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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thing 87: Matchbox

I had never been to Matchbox before, in part because every time I tried to go, I was informed that the wait would be 60 to 90 minutes. And while that was just too long to wait when I was hungry now, it sure seemed to speak well for the restaurant.

So I went back on the day before Thanksgiving, when DC is practically a ghost town, and sure enough the wait for lunch was only five to ten minutes.

Matchbox is made up of two narrow townhouses in Chinatown, reconverted into open and bright dining rooms. Every spare inch of wall space at Matchbox is covered in framed magazine covers or news articles lauding the place. The Washington Post, the Washingtonian, Esquire, the RAMMY's, it seems like everyone is crazy about Matchbox.

Does this place live up to the hype, the long waits, the many raves and awards? In a word: yes. This place is good. Really, really good. Delicious food, affordable prices, lively atmosphere, and attentive service. I think we have a winner.

I went with my cousin, before we hit up the National Gallery. We were seated in the newly annexed part of the restaurant, which is bright with natural light, with deep booths on one side of the room and a high banquette along the other, ending in a busy kitchen with a brick pizza oven. As we were led to our table, I checked out what was on other peoples' plates -- looked like the crab cake sandwich was popular, the pizzas, and plates of mini burgers heaped over with thin onion rings.

Once seated, our waiter, Parker, assured us he would be right with us. It was still a few minutes before he was actually able to pay attention to us, but as he hurried back and forth with gorgeous plates of food he kept assuring us he hadn't forgotten, which was a nice touch. When he finally come over to our table, he mentioned that the place was famous for its pizza and its mini-burgers, went over the specials and any questions we had and left us to decide.

In the end, we split the "mini-trio," which is two scallops, two crab cakes and two mini-burgers. We really wanted to try the burgers, plus I wanted to see what those giant crab cake sandwiches were all about. All three were perfectly cooked -- the scallop firm with a thick seared crust and rich buttery sauce, the crab cake was sweet and meaty, and the burgers were perfect little patties, pink on the inside, topped with a crumble of blue cheese and crispy fried onions. Sadly, our mini-trio burgers didn't come with the little brioche bun. Next time, as good as that crab cake was, we order only mini-burgers!

Then we split the flatiron pizza and the iceberg wedge. The flatiron pizza was awesome -- an overused word, and yet completely applicable here. The crust was so thin, crispy and a bit charred on the bottom. The pizza itself was sweet and rich and spicy, with toppings of meaty mushrooms and steak, a rich and cheesy Gruyere sauce, sweet caramelized onions and neon yellow banana peppers providing a vinegar-laced heat at the end. I ate a lot, and looked forward to eating more later, cold, out of the refrigerator, except that I totally caved when the coat check guy at the National Gallery asked me if he could eat it, and so he got my creamy spicy leftover pizza.

The iceberg wedge was good too. I do believe that a wedge of iceberg will always taste delicious with bacon, red onion, blue cheese and hard boiled egg, but get this -- the iceberg lettuce had flavor. I didn't know that was possible! I always thought iceberg was there for texture, not flavor -- but this iceberg tasted like crunchy sweet lettuce.

As we were slowing down on the meal, Parker came over and got my hopes up by saying "is it time for..." Then he ended the question with "a box?" rather than "dessert?" Matchbox doesn't serve desserts. Matchbox, that is a shame. I want pizza and mini-burgers and ice cream, dammit. Matchbox, let's work out a deal. I make the ice cream cream sandwiches (3/6/9?) and you keep the thin crusts coming.

Matchbox is always packed, almost always a long wait, and all I can tell you is yes, it's worth it. Plan ahead, arrive before you are so hungry you'll settle for Hooters, and maybe hit RFD while you wait. But however you finagle it, go go go!


Jess said...

I'm so glad you finally got to go -- this is definitely one of my favorites!