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Mateo, Durham, NC

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(Note: This thread was split from another at: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8651... -- The Chowhound Team)

We ate the second time at Mateo this weekend as well. First time a little over a month ago everything was astonishingly good, but 5 of 8 prepared items this time had a fatty or old oil flavor and we didn't finish our meal. Crab stuffed peppers, lamb skewers with two salsas, and ribs were quite good.

Oakleaf several weeks ago for Saturday dinner was quite good, the quality of the food, particularly the fish, reminded me a lot of Mandolin. One of the best renditions of mussels in wine I've had...a fairly common / easy dish so particularly fine to stand out like that.

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  1. Not great news about Mateos. Has anyone else had this kind of experience lately?

    12 Replies
    1. re: LulusMom

      Not sure it is a trend, maybe more a combination of selections and an off night. Some things just didn't work - fried sweetbreads in a deep dish of creamy grits are going to get soggy, cold quail in the salad (salad was great) would have worked much better as hot / cold contrast, etc. But we're on the wrong thread for this :-).

      Would love to hear what was good there for you guys since we were eating there at the same time.

      1. re: D R C

        We ate there in November and again in early December. I haven't been since but have been wanting to go back.

        1. re: LulusMom

          Ah, sorry! The new way the messages are displayed I got these mixed up with you guys new posts. Nevermind!

          1. re: D R C

            Now that I think about it, there was a really annoying customer sitting at one of the high tables in the middle of the dining room complaining about his calamari. We ordered it to see if this persons complaint was valid, and it wasn't.

        2. re: D R C

          Sweet breads that I have had in general aren't not mushy but they aren't like a cut of stead either. Also, I'm not sure frying them is the best way to prepare them anyways.

          1. re: D R C

            DRC - I ate at Mateo about two weeks ago and ordered the same sweetbreads dish that you had. I also had the same reaction; the bowl of grits they were served in made the breading get soggy/mushy REAL quick and made for a dish that was not very enjoyable. However, I must admit that was my first experience with sweetbreads so I wasn't 100% if they should have been soggy or not.

            Otherwise, everything else we ordered that evening was great!

            1. re: D R C

              Mateo has improved for me with each visit. That said, I must agree that I've learned what to avoid (and unfortunately they don't know the first thing about sweetbreads, ie, how to clean them!), and also have had greater success at lunch.

              1. re: dbird

                What have you had the best luck with?

                Your experience is why I tend to wait a while before trying a new place. My dining dollars are limited and I am not inclined to pay for the kitchens learning curb.

                Just a general observation, it seems that many restaurants are sending out concepts as opposed to well thought out dishes that have the kinks worked out. I accept that with a "special" but I find it frustrating when it is a menu item.

                1. re: meatn3

                  "many restaurants are sending out concepts"

                  +1

            2. re: LulusMom

              Had a great meal at Mateos sunday. Highlights included chicken fried rabbit, braised duck with rice, bone marrow, lamb meatballs, chilled seafood salad, chicken wings, chicken skin salad, duck egg, clams and a few other dishes I can't remember. The comment about old oil makes no sense to me. They're certainly not using cheap or old/overused oil. High level of cooking on my visit two nights ago.

              1. re: veganhater

                Phew! I'm so happy to hear this. And man, I want most of what you had. Sounds incredible.

              2. re: LulusMom

                Yeah I'm jealous, I think that was the other half of the menu :-).

                Not sure what to think about the oil comment. I'll get the same textural result / aftertaste in my cooking if I don't defat a stew sufficiently or if my fry temperature is too low; and some things had an additional taste, if not old then maybe too-high oil temp. I dunno. Glad it was isolated to us.

              3. I'm not sure this deserves promotion to a standalone thread, but so be it. As background, I saw earlier (or thought I saw :-) that LulusMom had eaten there this past weekend, and wanted to compare notes, rather than slam someone which as a standalone thread is how this is going to come across. Still, it's worth noting that after hearing me rave about my first meal there without her, my wife (who is into eating out as a hobby almost as much as I am) says she won't go back. After "astonishingly good" I am not so quick to judge, but we usually do this together :-).

                2 Replies
                1. re: D R C

                  I hate when that happens - I have a great experience, rave about a place, and then the next time, when I take someone, it isn't all that great. My husband went to Watt's his first time without me, and raved about it (as did many on this board) and then I went and thought it was pretty bad. I wouldn't go back.

                  1. re: LulusMom

                    I'm with you on Watts. I wasn't at all blown away by my experience there and haven't gone back. Still, I understand the problem. I had to stop taking my father to my favorite pizza place because every time he was there, the pizza was awful. He was starting to doubt whether I still had a sense of taste.

                2. I have had uneven dining experiences every time I have eaten there. I'm glad it's there, and I would happily go back, but I don't feel the food is anywhere near as good as the vibe. I wish the dishes were simpler, tastier, and more true to Spanish tapas. I'd be much happier with some marinated sardines, fried artichokes, and bacalla.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: durhamois

                    I'd love them to have the sardines, and some sort of true Spanish anchovy tapas, and yes yes yes on the bacalla.

                    1. re: LulusMom

                      They do have bouquerones on the menu, and have every time I've been there. Under the pintxos section

                      1. re: veganhater

                        They've been out each time we've been. I'll keep trying.

                    2. re: durhamois

                      If/when you get to Asheville, make sure you get to Curate. Had I never eaten there, I would have thought Mateo was amazing. Having been to Curate, I feel that Mateo is merely rather good. Curate is just plain awesome.

                    3. Had a birthday lunch there this week. It was our first visit and we were very impressed. The trout salad was amazing. One of the best salads ever. They had a very delicate mint asparagus soup that was superb -- a lovely contrast to the strong flavored dishes. The ribs were incredubly flavorful and falling off the bone. Two misses: the breading on the calamari was a bit too heavy and the heuvo diablo was way too salty (but it gets raves so many people appreciate salt more than we do). The flan was so creamy -- "the best ever" says my DH who makes a mean flan himself. I also had a classico G &T which was excellent AND huge.

                      The excellent absolutely outweighed the misses for us. One of our best meals in a long time. And the service was terrific (although it was late and they were not busy).

                      Oy! Wish we lived in Durham. I'm so jealous!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: TerryG

                        Ate there again last night and had my first truly unpleasant experience. Three of the four dishes we ordered were salty to the point of being practically inedible. The offenders were the octopus carpaccio, baby collard salad with chicken chicharones, and the queso frito y huevo. I really hope this is not the start of a trend since this is one of my favorite restaurants in the Triangle.

                        1. re: ToothTooth

                          We really enjoyed our recent visit -- with the exception of the huevo diablo. Also very salty. Oversalted food is a real no no for me. You're right, Tooth, a heavy hand with the salt simply makes a dish inedible. I wish I knew the chef "got" that. I was planning to return soon but now I'm not so sure.