carter. Chef Holly is trained in vegan, gluten free, paleo, veggie and yes, even seafood and meat. Neighbors, supportive to a person, have been filling the garden, back patio and luminous rooms, enjoying sriracha glass noodle salads, curry bowls over black rice with tempura lotus root, Thai lettuce cups – and where else can you get a trio of deviled eggs with kimchee, miso and curry flavors? Oh, and get it all to go? “The menu will continue to grow, and also to change seasonally,” explains a tired but radiant Jessica,” We ask that you grow with us!” That call was answered; Mother’s Day sold out and the real signs weren’t even up yet. 

The tea menu has 13 Fair Trade organic handpicked teas from Five Mountains. Sip one over the sculpted chess sets in the community room, soon to host morning yoga, documentary film night and community groups. Desserts are a changing and creative spectrum; one patron was overheard saying, “We just had tea and brownies and it was SO delicious, and sitting in the garden was really lovely!”

A life-sized antique Kwan Yin greets you as you step around into the rosy bar area. Jessica’s legacy of hosting many lavish parties inspire the selection of bottled and tap beers, sustainable wines, Revive Kombucha on tap and a changing spectrum of cocktails based on Soju (“so-chew”), a rice-based spirit that sports half the alcohol (and calories) of vodka. Twice the funtime for half the pain, and only $8! Try a Kimchee Bloody Mary or Blood Orange Mimosa at Bambú’s weekend brunches, a Lavender Elderberry Fizz, a Saint Germain Champagne Spritzer and more. Meet us at the Bambú Tea House or their Facebook page.