Brothers Restaurant at Mattei’s Tavern: Hearty Food in Historic Stage Coach Inn [CLOSED]

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Restaurant Sign Los Olivos

Brothers Restaurant has one of the most dramatic signs around, a historic water tower.

After a day of tastings at Santa Ynez Valley wineries, we finally decided to suspend our liquid diet. We had reservations at one of the area’s hottest restaurants, Brothers Restaurant at Mattei’s Tavern, named for the establishment’s chef/owners, Matt and Jeff Nichols.

The turnoff from Highway 154 featured an elevated metal water tank emblazoned with “Mattei’s Tavern, Old Stage Coach Inn, Since 1886,” a historical reminder that the building was originally a stagecoach stop between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

Restaurant Los Olivos

Another link to the past sits above the door to the classic old white building, a horse-drawn carriage’s wooden silhouette.

Lounge Los Olivos

Right inside the three-year-old restaurant is a charming tavern, called “Mattei’s Bodega.”

Plush chairs ring a fireplace and high tables and stools fill the bar. Bodega diners can order off the regular menu and from a bodega menu filled with dishes like hamburgers. We kept walking to the main dining room, a classic white-walled space with an open kitchen in the rear.

A fairly reliable indicator of how good a meal will be is the bread plate. The version we were graced with at Mattei’s was among the best I’ve sampled. The white plate held four breads (clockwise from top left): crusty slices of multi-grain, silky garlic focaccia, sweet jalapeño cornbread, and mini biscuits.

Tuna Tartare Los Olivos

Even though every other restaurant on the planet seems to serve tuna tartare, Mattei’s rendition ($12) featured a better presentation than most, and some nice flavor flourishes. The chopped raw tuna arrived in a martini glass with fresh cuts of avocado, spicy yuzu vinaigrette, fried wontons, crispy ginger and sprouts, with crisp tortillas at the base for scooping.

Spring Rolls Los Olivos

Vegetable spring rolls incorporated spicy mango sauce and an Asian salad ($8) of green apple, red pepper, and cabbage slaw. Even without meat, the crisp rolls packed plenty of zest.

Since it was fall, our entrees both revolved around hearty portions of meat.

Lamb Los Olivos

Rack of lamb ($29) was divided into four thick lamb chops, served with goat cheese-laced mashed potatoes, carrots and green beans. The lamb chops were lean, not gamy at all, and salty in a way that the flavor built with each bite. The meat was so tasty, I couldn’t help but pick up the chops like lollipops.

Venison Los Olivos

A large cut of char-grilled, pepper-crusted venison loin ($29) laid across a bed of sweet potato puree and fig port wine sauce. The sauce featured port-soaked fig halves and was garnished with more fresh carrots and string beans. The menu may have listed sweet potatoes, but there was no doubt we were eating yams, which added a nice sweetness to the plate. It also didn’t hurt that the meat was high quality, and surprisingly lean.

Dessert Los Olivos

Desserts almost all sounded good, but filling. Wanting a comfortable drive back to Los Angeles, we showed restraint and split sorbets with Mom’s chocolate chip-oatmeal cookies ($7).

Of course, in keeping with the large portion concept, we received four scoops with terrific, firm cookies. We stuck with the mango and green apple sorbets, but swapped raspberry and strawberry for two ice creams: roasted banana and cinnamon. The large bowl also included mint leaves, fresh blackberries and raspberries. Cinnamon could have tasted more distinctive, but the other flavors were outstanding.

Our waitress touted the Oregon chanterelle mushroom risotto with grilled quail as a signature dish, but I doubt it will be on the menu when I return. The Nichols Brothers emphasize seasonal ingredients, making for a less predictable experience. Not that I’m worried. Given the quality of our meal, I have no doubt our dishes will be just as delicious in Winter, Spring or Summer.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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