(2008) Chef Paul Mattison, a veteran restaurateur with a reputation and a following along this stretch of Florida’s Gulf Coast, seems to have done it again with his latest venture. Even a mere five days after opening, when most new restaurants are just beginning to find their legs, Mattison’s 41 was running as smoothly as a seasoned marathoner.
It started for us at the granite-topped horseshoe bar, where I was treated to a perfect martini and Colette, following the advice of a demure black-and-white Felix the Cat poster on the wall, drank her wine. She was glad she listened to Felix. The by-the-glass selection at Mattison’s 41 is as tempting as they come, achieving a surprising depth in a relatively short list. Bar service was unobtrusively attentive and cheerful, as was the service later at table. A single flat-screen bar TV allowed those so inclined to keep an eye on the game without intruding on conversation.
If you were in a hurry or a certain mood, you could put together a light but satisfying meal at the bar by pairing a glass of good wine with an item or two from a list of soups, salads, appetizers, sandwiches and pizzas, priced from $6.95 for French onion soup with sherry, thyme, Gruyére and Parmesan to $14.95 for a Greek salad featuring grilled New Zealand lamb chops. We were not in that mood and soon moved to a comfortable booth to pursue our research in depth.
The decor throughout the single big room is a study in understated lighting, colors and especially textures, punctuated by clever, equally understated art. The effect is soothing and lends the open space a welcome intimacy. There is live music each evening, which is fine, but the food will keep discerning guests coming back.
Let’s fast forward to the undisputed culinary star of our evening, which I can’t wait to describe. Colette ordered it, and her radar was really working. The main dish served to her treated a luscious, precisely medium-rare New York strip steak ($31.95) as few steaks have the good fortune to be treated. The roasted shallot butter was certainly a plus, but it was the pre-grilling rub, compounded of coarse sea salt and crushed red sumac berries, that formed a pluperfect crust and launched this deceptively simple prep into the stratosphere. Pair it with impossibly light and greaseless Parmesan-dusted French fries and you have a course to make a carnivorous angel sing.
Colette may have snagged the Big Wally, but I did just fine by indulging my taste for scallops, billed here as being of the jumbo Boston variety ($22.95). I’ve tasted sweeter scallops, but these were impeccably fresh, thoughtfully sauced in a vanilla beurre blanc, and beautifully paired with a super savory pancetta and potato hash with smoked oyster mushrooms.
Mushrooms, shiitakes this time, played a prominent role in my starter, too, which featured sweet and tender escargots bathed in a dreamy roasted garlic sauce spiked with thyme and served with big crisp croutons worthy of the sauce. The snails were not those shriveled little gray things tasting of the can they came in, which escargots, even at some otherwise good restaurants, too often are.
Colette’s artichokes Esther began with flash-fried hearts, crisp outside and tender within, and served on a bed of mixed baby greens with chopped tomatoes and capers, all asserted by a snap of lemon. Delightful.
Gelato was our choice at dessert, mine a vivid espresso served au naturel and hers vanilla atop a fresh and toothsome berry cobbler. Espresso sent us humming happily home, reminding ourselves to keep an eye on chef Michael Caraballo, the man on the firing line who executed the boss’s recipes and inspirations so beautifully.
7275 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; until midnight Friday and Saturday; bar opens at 4 p.m.
Cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover
Ample lot parking