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Matisse Cafe, Fritz Matisse's French-Mediterranean on Wisconsin Avenue and Fessenden Street in Tenleytown


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I had dinner at Matisse earlier this week and was pleasantly surprised. This was a business dinner and the host chose the place; after a few rounds of anxious research here and elsewhere on the web, my expectations were not high, but the evening was quite nice. We were at the chef's table/wine room, which is a sort of open corner (2 sides lined with wine racks) off the kitchen. Caveats - this was a six-course fixed-menu large-group meal, with dedicated servers and such, so I don't think it's necessarily representative of a regular dinner experience there and I have no idea what anything cost. Also, I think there must be another kitchen farther back or something, because I didn't see much action -- if your idea of a chef's table is to watch flashing knives and flames, you won't see much of that here.

That said, the food was thoughtful, creative and for the most part meticulously prepared. Matisse's web page calls it French-Mediterranean, but I'd say it's just French - we're talking cream and butter here, not olive oil and basil. Take an extra Lipitor and enjoy yourself. Standouts included the cocktail snacks (perfect little crab cakes the size of bay scallops, just slightly crunchy and spicy), a demitasse of creamy/spicy pumpkin-coconut soup (a flavor pairing new to me that I thought came off brilliantly), a cheese plate (hooray!), and squab with foie gras in a cabernet reduction. (A couple of quibbles about that one: with such a small amount of squab, I was puzzled as to why I got a nearly-meatless length of bone with mine -- not even enough to gnaw off; I didn't find that the chestnuts added much to my experience; and the wine paired with it, a white Bordeaux if memory serves, was startlingly sweet and I didn't find it worked for me.) Portions were small but satisfying; with six courses, I was grateful they weren't larger. Wines paired with the menu were generally delightful, and a Stemmler Pinot Noir was a big hit. (I was making big plans till I looked it up on Total Wines the next morning and found out it retails for $30/bottle!)

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I have frequented Matisse nearly a dozen times over the past 2 years or so and have had a great experience each time. Granted the service is sometimes better than others, but I have found that the great quality of the food has been amazingly consistant. Additionally, Fritz has on more than one occasion been gracious enough to provide an apertif on the house without any reason to do so, and has proven to be one of the best GMs in town. I don't really understand why Matisse doesn't get more praise, but at the same time I have been enjoying having it all to myself. Any other Matisse fans out there?

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It's located in the Friendship Hieghts area next door to a cigar store and a scuba diving shop, and yes, they still serve a great brunch. If you're ever nearby I would highly suggest it.

Thanks for welcoming me, glad to be finally registered here after lurking through the posts for a while!

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Sadly, that theater (plus the one near Rodman's) closed.

I've been in Matisse a couple of times, once after a movie (it's almost right across the street from a theater).  It's pretty good.  I wouldn't put it in the same category as Bistro Lepic though, which is much further down Wisconsin.

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I guess this should be one of those restaurants that never gets talked about.

I've been an irregular diner at Matisse since it opened. I've always found the menu and the wine list to be very thoughtful, usually well executed, most of the time served competently, and in a "urban, rustic, chic" environment. Without exception, I have found Fritz (GM or owner?) to be exceptionally professional.

It's is a real Tenleytown (well north of Georgetown, but well south of Bethesda) find.

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A good friend, who is a regular customer, took us out for dinner here last night. She was almost apologetic, calling it "just a neighborhood bistro," but the food was very good. We started with Malpeque oysters with mignonette, moules marinieres, and a little bit of foie gras mousse. For mains, my friend and I had cassoulet, our friend's date had osso bucco, and Jonathan had a grilled lobster. My friend has always raved about the wine list and service--GM Fritz Siegfried recommended the wines. We started with a rosé sparkler--Panniers (?) and we had a bottle of Sancerre and then a Pax syrah, a Neyers zin to see us through the salad and cheese course and then a Two Hands moscato with dessert. Jonathan was very happy with his lobster. I thought the cassoulet was simple but very tasty--duck confit, lamb and a slice or two of sausage baked with the beans in a small enameled cast iron cocotte. The osso bucco was tasty, but lacked the gremolata that I consider essential to brighten a big honking lump of meat. Dessert was servicable, nothing mind-blowing. The back room was full--the crowd was older, but we could talk and hear each other. Not really better than what I cook at home, so it's not a place I'd choose to go on my own dime. But if my friend wants to take us there again, I'll happily go.

