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