Most of the praise directed at Matyson is slathered upon their dessert menu. Sonjia Bidegain Spector, the sweeter half of the husband and wife culinary duo, is the mastermind behind the sweets, pastries, and breads. Although I truly quake in front of a good dessert menu, when I go out to dinner it's not to savor the coda alone: I want the entire performance to resonate.
But, times as they are in our BYO-leaning city, Matyson was the only place with a table we could book. Again, let me emphasize that I was not disappointed in our selection, I'm lucky to be going out at all. Still, the thought of shelling out for an entree course that was simply a $20-plus pit stop was one that left me salty. (Lo! In case I've caused you to believe a scathing review lies ahead, note this preclusion: by the time I left Matyson, the salt was thoroughly wiped from my frame.)
We arrived on time, thanks to some parking good fortune, and were seated with alarming immediacy - alarming because that just doesn't happen, now does it? The place was crowded, but the noise level was kept around a casual romance calm. We were greeted by a rotating door of waitresses; at one point we asked the maitre 'd to take our drink order. Our true server was spritely as she navigated the floor with ease. Her willingness to answer even our non-sequiturs was much appreciated: "Didn't Zellweger just look terrible during the Oscars?" One minor quibble (ahem): please waitrons, do not ask us how our meal is four seconds after you place it in front of our faces.
Right...on to the food. The "eclectic" American menu is categorized under the typical twosome: appetizers, which are a tad pricey in the $8 to 15 range, and entrees - $22 to 24, with the chicken pot pie bottoming out at $16. I suppose any price quibbling would be shortsighted, because although the prices are a tad higher than some BYOs, once you reach that twenty dollar plateau, what's a couple more dollars?
My dining compadres and I opted to pass on appetizers in order to leave room for dessert (what, you think I'd skip out?). One compadre went with the Sesame Crusted Waluu, citing he was a sucker for sea critter's with odd names. The fish sat in a very tasty coconut curry sauce, with diced red peppers to add some pizazz. The flavorful bok choy also accompanied to good effect.
The female in the group went with the Chicken Pot Pie, 'cause if the chef has the gall to stick it next to Waluu, it's gotta be good. Correct assumption. Thyme roasted root vegetables and unbelievably succulent chicken, simmered together in a thick pie crust (courtesy of missus, I presume).
Finally, I chose the Pan Seared Bronzino. And my conclusion - I think we are misdirecting some of our praise. The dish masterfully combined some simple flavors, allowing each to shine separately while adding a dimension to the dish as a whole. A sweet white anchovy sat atop two hefty pieces of Bronzino (a "striped bass-type body and taste," we were informed), giving an initial salty burst, as if to say "prepare your buds for anything!" To balance the sweetness was the punch of garlic and olives. A mild red pepper sauce underlined all the flavors and limited their overpowering potential. Sounds crazy, I know, I didn't believe it myself - a plate with thematic elements. Whatever Chef Spector did, it worked.
And then came dessert. The menu aimed to please all palettes, ranging from the decadent (a Bittersweet Chocolate Brownie Semifreddo), to the embellished familiar (Rustic Apple gallette [sic]). I went with the Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle Tart, deciding that passing on the appetizers left enough room in my stomach for a rich finale. I expected something with a nice crust of some sort, but this tart had little flour; thought the baked exterior gave it a nice crisp brownie-like crust. The tart had a strong chocolate flavor, but not overwhelming thanks to the hazelnut (although I can't say I tasted more than a hint). I really enjoyed how the tart held together, but oozed like a truffle when cut. A scoop of brown sugar ice cream sat atop the warm dessert and melted slowly into the tart as I blissfully ate.
My fellow dinners opted to split the Lemon Soufflé Tart, citing that it was intensely tart, but not oft-putting. It certainly looked very impressive. Desserts were a reasonable $7.
If you need any more reason to make your way down to Matyson, then you need to lower your standards a tad. The meal was no fantasy fulfilling repast, but it was damn near flawless.
Lauren McCutcheon's review for Philadelphia Weekly
Craig LaBan's review for the Inquirer
Location: 19th Street, between Market and Chestnut