For all my abiding gastro-Italophilia, I remain at gut-level a modern American in 1 crucial way: For me dinner, not lunch, is the crowning meal. I prefer to eat lightly & work hard(ish) all day so that come evening, I can enter into a drunken &/or gluttonous stupor free of guilt on the 1 hand & on the other any dread of the rude awakening that a post-siesta return to the daily grind would constitute.
That said: when in Rome. Or, in this case, when in Mateo—not an Italian restaurant, mind you, but it is Provençal, which is as close as the French get to being Italian. For that matter, when anyplace that offers a gratin du jour. Yesterday’s contained green beans, whole roasted cloves of garlic, parmesan & cream.
You know that corny old joke where the girl goes into the soda fountain and asks for like a meat lovers’ triple banana split topped with hot fudge, butterscotch, peanuts & popcorn & extra sausage, flambeed in Jäger, & then when the soda jerk asks “With a cherry on top?” she says “Heavens, no, I’m on a diet”? That nice, light dusting of breadcrumbs on top of Old Smokey there is basically the cherry. Beneath it those green beans just floated peacefully like spa clients in their own immersion tank of peppered & cheese-thickened cream, garlic cloves going by like jet bubbles.
In short, yum. After all, a gratin is rich by definition; I expected no less than a fine mess into which my dining companions & I might plunge with hunks of excellent country bread. They actually came with a black-olive tapenade,
but much as I love olives themselves, in their pulverized form their saltiness somehow always strikes me as excessive. Rarely make the stuff myself without adding sundried tomatoes for balance. Still, if the textbook version is what you’re into (in the buff, bein’ rude, doin’ stuff with the food), this one was it.
As was the signature bouillabaisse, save for the fact that I didn’t really catch the rouille, which traditionally serves as a garnish, particularly atop the croutons, as well as an ingredient in the broth itself. While I missed its extra kick a bit, I could hardly complain about the bubbly crust the toast did boast.
Et le soupe was magnifique, with nice, big, firm chunks of lobster meat & monkfish, juicy mussels & clams, fat shrimp & a wonderful broth tinged with saffron that may or may not have been smoked (the menu reads “saffron fumé,” which I initially assumed was a typo, since fumet is the seafood stock with which bouillabaisse is made, but now suspect the spice itself actually is gently fumé. Wow to that. Given how precious hand-picked saffron is, smoking it’s got to be 1 delicate process. Screwing up would be like sneezing on your last gram. Or so I hear).
Enthralled with all that, I didn’t even try my companions’ dishes, but they were awfully jolie, from the baby spinach with gorgonzola dolce, grilled plums (the kitchen was out of the usual peaches) & warm pancetta vinaigrette
to the Cobb—not a classic rendition, lacking tomato, but of all its ingredients, that’s surely the most dispensable, especially in the face of such fine specimens of chicken, bacon & blue cheese (as well as avocado & chopped egg).
Still, being a bit Cobbed out lately myself, I more greedily coveted the gnocchi with chanterelles in a velvety-looking mushroom (say it with me now kids) fumet.
Good thing it’s on the dinner menu too, as I plan to drag the Director up to Boulder sooner rather than later.