When Matt Meyer cooks for his friends and family he lets go of the typical concerns of a chef—what makes sense for a restaurant menu and what will diners order—and allows all of his culinary influences flavor his meals, no combinations barred.
“I never thought I’d get to cook this food at a restaurant,” Meyer said. “I cut my teeth as a chef on Japanese food and I was born into a Mexican background, and this was the kind of stuff I enjoyed making at dinner parties.”
Then he launched Good Luck Gato with partners Kyle Itani and Daniel Paez, and Meyer conjured up a whole menu of dishes blending Japanese and Mexican flavors and techniques for the new restaurant that opened in September in downtown Oakland.
Good Luck Gato: Open Wednesday through Sunday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; 1915 San Pablo Ave., Oakland; www.goodluckgato.com; 510-788-6217
Born in San Diego to parents from Mexico, Meyer grew up crisscrossing the southern border feasting on Northern Mexican and Southern Californian cuisine. After moving to the Bay Area, he spent seven years as sous chef at Hopscotch, cooking the Japanese-inspired diner fare that drove Itani’s restaurant to popularity. Meyer then left Hopscotch to open Low Bar with Paez, another Hopscotch alum.
When Itani decided to pivot Hopscotch to a catering business only, he approached Meyer and Paez about a reunion—a new restaurant to take over the space at 1915 San Pablo Ave.
Meyer said it was a “no-brainer.”
“When we sat down and said: ‘What do we do?’—it came together pretty quickly as we talked about who we are as chefs and our styles.”
Riffing off of Meyer’s penchant for mixing Japanese and Mexican flavors in his home kitchen, the team further refined the idea to focus on blending the lively eating and drinking cultures of the two countries, coming up with the “izakaya cantina” concept, a blend of the two countries’ words for a casual drinking establishment that also serves food.
“It’s an esoteric bridge more than a culinary one,” Meyer said. “Fun, boisterous, whimsical small plates.”
The egg taco at Good Luck Gato is an example of the food Meyer loves to eat at home, Japanese curry sausage, soft-boiled Jidori egg and ginger pico de gallo all nestled in a handmade corn tortilla.
Many of the dishes on the Good Luck Gato menu take a traditional item from one cuisine and give it a new flavor profile or subtle spin with the inclusion of ingredients from the other culture, such as the “uni elote,” dashi-boiled corn on the cob with sea urchin butter, cotija cheese, Tapatio and furikake. The wedge salad is a spin on Caesar salad (invented in Baja California), with Jidori egg yolk dressing, saikyo miso, cotija, boquerones (anchovies) and crunchy tempura crisp.
For dessert, the “black sesame chocotaco” is a chocolate coconut waffle shell with black sesame, vanilla gelato and toasted pepitas, and the raspberry sorbet surprises with the addition of candied jalapeños.
The cocktail menu designed by Paez similarly blends Mexican and Japanese influences and incorporates house-made spirits, juices and other mixers. Paez created six house cocktails and also offers a daily special of a beer and a shot with two choices: a Japanese beer and Mexican spirit, or a Mexican lager and a Japanese spirit.
When Meyer and Paez opened Low Bar together in January 2020, they were quickly forced to pivot when the pandemic arrived.
“Now, there’s no looming uncertainty, so it felt like we could open the restaurant we wanted to open,” Meyer said.
The 45-seat restaurant offers a mix of tables, bar stools and an outdoor parklet. The decor (also by Meyer) is inspired by the Spaghetti Western films set in the U.S. Southwest and Northern Mexico that drew inspiration from Japanese cinema, with lime-washed walls, wood furniture and rattan lighting fixtures, maneki-neko (namesake lucky cats) and paper lanterns.
Matt Meyer prepares his hamachi tartare tostada: (from top left) slicing the hamachi, adding the prickly pear sanbaizu, carefully placing torn shiso leaf on top, and then adding the hazelnut salsa maacha. Credit: Amir Aziz
As part of our new “Gotta Try It” series, Nosh asked Meyer to choose one dish from his menu that best reflects his philosophy and concept for the menu.
Hamachi Tartare Tostada
It all starts with a freshly fried, golden, crisp tostada. They make their own tortillas at Good Luck Gato, and Meyer throws a pressed, raw disc into the fryer (rather than one that has already been cooked into a tortilla) so his tostadas come out puffier, with a few air bubbles. Thinly sliced cucumber coins are layered directly on top of the tostada. Meyer dices the hamachi, which he chose because it stands up to the bold flavors from the other ingredients, then briefly marinates it in Mexican prickly pear juice and sanbaizu, a blend of rice vinegar, sweet sake and soy sauce.
Crunch and herbaceousness are added with diced jicama and torn shiso leaf. The final component is a hazelnut salsa macha–a style of salsa that contains oil, dried chiles, garlic, nuts, and sesame seeds. The ingredients are first fried in oil, then removed and blended together before being reincorporated into the oil. The resulting sauce adds a smoky, nutty flavor to the dish.
Paez recommends pairing the tostada with the “Emerald Zone,” a bright-green beverage made with Paez’s nori-infused tequila, mezcal, Gentian liqueur, cucumber juice, yuzu cordial, lime and sesame oil, garnished with a black and white sesame seed rim.
“This dish is more than a delicious flavor combination, to me it represents the creativity and joy found in Mexican and Japanese cuisine,” Meyer said. “It really represents what we do here, and it’s one of my favorite dishes.”
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