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Published: Thursday, 6/28/2007

Restaurant review: The Mustard Seed Bar & Kitchen****

The difference in the upscale dishes served at the late, lamented Matthew s Creative Cuisine, and the decidedly more casual fare at the Mustard Seed Bar & Kitchen that replaced it, can be told in two words: Kids Menu.

It s the children s menu that best points up the gulf between the old and the new.

For 15 years, the swank Matthew s served up eclectic, tantalizing food aimed at sophisticated adult palates. The humbler Mustard Seed, on the other hand, at first glance would seem to be the proverbial poor cousin with its homey, family-friendlier comfort food mixed among the steaks, seafood, and sandwiches. That would include Kraft mac n cheese and tater tots among the choices for the 12-and-under set.

No need to fret, however: Loyalists of the original Matthew s can expect more than a few dollops of pleasure as they sit down to eat at the Mustard Seed.

The menu features the likes of potato latkes and asparagus straws as appetizers, along with such entrees as filet mignon, pork loin chops, osso buco, Oriental orange-glazed salmon, and a medley of Sicilian shellfish in a tangle of angel hair. You might also find the cowboy steak or horseradish-encrusted tilapia from the old Matthew s menu.

The driving force behind the old and new, of course, is Matthew Weston himself. Fired by imagination and a passion for cooking, he opened Matthew s Creative Cuisine at Heatherdowns Boulevard and Key Street in 1989 and decided to pull up stakes in March, 2006. He blamed the restaurant s declining patronage on the influx of chain eateries and Toledo s new smoking ban.

Less than a year later, however, the chef decided he wasn t through with the restaurant business just yet. And so he opened the Mustard Seed, offering a more modest but still inviting dining experience.

On our visits, we found the prices to be somewhat more affordable than before. As it happened, we ate one meal before a seasonal menu change and another meal just after, which means some of what we tried may not have survived the transition.

Physically, the hip Cheetah Room in the bar area is gone, and the famously flamboyant Red Room in the main dining room has been painted a pale gray. When the irrepressible Matthew is present, however, the place brightens up considerably.

For openers, we liked the phyllo-wrapped asparagus straws with asiago cheese and horseradish aioli ($10.95), and the $7.95 potato latkes, which aren t labeled addictive for nothing. Other appetizers include Show Me Your Mussels ($8.95) and a terrific Portobello mushroom ($12.95) stuffed with lobster, crab, shrimp, and provolone sauce.

Among the soups, the lobster bisque ($3.95/$6.95) turned out salty, but the dilled tomato cream ($2.25/$5.25) plumbed the essence of both flavors.

Skipping among the entrees, we tried shrimp Maryland ($18.95) laced with soy and cheddar cheese sauce over rice pilaf; sensational Florentine ravioli ($12.95) with echoes of tomato cream plus roasted red pepper sauce, basil, and caramelized garlic, and the $18.95 lemon seafood linguine (actually angel hair) with shrimp, scallops, whitefish, bacon, and garlic.

Also, the bone-in pork loin chop ($16.95) couldn t have been more juicy; the Jack Daniel s braised osso buco in a rich brown sauce ($17.95) fell off the veal shank bone like the tenderest pot roast or oxtail, and the horseradish root-encrusted tilapia ($15.95) was plump, crunchy, and tangy.

We also tackled the cowboy steak ($24.95), an 18-ounce grilled ribeye that might have been exceptional except for having to be sent back twice for undercooking a rare misstep for the kitchen.

Still to come is another homey touch for the suddenly homespun Matthew: Mustard Meals, prepared takeout dishes ready for the oven.

John Wesley moves to the Basin St. Grille

John Wesley, a longtime Toledo restaurateur who became executive chef of Rouge Bistro off Holland-Sylvania Road late last year, has left the restaurant and moved to the Basin St. Grille on Monroe Street.

Wesley, well-known in local restaurant circles as a premier chef at such venues as Maumee Wines, J.D. Wesley s Bistro, and Mancy s restaurants, said he left over a disagreement with his business partners, Steve Turner and Steve Velker, concerning menu and fare changes at Rouge Bistro.

Basin St. Grille s owners, the T-Town Boys (Nick & Jimmy s, Village Inn, and other eateries), have plans to expand Basin St., offering both casual and white-tablecloth service, according to Wesley.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com



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