If taste is the ultimate travel ticket to the past, then most of us take a ride back to the same place: a kitchen, somewhere in the world, with a mom, grandparent, or close acquaintance over the stove. We travel by way of aroma, flavor and texture, often sparked by a recipe we have written down, maybe on a scrap piece of lined paper, maybe within the depths of our memories. We can try to recreate it, getting it just as good, rarely exact, and almost never better. But most of us aren’t James Beard-nominated chefs. Valerie Chang is.
Located in Midtown, Maty’s is a love letter to Chang’s grandmother. On the walls you’ll find photos of Maty herself – on her wedding day to Chang’s grandfather, at formal functions, spending time with friends. There’s even a Post-It note to her grandchildren, assuring them that whatever problemitas they might have, they could resolve them. And that she loved them very much, of course.
The food that created me will be the food created here.
At Itamae, Chang and brother Nando, master Nikkei cuisine with creativity. At B-Side, the duo bring Wynwood its freshest rolls. But here at Maty’s, it’s all about tradition. On the menu, you’ll find the Peruvian greats that Chang grew up on, first in Chiclayo, Peru as a child and later in Miami as a teen. It’s all served family-style, so best to come with food-loving crew. As one might expect, the list kicks off with ceviche and raw dishes, still technique-driven as they are at Itamae, but more traditionally leaning. We tried the Cebiche Tradicional, with black grouper and thick corn tortitas soaked in leche de tigre, and its flavors lives rent free in our memories.
For vegetarians and veggie lovers, there are produce-forward starters sourced from local growers, like a citrusy Florida avocado and Tomato Salad from French Farms. There’s also Chang’s version of an Ensalada Rusa, which eschews potatoes and globs of mayonnaise for a lighter spread of chicories, beets and carrots in a lemon vinaigrette.
Then there are the cooked seafood dishes, like jumbo Camarones Asados with chimichurri and aji amarillo and a Sudado de Alitas, a beautiful curry-like clam dish. No one will judge you for sponging the bowl clean with the accompanying bread slices from Caracas Bakery, Mimo’s new favorite breakfast spot.
The menu will change with the seasons, so we’re happy to have existed at a time where the Arroz con Pato crowned the “mains” part of the menu. Hearty duck slices rest on a bed of fluffy Carolina golden rice doused in sarza criolla. Note that there are no typos here; sarza criolla is a traditional Peruvian salsa made with onions, cilantro, ají and citrus.
No cocktails have been named, but each has been numbered, and though the menu is heavy on Pisco, it goes way beyond the Sour. The most photogenic of the crew is the Number 3, a frothy, lilac-hued Pisco drink with Chicha morada served in a Nick & Nora glass and topped with a cracker-like fondant slice of edible flowers. Another not-to-miss Pisco drink is Cocktail Number 1, a delightfully light and herbaceous cocktail with cucumber, lime and huacatay, which is Peruvian mint. If you don’t fancy Pisco, opt for Cocktails Number 2 or Number 4. The first is a spicy Mezcal and Tequila drink with mango and aji rocoto. The latter is an aromatic gin cocktail with huacatay, basil and cardamom.
Do save room for dessert. If you’re craving something doughy, the Picarones are like fried donuts (or buñuelos) made with sweet potato and squash and drenched in an orange syrup. If belly space is limited, the Strawberries drizzled in a lime and dulce de leche sauce are the perfect cap to an incredible meal.
Though the space is contemporary and mild hued, the flavors and music are bold and inviting. Salsa greats blast from the stereos. Every bite is anchored in tradition and memories, and seasoned with Chang’s impeccable talent. “The food that created me will be the food created here. Maty’s will be about celebrating Peruvian cuisine; not reimagining or redefining it, ” says Chang. “This is the food that is closest to my heart and I want to honor that by executing it at the finest level without losing the soul and love that makes the food what it is.”