$$$$ ($15-$24)

Editorial Review

Getting in the Mood For Smaller Food

By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 2, 2006

At Georgetown's Mate, one of the half-dozen concept hangouts created by Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld (Ceviche, Gazuzu, Ozio, Chi-Cha, Gua-Rapo, Agua Ardiente), the issue of small vs. large plates has been neatly swept aside by the simple elimination of any serious entrees. Despite the name, a reference to the South American herbal elixir yerba mate , this foundry-chic hangout, while embodying another of Fraga-Rosenfeld's usual nuevo Latino twists, has less to do with tea ceremonies or bombillas (the South American version of old-fashioned iced tea straws) than with saketinis and chopsticks. In fact, like Pinzimini, Mate frequently has trouble living up to its name, since there are nights when no matetinis, as they are inevitably called, are even available.

Mate is, in effect, another sushi cocktail lounge, with a more underground look than, say, Dragonfly (Mate is part of the artfully rough-hewn Ritz-Carlton building) and, in the early hours, a slightly higher mix of waterfront preps and tourists (later you get celebs). What comes to the table with the drink menu isn't nuts, it's edamame, and the menu is heavy on sake.

The twist here is that along with the various sushi options and maki rolls (oxymoronically referred to as "nigiri rolls"), Mate offers several flavors of ceviche and "Latin sushi," rolls wrapped not in rice and nori but in a layer of corn masa. You could just as easily call them Japanese enchiladas. They're actually kind of interesting, especially the ones with a little tang -- with mango, for example -- or more texture, as the masa is mushy.

The regular sushi is workmanlike and fresh, though the choices are somewhat limited. There are the usual invented rolls, such as the Buenos Aires (jumbo lump crab with "torched" salmon, tempura batter bits and wasabi mayo, which is a threefer as far as sushi trends go). And it's not exorbitantly expensive as sushi goes, although $6 edamame might be pushing it.

The ceviche ranges from white fish (flounder with a nice toss of beets) to lobster (good meat in a mango-chili bath so acidic it suggested fermented juice). The lobster-avocado roll with the intriguing soy nori is a better option.

Mate does have a mild dress code: no baseball caps (a rule that reportedly forced Andy Roddick to doff his usual headgear) or baseball jerseys. Good compromise.