As a last big date before law school starts, Logan told me he would surprise me. He knows how much I love surprises and good food, so all I knew is that it included dinner.
I always love the anticipation as we drive through town. Usually I don’t voice my guesses, but internally I think of all the places we’ve talked about checking out recently, or what favorites we haven’t been to lately. I speculate as we get out of the car, watch where Logan could possibly be leading me, ask goofy questions about what types of food we’re eating. After passing several places I’d thought were options, we finally ducked in Mateo!
Mateo is a Spanish tapas place downtown. We are lucky enough to have several delicious tapas restaurants in Durham, but Mateo is one I’d never tried, so I was overjoyed!
On a Friday night, it was pretty full: the couple before us at the hostess stand didn’t have a reservation, and only the bar seats were available. We had a reservation so we didn’t have to wait and slid quickly into a cute little table. They had a pretty extensive wine and sherry list, but I ended up going with a glass of sangria. Mateo’s twist on sangria is that they add unusual splashes to a traditional drink: Cheerwine in the red wine and sweet tea in the white. It was a fun little southern touch and added a tiny bit of sweetness and carbonation without overwhelming the typical sangria taste.
Right away, we knew we wanted to order the jamon sampler plate. It was a tray of four different hams: three Spanish and one North Carolinian. It cracked me up that the one with most fat was the American one, but I digress. They all four tasted delicious! Chorizo was just a touch spicy, the Lomo was salty and delicious on bread, the Johnston County was rich and almost gooey, and the Serrano was a little smoky. We could have eaten our weight in that jamon!
To complement the jamon, we chose the patatas bravas and cheese croquetas. Patatas bravas are – in my mind, anyway – the quintessential tapa. It’s simple, it’s fried, it has great sauces and just enough to relish the good flavors without filling up on just potatoes.
We also got an order of ablondigas – lamb meatballs with almost a Greek influence, complete with feta, cucumbers, dill and a great sauce – and gambas, shrimp sitting in a generous helping of olive oil, garlic, lemon and spices, complete with bread to dip in the remaining oil once the shrimp was gone (which, of course, I did). The ablondigas wasn’t my favorite. The sauce was delicious, but something about the meatballs didn’t quite hit what I was hoping. But I especially loved the gambas: I can never say no to a good shrimp dish! I also appreciated that there were 6-7 shrimp in there, making sure there was enough to share and have your fill!
Throughout our meal, the service was excellent. In spite of it being a busy night, our waiter was attentive, our glasses got refilled quickly, and plates were cleared fast enough that our small table didn’t get overcrowded.
We had a great time at Mateo, and would definitely go back again!
all images original to Teaspoon of Nose
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