Inside the Crazy World of Il Matto, the Mad Man, New in Tribeca
Left, a gin martini with a vermouth-soaked stone; right, a melon-flavored vodka cocktail with prosciutto rim.
Il Matto, a nominally Italian restaurant from chef/owner Matteo Boglione, recently opened on Church Street in Tribeca. True to its name, which means "mad man," everything about the restaurant, from the room to the food to the cocktails, is a little off-kilter, purposefully bizarre.
There are booths made to look exactly like the Disneyland teacup ride that actually spin on wheels; the salt and pepper shakers are shaped like grenades; the cocktail menu includes a gin martini garnished with a vermouth-soaked stone supposedly plucked from a beach in Liguria. "Don't you think they reuse those?" asked my husband, when I popped the stone in my mouth to see if it actually tasted sweet, as our server had promised. Honestly, it tasted like a rock.
It makes for an interesting evening, at least. But between very confused service and dishes that mainly don't taste quite good enough to pull off their gimmicks, I can't recommend it. Still, some people might get a kick out of the place. For best results, sit at the bar and try one of the surrealist cocktails (one comes with "tom yum gum").
A catalog of some of Il Matto's odd concoctions, right this way ...
Left, artichoke fritters with burrata and summer truffle; right, Pecorino crème brûlée and onion jam.
The artichoke fritters are leaden and taste like something from a joyless health food shop. But the Pecorino crème brûlée is one of Il Matto's better dishes, at least for those who love extreme salty-sweet juxtapositions: an airy mousse of the cheese under a sugar crust, lent extra savoriness by a mound of caramelized onion.
Steamed octopus with potato wedges and mortadella with pesto.
Another relatively successful dish, the steamed octopus is tender and the potato-mortadella combination is just fine.
Squid-ink gnocchi with fried artichokes, crab, and tomato sauce.
We were told these gnocchi were made out of puff pastry dough, but they tasted raw -- basically gushing into mush the minute they hit your tongue. And the deep, briny flavor of squid ink is missing entirely; the dish needed salt.
Peanut-crusted chicken with garlic chips and celery root puree.
The chicken is well cooked and juicy, but somehow the salty peanut coating is incredibly off-putting, like finding poultry in a peanut butter sandwich.
Il Matto 281 Church Street 212-226-1607
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to New York dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.