An immediately apparent difference between locally owned restaurants and chains is with few exceptions the decor, and that almost indefinable quality, the mood or “feel.” In greater or lesser measure, outfitting a chain outlet may be expensive and clever, but it looks much the same from one side of the country to the other. Creative spark there well may be, but it sparkles the same in Dallas as it does in Boca Raton.
A local restaurant, to the contrary, almost always reflects the vision of the proprietor. In fact, the word that regularly appears in my notes as I try to capture the decor and ambience is “personality.” Some - Mancy's Steak House, for one - could almost be called clones of the founder.
Another local restaurant that clearly illustrates what I mean is Matthew's Creative Cuisine.
Regular customers in the beginning years used to complain that Matthew's menu didn't change often enough, and I believe the complaint had some merit, not only in the first years but from time to time since.
What has been steadily changing, however, is the restaurant itself, reflecting the focus of Matthew Weston's restless creative appraisal of space and decor. In this, as much as in his cooking, he displays striking imagination and taste.
Menu struggles have been stretched thin at times between quality and economics, serving dinners that satisfy his standards and customer expectation at reasonable prices. Gourmet cooking is labor-intensive as every plate the kitchen serves is the product of two or three kitchen staff members working together to create a single harmonious dining experience.
These considerations affect both time and price. Matthew's, like other area gourmet kitchens, offers leisurely dinners in relaxed settings at prices per person from $40 up.
After several years of having separate dining room and lounge menus, Matthews has combined elements of both into a single, one-page menu.
While you may wonder about his fondness for exotic terms as you savor mini-kebobs glazed with tsukeyaki (Huh? How's that again?), all will be forgiven when you taste the exquisite appetizers, whatever they're called. The smoked salmon terrine on Bremner wafers is great! My one-diner risotto was tasty, though a little too dry; it's a balance to hit it right. And if mussels are on your list of delights, Matthew's will compete with the best.
Next down the list are six “contemporary favorites” from the lounge menu.
Recognizing that a full dinner was more than many customers wanted, Matthew's selected a number of dishes that were not simply smaller portions of the full entrees but distinctive and quite as delicious overall as one could wish.
Of the choices, the curried chicken pasta and a shellfish pasta are, like many pastas, too filling for me, but unless you're really hungry, you won't regret choosing the beef burgundy or the thin tournedos complimented by an unusual, piquant fig vinaigrette. And the crab cakes, under a ladle of remoulade, are as fresh as you might expect them in Baltimore.
So well is this section of the menu matched to my appetite and capacity that I've had to draw on memories of the traditional full dinners as well as current tastings for the rest of the review.
Let me first call to your attention the meatless stuffed portobello mushroom with a red and gold pepper compote. Steak eaters will be reassured to note a filet mignon with bearnaise sauce and a pepper steak - an 18-ounce ribeye - pretty much pan broiled in the company of apppropriate garnishings.
The red meats are balanced by a crusted fillet of tilapia, the current fishy fashion, but I prefer the quasi-oriental style in which good-sized sea scallops are grilled with an exotic sauce.
The most recent rearrangement of Matthew's is the comfortable Cheetah Lounge, with dining tables along the side and window wall. It's typically crowded, cheerfully noisy, and on the whole insulated from the more formal dining rooms.
Another of Matthew's initiatives are the Wednesday evening gourmet hamburgers. They're are tasty and attract a substantial number of the informally hungry. Friday evening ribs are next. Then the sidewalk area of the small mall in front of the restaurant will soon become an exotically arranged patio for eating al fresco.
Contact Bill of Fare by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.