It had been a while since I poked my head into Mateo, noteworthy for its fine charcuterie and cheese-laden happy hour and accessible South of France cuisine. Warm, sunny days evoke recollections of tooling around Provence’s gorgeous lavender-scented landscapes. As a consequence, I thought it was high time to recapture some of these memories by visiting this Pearl Street spot.
Inside Mateo, tastefully refined earth tones and bright whites make for an elegant-yet-welcoming setting such as one might find in a gallery staffed by friendly, unpretentious folks. Similarly, the lunchtime menu artfully strikes a balance between familiar American dishes as Cobb salad and its Côte d’Azur cousin, salad Niçoise. Colorado sirloin burgers evoke like symmetry with a Croque-Monsieur ham sandwich. Bistro traditionalists will appreciate the quiche platter or steamed mussels, and dishes like quinoa salad reflect a more global, health-conscious sensibility.
Friend Paul and I mused whether the only real difference between liverwurst and pâté is price as we awaited our $7 chicken liver mousse. What we had was a far cry from the bulbous, livery tubes of youth that made Spam seem comparatively appealing. Arriving in the form of an oddly appropriate, elongated, egg-shaped helping, this pâté came accompanied by crisp toasts and a fig and apple confit.
I’m prepared to make a principled argument that this appetizer represents the highest and best use of chicken liver. It was luxuriously creamy and arrived at a perfect, slightly chilled temperature that showcased pleasing subtleties of flavor. Sweet and tart qualities of the fruit confit balanced out the unabashed decadence of the dish, and a mellow hint of cinnamon contributed depth to this condiment.
Paul’s main course was the $13 lamb Bolognaise atop ribbony tagliatelle pasta. The noodles were ideally al dente in texture, and the hefty sauce evoked memories of such rustic fare as cacciatore or coq au vin. The sauce included a reduction of San Marzano tomato for a hint of tang that countered the pleasantly understated game qualities of the meat. The only flaw was oil separation in the emulsified sauce, although this issue seemed to have limited impact on the taste.
Steak frites is one of the most emblematic bistro standbys. Simple, hearty and not at all twee, Mateo’s $16 version hits all the traditional hot buttons. Relying on an entrecôte cut (from roughly the same part of the cow as a ribeye or sirloin), this preparation came complete with green salad, sauce Béarnaise, and the required frites. While this cut lacks the tenderness of a filet, it makes up for texture with full-bore flavor. Mine arrived rare, as requested, and the beefy savor played nicely off the lemony and creamy tones of the sublime Béarnaise.
The frites, which Paul maintains are the best in town, and I’m disinclined to disagree, were textbook crisp on the outside, with distinct potato flavor on the interior. My friend felt these passed the critical test of remaining appealing when cold, and the house-made spicy ketchup, with its pungent horseradish aroma, was the most simpatico accompaniment.
Mateo quietly and consistently offers elegant French bistro meals at prices that aren’t too dear. Quality preparation and overall attention to detail make for an experience that evokes the best of Provence’s satisfyingly rustic cuisine.
Mateo is located at 1837 Pearl St., Boulder. Call 303-443-7766.