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Not really better than what I cook at home, so it's not a place I'd choose to go on my own dime. But if my friend wants to take us there again, I'll happily go.

Fritz's old joint, Cafe Roval in Potomac Village, was part of my childhood and I've transferred my affection to Matisse. I agree on most counts -- the food is well-prepared classic french, not exceptional and not inexpensive. However, the menu is reliably tasty top-to-bottom, and in a neighborhood with a dearth of quality options, the service, ambiance and food at Cafe Matisse stand out.

But, come on, not better than what gets cooked at home? Sure, maybe if your name is Zora Margolis... oh, wait...

Alex

PS - Inaugaurapocalypse!

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I've had a couple of dinners at Matisse, as we have a client in that neck of the woods. I thought that the food was always prepared well, and covered all of the basics. My favorite thing about the place is the reserve wine list - prices are now creeping upward, but up until about a year ago Fritz had most Sine Qua Non bottlings available for way less than retail (but more than mailing list). Unfortuately as the word got out, that changed, and prices on SQN have increased substantially, but Matisse is a solid, locally owned restaurant with an excellent wine program.

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Matisse Cafe may be the MILF of upscale dining in the lineup of sexy millennial fast-casuals along Tenleytown's Wisconsin Ave.  Last night, a very relaxed, comfortable, and enjoyable dinner here.  Atmosphere is a very nice change of pace from loud 14th Street type places.  Non-descript, non-offensive music on the speakers. 

We dropped in, just because I had never been there before and wondered about it.  We stood out in this white-tablecloth spot, as I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, but it was a quiet night there anyways.   We were in the back room, where my wife sat on a upholstered banquette that spanned the entire room.  The lighting and detailing are beautiful, and have aged gracefully.  I recall being shocked when I first ate at Granville Moore's at the intentional lack of renovation, but that has become the new normal, people like industrial ambiance.  Matisse is much more comfortable than all of that, I hope the pendulum swings back towards this style, soon.

A glass of a just-opened sparking rose will always put me in a good mood, and so we evaluated the menu.  There's the regular menu, and then there is a half-page insert of the specials.  And then the server announced two more specials:  Soft shell crabs Almondine, and a King Salmon entree.  I'm not sure if they are printing a menu every day (doubtful), so this system is a bit strange.

We started off with the zucchini blossoms appetizer off the specials ($13).  This was four blossoms stuffed with goat cheese and prepared tempura style, and served over the best marinara sauce I have had in recent memory (including my own).  The blossoms themselves were breaded with a light touch and fried just right.

My wife opted for the pasta in a red sauce with jumbo crabmeat ($28 regular menu), and I went for the king salmon entree ($33 the special special menu).  I tasted her pasta, and was disappointed in the saucing, it was thin and lacked the personality of the appetizer sauce.  My salmon was cooked a nice medium rare, and the skin was fairly crispy.  Served with cherry tomatoes, olives, and some other vegetables, it was very very good.

We rarely do dessert, but decided to go for the Matisse Meringue, with  hazelnut gelato (Dolcezza?), fresh whipped cream, and Swiss Milk & Dark Chocolate Sauce ($10).  Really nice, not too sweet, and the meringue itself had a nouget of some sort in it that kept it interesting.

A very pleasant surprise.  Downstairs we see there is a chef's table, where it does a $95 multi-course dinner.  I am tempted to check it out, anyone been recently?  

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