Sometimes, you've just got to get out of Colorado Springs, and you know why. A mere 90 miles and two hours north, the Republic of Boulder is a quick, easy and distinctive getaway.
Should you decide over the holidays to leave the religious-right capital for the center of the New Age universe, let me recommend Mateo, an understated and elegant Pearl Street restaurant, for lunch or dinner. Located just beyond the Pearl Street Mall, Mateo, owned by Boulder native and executive chef Matthew Jansen, fuses locally grown and produced veggies, fruits, cheeses and meats into French country fare with an American twist.
For very reasonable prices, Mateo offers an exquisite dining experience in relaxed environs. A certified master sommelier, Jansen has put together an interesting wine list, ranging from inexpensive glasses and half-glasses to an impressive selection of full bottles, chosen to complement his earthy Provencal food choices.
Whatever you eat, do not miss the best french fries in the state, the house-cut frites. Locally, The Warehouse's truffle-oil frites are a treat, but Mateo's are rendered crisper and chewier than most with a soaking in salt water and a double-cooking process. Ordered as an appetizer ($4), they come with house-made spicy ketchup, a piquant combination of ketchup, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, sherry vinegar, horseradish and Tabasco sauce. Better yet, enjoy your frites with a pile of steamed mussels, nicely seasoned with a persillade of garlic, parsley and olive oil.
A recent dinner at Mateo illustrated the versatility of the menu. I started with a watercress salad with roasted Red Wagon Farm organic baby beets, toasted hazelnuts and Haystack Mountain goat cheese ($8), a sweet and bitter balance that left my taste buds tingling, while my dinner mate slurped through a mountain of mussels and frites ($9).
His entre, delicate house-made potato gnocchi with Maine lobster, Red Wagon Farm autumn squash and fresh tarragon ($21), was colorful and fragrant. My hefty braised shank of Colorado lamb ($25), served with creamy soft polenta, Red Wagon baby carrots and a rich jus, could have happily fed a hungry farmhand. The shank sheltered moist, tender hunks of heavily seasoned lamb, unmistakably fresh.
Dessert choices ($6) were a warm pot au chocolat; caramel custard with pecan butter cookies; a peach, ginger and almond tart with house-made vanilla ice cream; French apple cake with Calvados crme Anglaise; or house-made sorbet with fresh berries and meringue. We were too full for any of them, but can heartily recommend both the pot au chocolat and the sorbet from previous visits.
Mateo's lunch menu offers many of the same inventive salads, a Croque Monsieur sandwich with Black Forest ham and Gruyere cheese, or a Madame with a farm fresh egg added, a roasted veggie sandwich, tummy-warming pastas and, yes, the mussels and frites. From Dec. 25 to Dec. 31, there's a holiday tasting menu available for $34 per person that includes an appetizer; a frise salad with poached pear, gorgonzola, candied walnuts and Port wine vinaigrette; boeuf la Bourguignonne over house-cut pappardelle; and Tahitian vanilla bean crme brule.
Within the year, Jansen will be opening Radda, a northern Italian trattoria modeled after Mateo yet another reason for an escape to Boulder.
1837 Pearl St., Boulder, 303/443-7766,
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 to 2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m.