By Lori Draz
The first rays of the summer sun put us in a benevolent mood, so we decided to let the summer visitors get an early shot at the waterfront restaurants and opted instead to travel inland. It was a great way to beat the crowds, get plenty of service, and try some new places we’ve been meaning to get to for a while, all while supporting the businesses and staffs of these great local eateries.
Our journey took us to Matawan, to a place called the Mediterranean Chateau. First off, the restaurant is neither Middle Eastern nor French. It is Portuguese – authentic Portuguese, and very good Portuguese at that. What it lacked in the traditional heavy black and red décor, it more than made up for with its open, airy design. The big bar has its own separate room and there’s even outdoor dining.
We sat down to a large house salad, big enough for four and a basket of warm rolls. This is the standard complimentary starter and very welcoming. It gave us time to choose between the red, white, blue, or green sangria. We saw another table with a pitcher of the blue, but we were most content with the classic red.
We chose two appetizers: the stuffed mushrooms and the Shrimp in Garlic Sauce. Between the salad dressing, the garlic sauce, and the saucy entrees, it was easy to see why they bring so much bread; all the delicious sauces are worth being dipped to the last drop. We liked the shrimp very much, but the mushrooms were the real surprise. They were pillowy soft, cooked to the right tenderness and not a bit bland. I also ordered the Caldo Verde, which is a traditional potato-based Portuguese soup with green kale, minced collard greens, and chourico. The bowl was huge and the soup was mildly flavored and very comforting. This would be a nice opener for kids or less adventurous adults. I wish I could have finished it all, but I needed to save some room for the entrees.
I chose Bife a Portuguesa, or Steak Portuguese Style, which is a top round sirloin steak, topped with ham, egg, and Portuguese sauce. I was having a hard imagining how it would taste when the waiter told me it was a very popular selection. I soon learned why. All those flavors worked together very nicely and the dish is definitely worth trying, especially if you’re in the mood for some red meat. The bonus to my dish was the house-made potato chips that ringed the plate – another really nice, and this time crunchy, surprise. Guest #2 chose the Boneless Chicken Breast, baked in a white wine, tomato, pepper, onion, and garlic sauce. It came served with little round white potatoes, about the size of quail eggs. The dish has a very homey feel, with the sauce tasting like all the ingredients had developed together for a while. Guest #3 had to try the paehla, and the Mediterranean Chateau offers three different styles. There’s the Paelha Chateau, with King crab legs, lobster tails, mussels, clams, scallops, and shrimp in a yellow Spanish rice; the Paelha Valenciana, which includes shell-on lobster, mussels, clams, shrimp, scallops, chicken, pork, and chourico in a yellow Spanish rice; and a vegetarian paehla, which I have been told is a bold, delicious, “not-wimpy” vegetarian selection. Our guest was delighted with the Chateau style. The rice was not too wet, and the dish was full of chunks of lobster, king crab, mussels, and more. It’s served for one, but there was plenty to take home for the next day’s lunch.
As we ordered desserts, we all wondered how this lovely little gem had been there for almost four years without a visit from anyone at our table. The lesson is, “It pays to drive to a new neighborhood.”
We chose three desserts: the homemade Serra Dura, an authentic Portuguese dessert made with heavy cream, whipped cream, and crumbled cookies; the Bolo de Amendoa Torrada e Créme, a toasted almond cream cake made with ladyfingers soaked in amaretto syrup, layered with mascarpone cream, and topped with Amarettini cookies and roasted almonds; and the Bolo de Tres Leites, a tender sponge cake delicately soaked in three luscious milks and covered with a silky cream topping. We enjoyed them all, but we figured out why the milk cake was the pictured item. It was beautiful, delicate, and melted in your mouth.
The coffee, which I always try, was fresh and delicious. We were also happy that they offered a well-made espresso.
It was as good as a trip to Newark’s Ironbound district, without the commute, and a great night with a friendly staff and a delicious menu.
The cost: Low to moderate
What we liked: The accommodating staff, the generous portions, that surprising house salad, the roominess, the cleanliness (including the bathrooms), and that sangria was pretty darn tasty, too.
What could be better: Perhaps a kids’ menu, and a few more choices for the truly American eaters.