Tastebuds Bistro & Catering
42 Main St., Mattapoisett
Lunch, Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner, Wednesday-Saturday, 5-9 p.m.
Major credit cards accepted
Sometimes it takes a new restaurant a while to get the kinks out when it first opens, especially if the owners have never run one before.
Just the opposite seems to have taken place at Tastebuds Bistro Catering, a family-run restaurant on Route 6 that opened in August. It has enjoyed a brisk business from the start and, in talking to many who’ve eaten there, good word-of-mouth reviews.
The restaurant, which also does catering, is owned by Mattapoisett residents Carol Lareau, a real estate agent, and her husband, Marc, a longtime shore engineer in the New Bedford fishing industry. Two of their employees are daughter Brittany, who creates all desserts from scratch, and son Joshua Costa, the barkeep, who is always coming up with new libations - and testing them out in small batches on willing customers - such as a delicious cranberry cosmo he concocted the night we visited.
The restaurant’s early success would seem to owe, in part, to Mattapoisett’s being a tight-knit community and the Lareaus knowing so many people. But that only goes so far. Small-town familiarity notwithstanding, the food has to be good, and at Tastebuds, it is superb.
The main reason is the chef, Pamela Gray-Jenney, formerly of the nearby Bay Club of Mattapoisett, who learned at such places as The Little Chef in Princeton and the Kinsale Inn here in town.
Carol Lareau knows her way around a kitchen, too, for many years providing meals for New Bedford fishing crews. The menu here is small and manageable, with a dozen or so entrées, plus chalkboard specials, and a handful of appetizers. The offerings are diverse and include fresh seafood, chicken, pork and steak, with nothing costing more than $20.
It is a cozy place, with a tan, resin-coated bar, mosaic-tiled electric fireplace, olive-colored walls, brown posts and beams, and aqua-trim windows. It seats 37 and fills up quickly, especially on weekends, so reservations, only allowed for parties of three or more, are a good idea.
Virtually all food is made here, save for the dinner rolls. But those are helped immeasurably by being served with a handmade Boursin cheese-chive spread, a most welcome alternative to butter.
Our party of four kicked things off with a delicious appetizer, baked spicy feta ($8), a thick round of cheese baked with rosemary, Italian seasoning, red pepper, and drizzled with olive oil, served with Gray-Jenney’s crunchy toasted pita bread.
We also had Moroccan chicken skewers ($8), marinated grilled breast meat served over silky couscous, with just the right hint of curry, and ample enough to be a meal for a single diner and more than enough for four to share.
For dinner, we went with a special, the chicken Marsala ($17), an abundant, juicy piece of chicken, with a pleasant wine sauce served over noodles and with steamed vegetables. We also had the Greek shrimp ($16), jumbo gulf shrimp sautéed in extra virgin olive oil with garlic, fresh tomato, oregano, kalamata olives, feta cheese, and served over fresh ribbon pasta, an exquisite dish and big enough for sharing.
If Tastebuds doesn’t have a signature entrée yet, we decided it should be the bistro bouillabaisse ($20), the culinary symbol of this area’s love of, and proximity to, fresh seafood. This is a belly-filling and perfectly seasoned collection of shrimp, scallops, fish, littleneck clams, and big chunks of sweet lobster, in a tomato-based sauce so good you’ll ask for more dinner rolls, or better yet, crunchy grilled garlic bread to soak it up.
Finally, we had the baked haddock ($13), lightly breaded fish seasoned with white wine, lemon, and garlic, served with vegetables. The fish was flaky and moist, and the portion once again big enough to share.
Full or not, we had to try Brittany Lareau’s baking, and were glad we did. The turtle cake ($5) is a velvety chocolate affair with homemade caramel between layers and coated with chocolate ganache, a slice so big that even after we four had at it, had plenty left to take home. We also tried the warm apple-peach turnover ($4), with its crunchy sugar topping, served with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Brittany, who learned her craft at the nearby Shipyard Galley, whips up about six desserts a night.
Tastebuds is also open for lunch, offering fare such as grilled-scallop salad ($11), burger with blue-cheese center ($9), homemade clam chowder with oven-roasted potatoes ($3 a cup), fish taco ($8), and fried panko-breaded scrod with cole slaw and lemon aioli in a flour tortilla.
Carol Lareau got the bug to open her own place after getting many favorable comments from the fishing crews she’s cooked for. This space, a former tile store, became available a couple years ago and she and her husband leaped at the chance, spending a lot of time and money outfitting it as Tastebuds.
So far, it has turned out to be a wise decision for the Lareaus - and us hungry diners as well.