Café Matisse

21 Aug

Although I have long desired to dine at Café Matisse, I had as of yet been unable to do so.  However, upon my return from Hungary, I was pleasantly surprised to be informed of a pending dinner reservation there.  Ever intrigued by the restaurant’s take on a tapas-style menu, I wondered if the list-like menu of small plates would satiate a hungry and hard-to-please omnivore.  After all, the menu read rather short.

When I first set foot in the restaurant, my sister and I were shown to a table, while my parents were promptly whisked away for an impromtu wine-tasting in the wine store, which was conveniently located in the front of this BYOB restaurant.  My parents had come prepared with a bottle of wine, and I had brought along my new friend and corkscrew, Máté.  However, to my chagrin, when the waiter poured their wine, he blatantly ignored Máté, conspicuously chosing to use his holier-than-thou metal version.  In addition to this unfortunate situation, he removed both my sister’s and my own wine glass from the table, “to remove temptation.”  While this is a very smooth way of enforcing the law, I think that the difference between having the glasses and not is equal to that of whether or not we risk aquiring meningococal meningitis from our parents.  A taste of wine is complementary to a meal, and therefore it is unwise to remove my glass, as it may soil my experience at the offender’s restaurant. 

While munching on warm bread with butter and olive oil, we perused the menu.  As I mentioned previously, it was a continuous list of small plates.  One choses either a three course, four course, or five course “grazing” meal, and one of the courses is reserved for dessert.  For some this is unfortunate, as the selections on the menu seem sufficient.  Although one may want three savory courses, they would then be obligated to order a fourth dessert course.  However, we cannot gripe too much–how else can the pastry chef be guaranteed work?

The menu offered a vast selection of dishes, ranging from fish plates to more carnivorous choices.  I ordered a scallop dish to start.  It was possibly the most delicious scallop dish I have yet experienced, rivaled only by certain prototypes from wd~50 and Julia’s Kitchen at COPIA in Sonoma, CA.  The scallops were juicy, with a hard-seared and crispy exterior.  They rested atop a “pineapple upside down cake,” and they were complimented by some date and cherry jam and capped off with foie gras mousse.  Everything was spectacular, but I was less than pleased with the way I was deprived from getting my “foie fix.”  The mousse was minimal in the dish, so the taste of foie gras was not present in every bite.  Although that was unfortunate, I thought that the pineapple upside down cake’s flavor and texture worked very well with the scallops. 

My next dish was orange-braised short ribs over a scallion pancake with soft-shell crab and potato confit, an apple-ginger slaw and two sweet and savory sauces.  The dish was delicious, although it was almost as complicated as it sounds.  The scallion pancake was more of a folded-up crepe, and while it was delicious, its only direct correlation to the dish was perhaps its Asian inspiration.  However, the crab and short-rib paired beautifully, and the potato confit (a euphemism for pomme puree or MASHED POTATOES–the word ever avoided by restaurants for fear that it will evoke memories of Hungry Jack nastiness)  was perfect in texture but almost wanting a little more butter and salt.  As a whole, the dish was very successful, and I was hard pressed to find a reason not to finish every last bite, besides the upcoming third course. 

Luckily, as I was not craving anything sweet to top off my meal, since I was so enjoying the savory dishes previously described, there was a menu item from the dinner menu that carried over to the sweet menu.  Standing in for the cheese course was a foie gras dish in which foie gras terrine was dusted with cocoa powder and served over a camembert “foam” with figs on top.  The dish was superb; it was balanced, and it was savory and sweet at the same time.  In addition, I finally hit that foie high that I did not quite achieve with the first course of my meal. 

One other particularly notable offering that the restaurant had was its signature hazelnut cappucino.  Made by blending fresh hazelnuts to an extremely fine consistency and adding cream and coffee, the drink was ethereal and embodied everything a hazelnut cappuccino ideally should.  It was distinctly rich, but an indulgence in which it is worth partaking. 

The worst part of the restaurant wasits overall look and its pushy to the point of snobbery wait-staff.  While our waiter seemed somewhat affable, he was also very loquacious and his mannerisms slightly dogmatic.  As for the decor, let’s just leave it at this: my sister and I sat in a cushioned booth-seat and were attacked by over-upholestered pillows.  The design was over-done and extremely flamboyant, but luckily a diner who eats well can afford to ignore it.

Cafe Matisse is a delicious dining establishment, and although some of its habits and styles are esoteric or eccentric, there is no doubt that I would be glad to return.

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