During its 10 months of life, Il Matto offered its customers gin martinis with vermouth-soaked rocks, grenade-shaped salt and pepper shakers, and seats seemingly modeled on Disney World’s Mad Teacup ride. Everything about the restaurant, Sarah DiGregorio wrote, was “a little off-kilter, purposefully bizarre.” It was a little too much so for the locals, regardless of how much Sam Sifton liked it. So following the restaurant’s shutter last week, its owners have announced that they will replace it with something “less scary.”
Il Matto’s chef and co-owner, Matteo Boglione, told Diner’s Journal that the interior of new restaurant, which will be called White Church, will have a more “New York City look,” meaning it will be revamped in wood and stone and have tables and chairs. The owners want to make the place “more casual and less scary,” though calling it White Church certainly carries its own frightening (if unintended) allusions.
We never tried Il Matto, so can’t comment on its quality, but we can’t help feeling that its makeover is a little sad. Regardless of how good it was or wasn’t, it was unequivocally different from everything else out there, a shamelessly flamboyant, proudly bizarro rebuke to the earnest American-barnyard establishments that have colonized much of the city. Do we really need another casual restaurant decorated in wood and stone, designed to make its patrons feel like they’ve stumbled into a Shaker family’s living room?
New York is supposed to be scary. Its restaurants are supposed to be, if not exactly scary, then reflective of the fact that they’re located in one of the most diverse, creative, and horrifically challenging cities in the world. It’s difficult not to look at the Il Matto revamp as symptomatic of the city’s increasing homogenization, its hostile takeover by chain stores, bank branches, foot spas, and the people who love them. Il Matto’s vermouth-soaked stones may have tasted like nothing more than rocks, but the apparent pressure its owners felt to conform carries its own distinctively unpalatable flavor.