Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Work of Art in Rutherford

It had been a long time since I visited Café Matisse (like at least 10 years). Sometimes you become enamored of the shiny new “objet d’art” and forget about the old masters. So when I received an invitation to try their new a la carte menu, I thought it was time to return. And I’m very glad I did.

Chef/owner, Peter Loria, has been operating Café Matisse for 27 years (a feat not often heard of in today’s restaurant climate).  The restaurant inhabits an historic building that once housed a horse and buggy firehouse, now renovated to a lovely jewel box setting. Interested in a romantic dinner with your significant other? This is it. The dining room is just the right amount of dark and intimate. Beautiful chandeliers provide soft lighting and the banquettes along one wall are perfect for sitting side by side.

Of course, in my world, for the perfect love-in, you need delicious and beautifully plated food; and this is where Chef Loria excels. Each plate is a tiny work of art. Visually stunning, creative, and delicious. We began with the tender and delightful Smoked Duck Breast with grilled radicchio, chestnut goat cheese, and pear ginger jam.

The Lobster White Bean Bisque is one of the most unique lobster bisques I’ve ever had. It is served with a crab guacamole fritter and peppered shrimp. It was wonderful, but I would have loved a slightly larger fritter (this was such a tease!).

For our main course, we could not pass up the Cabernet Glazed Beef Short Ribs (yes, they were as good as they sound). They are served with a pumpkin squash puree, potato fontina fritter, caramelized Brussels sprouts, toasted pumpkin seeds, and apple cider vinaigrette. The composed dish may read like a fall menu item, but it was sublime on the early spring night I visited.

We wrapped up our little weeknight date with an Amaretto Soaked Chocolate Cannoli Cake. Can you say “wow?” I did. This cake hit all the right notes: chocolate mousse, cannoli crème, crumbled candied almonds, chocolate espresso sauce, and balsamic raspberry vanilla seed jus. Yeah, wow. A perfect cappuccino completed the dessert.

You might think that in a restaurant of this type the service would be stuffy and pretentious. Not so, in fact, quite the opposite. The servers were enthusiastic, friendly, and patient as we asked again to explain the nuances of some of the dishes. And lest you think they did this just for us since we were invited guests, I saw them treat all the other customers this way.

The new a la carte menu at Café Matisse is offered Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday evenings. The Chef’s Tasting menu is available Friday and Saturday. They also have a lovely garden for al fresco warm weather dining.

Chef Loria created the a la carte menu to give customers more flexibility during weeknights when they might not have the time or budget for the full chef’s tasting menu.

In addition, the restaurant is in the process of expanding their footprint to add another 30 seats, which will be complete by the fall of this year. So in case you’ve been shut out of reservations in the past due to the popularity of Café Matisse, this should encourage you to try again.

Ordering from the a la carte menu gives you the opportunity to try several small works of art during one visit.  Now there is no need to wait for a special occasion to visit Café Matisse. Make a date for a romantic weekday escape to one of the most charming and acclaimed restaurants in the area.

Café Matisse
167 Park Avenue
Rutherford, NJ

Open six days a week for dinner. BYO.

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