Matyson, a small, BYO establishment in the heart of Center City’s commercial district just a few blocks from Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square, is a contemporary restaurant with a lot of style. Its soothing, yet modern décor includes modest khaki-painted walls, and accents such as three large mirrors hanging at forty-five degree angles from the restaurant’s ceiling. While any practical purpose of these mirrors may not be immediately apparent, it is clear after a few minutes of taking in the scene that the mirrors show off the buzzing activity in the dining room, as well as proving birds-eye-views of the dishes on each table. The dining room itself is comfortably lit with track lighting and the room is filled with a few different seating arrangements, including high tables near the front of the restaurant as well as regular, family-style seating near the rear of the dining room. True to its modern style, Matyson is not a white tablecloth restaurant. Each table is simply adorned, but Matyson nevertheless emanates an air of fine dining and sophistication.
While waiting for their tables, diners can comfortably lounge in the small alcove near the entrance and watch as the tremendously vibrant staff travels to and from the kitchen. A few, well-selected contemporary paintings of various food items, such as fruit and vegetables, adorn the walls and help to identify Matyson’s unique flavors and tastes.
Upon being seated, we were immediately greeted by our server who promptly delivered Matyson’s single page menu, as well as a tasting menu. The tasting menu is one of Matyson’s many unique features which is offered Mondays through Thursdays. The prix fixe tasting menu changes weekly, and includes five courses, appetizer through dessert.
The regular menu offers a variety of flavors and textures, many of which cannot be found anywhere outside of Matyson’s doors. Among the most unique are Matyson’s Mixed Green Salad which features blood oranges, piquillo peppers, a manchego fritter and a cumin vinaigrette; and the Chili Rubbed Grilled Pork Chop which combines the most complementary of flavors: cheddar cheese, green onion, bacon grits, with a sweet and smoky Cowboy Barbeque Sauce.
While we eagerly poured over the menu, our server opened our two bottles of wine—a light Sauvignon Blanc and a light Pinot Noir, selected to complement the spicy flavors of barbeque and accent the lightness of the grilled fare. As we discussed the menu with our server, we were offered thick crusty bread, a choice between sourdough and multi-grain, served with cold, whipped butter and replenished upon request.
For our first courses, we selected two appetizers, the Mixed Green Salad and the Grilled Spanish Octopus. The Mixed Green Salad was refreshing and light, but offered a welcoming kick of flavor, the product of the blood oranges and the cumin vinaigrette. The octopus consisted of a reasonably sized serving so as to leave plenty of room for the courses to come, and was accompanied tomatoes, roasted fingerling potatoes and dried chorizo and served with a lemon anchovy aioli. The highlight of this dish was most certainly its grilled preparation, which produced a light and savory result.
While sampling the salad and the octopus, we settled into conversation over our glasses of wine and took in the activity at tables nearby. On this particular evening, Matyson’s clientele consisted of a wide variety of personalities and purposes, which included young couples appearing to be out for a romantic evening; groups of girlfriends, perhaps out for a girls-night-out; a group of older adults, appearing to be celebrating a birthday; and our party, a double date of good friends.
While we watched and commented on the ever-energetic wait staff and the exciting and engaging atmosphere, our main courses arrived. For this course, we had selected Pan Seared Scallops, the Herb Roasted Chicken Breast and, of course, the Chili Rubbed Grilled Pork Chop, all of which arrived at the table in aesthetically pleasing arrangements on full-sized dinner plates. The Herb-Roasted Chicken Breast, served with morel mushrooms, ramps (more commonly known as wild leeks), and creamy mashed potatoes, offered a light, yet full-flavored dish. The chicken had a crunchy skin with a slight peppered flavor, which protected a tender, flavorful and moist white chicken breast beneath. The chicken was served atop a small, reasonable serving of mashed potatoes which boasted a very delightful consistency. The highlight of this dish, however, was the chicken jus, a sauce of thin consistency through which the flavors of soy and caramel presented themselves.
For those who prefer a seafood dish, the Pan Seared Scallops, served with English pea and chanterelle risotto, is highly recommended. Matyson’s scallops are perfectly seared, offering a soft, tender texture, which is well-matched with a pleasing, caramelized crust. The serving size is slightly above average for a typical scallop entrée, with approximately five scallops per serving. The accompanying risotto was rich and creamy in texture and well accented by the sweet hints of the English peas and the peppery flavor of the chanterelle (a popular, edible mushroom, known for its orange coloring and trumpet shape). The Pan Seared Scallops were completed by a sherry gastrique, a reduction of caramelized sugar and vinegar, which complimented the creaminess of the risotto and the caramelized splendor of the scallops.
Of course, last but not least, we each sampled, or rather, battled over, the Chili Rubbed Grilled Pork Chop, which despite its rustic description including "Cowboy Barbeque Sauce" and "grits" was served with a flair for style and sophistication very much in line with Matyson’s personality. The pork chop was grilled to perfection and each bite of the tender meat proudly presented the sweetness and spiciness of the barbeque sauce and the smoked bite of bacon. For the unfamiliar northerner, my advice would be to saddle up and select this dish, if for no other reason than to taste the accompanying grits. Grits, which consist of a coarsely ground grain that is prepared by boiling it until it reaches a light and creamy consistency, is a solid candidate for housing and promoting other flavors, including, as Matyson’s dish is prepared, cheddar cheese, green onions, and bacon bits.
After completing our meals, we leaned back in our chairs, sipped wine and chatted with the wait staff while they cleared the table and delivered the dessert menu. At Matyson, despite the satisfaction that one may have achieved after the completion of a first and main course, dessert is an absolute must. Sonjia Spector, the "son" of Matyson, has a reputation for being a pastry expert and if there was any doubt, one bite of any one of the desserts, will forever make a believer. After careful pondering and some negotiation, our party settled on the Chocolate Peanut Butter Bombe and the Mayan Chocolate Crème Brûlèe. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Bombe, which is a French preparation of a molded, layered dessert, was a small serving of peanut butter crust, marshmallow, chocolate cake and chocolate peanut butter mousse, all neatly coated with dark chocolate in a perfect dome shape. The bombe is served with whipped cream and, sigh, slices of caramelized bananas that make you wish health professionals would recommend a strict diet of dessert. The bombe carefully balanced the flavors of chocolate and peanut butter, with a variety of textures so as not be too overwhelming in any one sense and was perfectly complemented by the coolness of the whipped cream and the crunchiness of the caramelized bananas.
In great competition, however, was the uniqueness of the Mayan Chocolate Crème Brulee. This dessert, while sweet as expected, embraces some of the traditions of the early chocolate lovers in the Mayan culture who used to consume chocolate as a spicy drink made from grinding cacao seeds into a paste. The crème brulee, served with a chocolate, pine nut cookie, presented a creamy consistency of spicy cinnamon and chili-peppered chocolate under the fired crust.
After consuming the last spoonful of the spicy Mayan chocolate and having savored the final bite of caramelized banana, we sipped the last of our wine and prepared to leave the excited buzz of Matyson. As we exited, I reflected on the atmosphere and the menu, recognizing the uniqueness of what Matyson has to offer. Whether an out-of-town guest or a resident of Philadelphia, Matyson’s menu is extraordinary in both quality and selection, and should be a designated spot to visit at least once. However, it should be expected that anyone who goes once, will be sure to come back for more—if not for the desserts, then most definitely to experiment with the distinctive menu selections on the regular menu, or to sample something special from the tasting menu.