Monday, March 2, 2009
So where do we start? I figured I would get this thing kicked off with a little taste of my personal dining Mecca. In this case, that happens to be Mateo.
My favorite currently, this Boulder ace gets it right from start to finish. Not only does it feel like you're home again, but Matthew Jansen, Chef and Co-Owner takes you on a culinary journey of old Europe (Provence specifically) with a touch of altitude. They also focus on the best of the best in terms of local ingredients wherever possible.
As you sit down, you are presented with a finely simple wine list to complement every aspect of your meal. Not only that, but you are given time to process it. And I appreciate nothing more than time for my imagination to pair my wine with the dishes that catch my eye.
As my wife and I were spreading our focaccia bread with Kalamata Olive tapenade (yes, my friends, butter is way 90's) I overheard our server chatting it up at the table behind us. My initial thought was 'come on, just let them enjoy their meal.' I've been on the service side, and in my day I liked to keep it brief and entertaining. Every once in a while you get a table of talkers and the conversation progresses past the typical one-liners to make your guests chuckle and earn a tip. But this was different. The joy seemed to flow both ways.
She then made her way over to our table, and her friendly, relaxed demeanor somehow just put us at ease. She had a passion for the food, and within reason. She knew all about it, how it was prepared, where it came from, you name it. Next thing I know, we're stuck in the same type of conversation I was eavesdropping on moments earlier. It was like we had known her for years. It felt like we were home.
Remember that table behind us? Their main course arrives, and a woft of truffle attacks me. My quest begins to figure out what dish was drizzled with that terrific oil. "We'll have what they have".
A number of small plates to start never hurt anyone. In this case, you can't help yourself. Our spread commenced with a cheese and charcuterie plate. Sounds simple, sure. But matching pear, sopressata, quince, smoky ciabatta and fine manchego takes you way past that. With endless combinations, you find yourself building a little piece of happy each time around. Something different, more intriguing. A little of this, more of that. There is something soothing about being in control, no? Who says the chef needs to do all the work?
We then progressed to the Lobster Gratin, the ultimate comfort food. It seems like everyone is doing their version of this dish these days, but not everyone fully gets it. I would say there is nothing more disappointing than wolfing down a few chunks of succulent lobster in your first bite, then ending up with a bowl full of the blue box blues. This time, it was hard not to find the lobster. Top to bottom, buttery and smooth, in perfect melody with Gruyere and Reggiano. Nice work folks.
The plot thickens. Our seared sea scallops arrive, over a bed of watercress, almost swimming in mushroom duxelle. And of course, the truffle. The only miss on the balance here was too much duxelle. Wait a minute, too much duxelle? That's like saying there's too much awesome. I know, I know. The scallops were gone, the watercress was gone. The duxelle remained. Considering my only 'issue' of the night, that's a good issue to have.
Enter the 5th star. The Pot au Chocolat. My, what could that be? Easy enough, and yes. It is a pot of chocolate. Did I mention it was my birthday? Hey man, I earned that extra notch in my belt. The denouement.
A nice space, with some attractive art and unique qualities. Far from pretentious, you could show up in jeans and eat at the bar, or make a fine night of it.
Case and point: Mateo get's it right. My recommendation: Dish it up.