Matt's in the Market is far from perfect. There's the charming waitress who got our order wrong on two different visits (Honey, write it...
Matt’s in the Market is far from perfect. There’s the charming waitress who got our order wrong on two different visits (Honey, write it down!), the inevitable, “Sorry, we can’t seat a table for four till 9 p.m.,” and too many dinner entrees straddling the $30 mark. But despite those imperfections, Matt’s remains a perfectly “Seattle” restaurant.
It’s casual, intimate and owner-operated. The brief menu relies on pristine product — farm-fresh produce, wild-caught seafood, humanely raised meats. And if there’s a more famous view of the city from a table-for-two, you’ll have to head 500-futuristic-feet in the air via a narrated elevator tour to find it.
Me? I’d rather climb the stairs in the Corner Market Building to this second-story perch, where I can practically reach out and touch the Pike Place Market clock, pick a posy from the profusion of flowers spilling down the arcade roofline, and throw a coin at Rachel the Pig, hitting her squarely on the snout. And when I turn my focus indoors, I find something equally as appealing: a newly expanded Matt’s.
Matt Janke’s diminutive aerie made its debut in 1996 and became one of the city’s worst-kept secrets in the decade following. Closed in January and reopened in June, it’s a “new” restaurant that comfortably inhabits the old. One that magically manages to feel completely different — yet very much the same.
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Those who recall a place with nine counter seats, a few tables and a galley with two butane-fueled burners will note with fascination that Matt’s has absorbed the space next door. It’s more than doubled in size and seating capacity and — glory be! — has a fully outfitted restaurant kitchen encompassing most of the original footprint.
Remember the single arched window? Today there are four, rimmed with tables that offer a glimpse of Elliott Bay and a bird’s-eye view of the Market below. Also new: a full bar, where you can sip a well-made gin gimlet or a classic old-fashioned — though the eclectic wine list, with its interesting lesser-known glass pours, remains an option, as always.
Geographically, the kitchen and counter seating have been reversed: Where Matt once did the too-tight-tango with former chef Erik Cannella — pouring wine, washing dishes, serving guests — patrons now sit diner-style, elbows planted on a tile-topped counter built to resemble the original. Here, they can check out the hot-sauce collection, jars of house-cured fruit and converse over the din of rockin’ reggae or classic Beatles.
Janke remains a jack-of-all-trades. There he is, tending to the crush of would-be diners by the door. Here he is, donning a chef’s coat and doing duty in the kitchen. Now he’s running between his office, the dining room and the stockroom. Next he’s waiting tables, pouring wine or chatting up friends at the bar while surveying this Seattle-centric scene — and no doubt thinking: There’s no place like home.
Today he has a new working partner — Dan Bugge — plus a fleet of cooks preparing long-loved specialties: Manila clams “piri piri” steamed in a chilies-stoked beer bath; moist morsels of smoked catfish tossed with salad greens and stone fruit; deliciously dense chocolate pot de crème, best enjoyed with a liquid sweet culled from the dessert-wine list.
But unlike before, the kitchen crew is (finally!) cooking with gas — and going gonzo with a shiny new grill. Like lamb? Then you’ll love (Market butcher) Don & Joe’s mighty lamb burger — a noonday knockout posed on an elegant Columbia City Bakery brioche bun. Grilled to order, this pink-centered patty ($13 with soup or salad) has it all: smoky char, a salty boost from bacon, a sweet hit from caramelized onions and a tart pouf of goat cheese.
Got big bucks? Come back at dinner and hope for a trio of grilled lamb chops sauced with scarlet-hued Bing cherry compote laved with a minty take on gremolata ($35). But even penny-pinchers should scrimp to splurge on the “Surf & Surf” ($29). Imagine a pair of Gulf prawns as Romeo and Juliet, entwined in a passionate embrace, an heirloom-tomato relish raining down on their heads, scallops singing musical accompaniment at their feet — which are anchored by a guac-like avocado-tomatillo salsa.
I’ll not soon forget the rich-on-richer rillettes — a sweet, rustic meld of spreadable chicken liver and duck confit ($9). Nor a cloud of peaches-and-cream-infused bread pudding hot from the oven, its custard just this side of savory, its ginger ice cream gilding the lily.
If the kitchen occasionally founders, it makes up for its shortcomings in memorable ways. For every cup of lukewarm “chilled” watermelon-mint soup (which belonged in a glass, over ice, served with a straw), there’s comfort in a cup: salmon chowder delicately seasoned with herbs and bacon (a “bite of Seattle” in every spoonful). For every gorgeous slab of king salmon lavished with corn relish and smoked-tomato vinaigrette (but near-raw at its center), there’s a delightful deconstructed paella seductively scented with saffron and chorizo, with shellfish and chicken cooked just-so.
Barely two months old, the “new” Matt’s is still finding its footing. Meanwhile, there are many fans — count me among them — thrilled to take root here and revel in all that it’s become.