I came to Mateo on a Thursday night. I spent 24 minutes circling the street & garage parking prospects before giving up, pulling over near Surf Club, and spending a few useless minutes on Instagram. On my last swing around, I found a street spot on the inner loop, which I snagged without a moment’s hesitation. I then ambled over to Mateo through the alley near Criterion for a much-desired bite. I had my heart set on their Jarrett Bay oysters, a fixture on their specials board for the last couple of months.
These Jarrett Bay oysters are served raw with a warm crab roe sabayon sauce on top. I know. What the fuck is crab roe sabayon sauce? I had to look it up the first time I tried them. A sabayon sauce is similar to a hollandaise, as it also requires egg yolks, but is instead incorporated with wine, usually a dry white or a sherry. At Mateo, their sabayon sauce is then additionally fortified with crab roe and served atop raw oysters. Oh my. There’s a reason there’s no picture of these oysters to accompany this writeup. I gobbled those up in maybe 2 minutes. Tops. I didn’t realize at this point in my night that I would be writing this piece, so I didn’t think to take a photo. I went to Mateo because I wanted to… it was the first night of my long-planned 4-day vacation and I just had to have these oysters. The combination of the warm savory sauce and the meaty and briny oysters made for a bizarre combination of flavors and textures that ultimately worked together very well. That said, I suspect a less briny oyster might not work with this sauce. That saltiness seems to be key. This dish is indeed a gamble, but one that pays off.
For my next course I continued to ride the specials menu. I elected to try the Blue Crab Cocktail Claws tossed in BBQ butter. Oh yes. This dish is the sex of bar food… at least, depending on your flavor of fuck. If you like messy, then this is the dish for you. Served with the shells removed on a bed of melty BBQ butter, this dish presented me with the much-appreciated opportunity to eat with my hands, napkin be damned. I licked my fingers and sopped up that BBQ butter with some bread and made no apologies. Apologizing for beasting my food with raw enthusiasm didn’t even cross my mind until I saw a well-groomed lady giving me the hairy eyeball across the bar. She didn’t know what to do with me and that’s okay. It happens all the time.
I was in a bit of a surf and turf mood on this night, so for my next course I gave their new “bistec” small plate a try. This dish involves squid ink–which was NOT indicated on the menu, by the way. (I asked the bartender about the dish and he described it to me in detail, including the squid ink.) I don’t like squid ink. I never have. But I decided to overcome that aversion on this night and just go for it. The “bistec” small plate always involves some cut of beef. Most recently, it had been brisket. This new dish, however, was center-cut ribeye served with crispy potatoes (like chips), horseradish creme-fraiche, caviar, and a squid ink & bone marrow sauce. Every bite of this dish tasted like Gatsby-era decadence. You’re damn right I enjoyed it. What better time for decadence than vacation? The combination of bone marrow and squid ink made the squid ink enjoyable for me for the first time in my life. Even though this dish was a small plate, it still took me more than 20 minutes to get through it. Each bite was so full of flavor (and the steak cooked to perfection) that I necessarily took breaks in order to survive the decadence.
At this point in the night I knew I was going to write this thing you’re reading. Much of this was written just after the meal, while I was polishing off a PBR and a Jameson at Criterion and recording my raw thoughts on my mini notepad–my constant companion. You never know when inspiration will strike, but on this night, it was after the beef but before the banana pudding. A Tribe Called Quest was playing on the speakers at Mateo when I whipped out my notebook to record my first thoughts. I let the bartender talk me into dessert. I had worked up a bit of a sweet tooth at this point and decided to not resist the urge.
The banana pudding at Mateo is served in a mason jar with layers of pecan wafers and topped with toasted meringue. It’s quite pretty. It’s quite delicious too. I am particularly fond of banana pudding and Mateo does justice to this dessert. I couldn’t finish it though. It came home with me later that night and was my snack before I hit the road for my vacation. It definitely keeps in the fridge overnight.
I walked out of Mateo that night feeling toasty and inspired. While sometimes I wish I could come to this place more often, I am happy to put a little distance between meals such as this one. True gastronomical bliss is a most precious thing and must be treated so.
All original photos by The Editor (Matia Guardabascio).