Mate, a newly opened lounge and bar in Georgetown, bills itself as the place to see and be seen. Certainly, if seeing women in teeny-tiny skirts or spotting celebrities — including George Clooney, Nicole Kidman and Mick Jagger (according to the owner) — is one’s wish, Mate delivers.
The scene is only part of what makes Mate (MAH-teh) a welcome addition to Georgetown. The decor is groovy, sophisticated and mostly red, featuring Verner Panton-designed spiral lamps, ‘60s-inspired chairs and an aluminum bar.
If it weren’t for the house music pumping through massive speakers, Mate successfully would transport visitors back to the “shagadelic” ‘60s.
To be fair, the evening started out with bossa nova and around 10 p.m. shifted to modern dance music, spun by a DJ behind a wall of lighted, color-changing panels. But this is no nightclub.
“We don’t have a dance floor, and we don’t play hip-hop,” says Osmar Nunez-Vilches, who owns the lounge with Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld. The latter also owns Gua-Rapo in Arlington, Ceviche in Silver Spring, Chi Cha on the U Street corridor and Gazuza in the Dupont Circle area. All serve some combination of tapas, sushi and nuevo Latino cuisine.
“We have a dress code — no jerseys or baseball caps,” Mr. Nunez-Vilches says. “We have a sophisticated crowd. Some people say we’re like a younger Cafe Milano.”
That comparison would have to entail good food too, right? It does. Very good, in fact. The menu features classic sushi and South American-inspired sushi with names such as Buenos Aires (jumbo lump crab with torched salmon, tempura crunch and wasabi mayo). Whether classic or avant-garde, this sushi is expertly prepared, using the freshest ingredients and blending flavors to perfection.
Mate is the name of a South American plant used to make tea that has high levels of caffeine. At Mate, the restaurant, mate the tea is used in drinks called matetinis, which are fabulous. The mango matetini — mango vodka, mate and a splash of mango nectar — is smooth and fresh. This can be said for the mojito and caipirinha too — fresh lime galore and sweet, but not too sweet.
Mate also serves various imported beers, including 22-ounce cans of Sapporo, a Japanese lager that goes great with sushi.
The Mate rolls, which are the Latin-inspired sushi rolls, consist of eight pieces, which would be a satisfying portion only for one of the women in the very short skirts. For the rest of us, at least two of these portions should be ordered for a filling meal.
Aside from the Buenos Aires roll, the Mar del Plata — lobster, cucumber, soy nori, chives and avocado — is an excellent choice. The flavors and textures blend perfectly, and the chives provide an unexpected but nice kick. The volcano roll — shrimp tempura topped with seared spicy crab salad — also was very satisfying.
The excellent whitefish ceviche was served with shredded beets and fillets of fish; and the classic salmon nigiri roll was perfect — fresh fish balanced with just the right amount of rice and wasabi.
The only disappointment was the mixed greens. They were fresh but soaked in a far-too-tart vinaigrette. The choco Mate cake (the only dessert on the menu) was just OK. The warm chocolate cake filled with chocolate ganache and served with raspberry coulis needed something — maybe vanilla ice cream? — to balance the overwhelming and sticky chocolate.
The service is knowledgeable, friendly and speedy. Used plates are never left sitting, new dishes arrive quickly, and recommendations are made willingly. Even as the space starts to fill up around 10 p.m. (the kitchen is open until 1:30 a.m. on the weekend, but people stay as late as 2:30 a.m., Mr. Nunez-Vilches says), there is never any pressure on the campers to leave. While trendy, this is a friendly place.
Mate, which opened in June, is glitzy and sophisticated but never snooty and condescending. The decor is fun and groovy but risks looking dated quickly. What will help Mate in the long run will be to continue to back up its pretty surface with substance — its consistently excellent food and drinks. This should, we hope, be a winning combination, paving the way for a (check)mate.
RESTAURANT: Mate, 3101 K St. NW; 202/333-2006
HOURS: 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday
PRICES: Starters, $5 to $9; main courses, $5 to $55; desserts, $8
CREDIT CARDS: All major cards
PARKING: Street parking
METRO: Foggy Bottom (Blue and Orange lines)
ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible