Monday, December 18, 2017

Matadora in Woburn: A Taste of Spain

 “Food had always been something that brought people together in my life and that’s a tradition I want to continue at my restaurants.”
--William "Billy" Jimenez, Chef de Cuisine at Matadora 

I love Spanish cuisine, from Tapas to Paella, as well as Spanish wines, from Cava to Sherry. I've travelled to Spain three times, spending a total of about five weeks in that wonderful country. When I learned that a new Spanish restaurant would open in Woburn, only a few miles from my home, I was excited and curious. How would it stack up against other local Spanish restaurants? Would they serve authentic Sherry? Would they serve some of my favorite Spanish dishes?

The Hilton Boston/Woburn, located on Forbes Road, recently completed a comprehensive renovation, including the addition of Matadora, a Spanish restaurant, which opened on October 30. Matadora was created in partnership with COJE Management, the team behind Boston restaurants Yvonne’s, RUKA and Lolita. The menus at Matadora were developed by COJE’s Culinary Director Tom Berry and are now being executed at the restaurant by Matadora’s Chef de Cuisine William Jimenez, focusing on "tailored tapas and flavorful cuts of meat and fish from the kitchen’s centerpiece – a custom, wood-fired grill."

The restaurant is located just to the left of the hotel lobby, open to the lobby and not hidden behind any walls. Most of the ceiling is also open, ascending numerous floors and visually accessible from the balconies of numerous guest rooms. The kitchen too is open, a design concept I always appreciate, and you can sit at the counter directly in front of the kitchen, watching the cooks work their culinary skills. It is an aesthetically pleasing restaurant, that emanates an ambiance of welcoming and comfort.

As you enter the restaurant, it'll be impossible to miss their huge centerpiece, a 900 pound sculpture of a bull, which was made from scrap metal, including automobile parts, from Thailand. Quite a stunning piece of art.

There are several semi-circular banquettes, very comfortable spots for couples or small groups. There are also a variety of other tables within the restaurants, which can accommodate most any group.

In the back of the restaurant is a large, rectangular bar, with a view outside the front windows.

This is their custom, wood-fired grill, the centerpiece of their kitchen, and where many of their entrees are cooked. William "Billy" Jimenez is the chef de cuisine, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, started his culinary career as a line cook at the Seaport Hotel in Boston. He has also spent five years at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Boston and in the Bar Boulud kitchen with Chef Aaron Chambers, whom Billys calls his most influential mentor. While there, Jimenez worked his way up from line cook to sous-chef. The most important rule he’s teaching his staff is that the smallest and simplest details are what sets great food apart. “My whole kitchen philosophy revolves around this - perfect the smallest detail and then perfect the next,” explains Chef Jimenez. “When you have every detail from start to finish perfected, the same ingredients become something else entirely.”

I was invited, as a media guest, to check out Matadora and I should note that it only has been open for 1 1/2 months so it is still within that stage where restaurants shake out the final kinks. As such, some matters could potentially change at the restaurant in the near future as they determine what works best for them. Overall, I was impressed with the restaurant and feel it is an excellent addition to the local area. I will definitely be returning to try out more of their menu and recommend that my readers check it out as well.

With a full bar, there is plenty of interest for your drink preferences. They have a list of ten special Cocktails ($8-$12), such as the Calimocho (Red wine & Cola) and Fancy Pants (Gin, Fino Sherry, Bergamot). They also have Red and White Sangria ($10/glass & $32/pitcher). On Tap, they have 10 beers & ciders ($6-$12), as well as 9 beers by the bottle ($5-$18). The list includes several Spanish beers and ciders.

As for Wine, they have 10 choices available by the glass ($10-$14) with 6 Spanish wines, the rest from California and Oregon. These 10 wines include one Sparkling wine, a Cava, as well as 4 Whites and 5 Reds. Though I didn't see it on the menu, maybe an oversight on my part, they have 8 Sherries available by the glass, and all 8 are authentic Sherry including La Gitana Manzanilla and a few bottlings from Lustau. That pleases me very much and I note that they use the Lustau Sherries in their cocktails.

The Wine list by the bottle ($38-$140) is broken down into Red, White and Sparkling, and then further grouped by general region, like North Atlantic Coast & Archipelagos. The list has about 5 Sparkling Wines (all Cavas), 23 Whites and 25 Reds. Most of the wines are Spanish, but with some wines from Portuguese, California, and Oregon. There is a nice diversity on the list with plenty of intriguing Spanish wines and even the non-Spanish wines are generally interesting as well. It was cool to see some wines from the Canary Islands, as well as Spanish grapes like Godella, Mencia, Hondarrabi Zuri, Albillo, and more.

We began our evening with a glass of Cava, the 2013 Gramona “Gran Cuvee” ($13), a delicious, crisp and dry Cava, with tiny bubbles, notes of apples and a hint of toast. A pleasant way to begin dinner.

The Red Sangria ($10) is made from Tempranillo, Brandy, Orange Liqueur, Juniper, and Cranberries. It was tasty, not too sweet and possessed an interesting melange of fruit flavors, with a hint of juniper and a bit of tartness from the cranberries.

The Sherry Cobbler ($10) is made with Lustau Amontillado, Apples, Cinnamon, and Mint, and had a pleasing taste, the hint of cinnamon making it a bit more unique than other Cobblers I've enjoyed. Refreshing and nutty, with a touch of mint.

The Slow Motion ($12), made with Bourbon, Lustau East India Sherry (a Cream Sherry), Amaro, and Bitters. This reminded me of a Manhattan and despite the addition of the Sherry, it wasn't overly sweet, balanced out nicely by the Amaro. There was a bit more richness in the cocktail than a normal Manhattan and it persuaded me to add some Cream Sherry to my Manhattans at home.

The Bullfighter ($10) is made with Plantation Rum, Lime, Honey, and Ginger Beer, more of a Light n' Stormy. It was a well balanced cocktail, with a mild sweetness, and a rich ginger taste.

Matadora currently serves Breakfast and Dinner, though not Lunch. As for the Dinner menu, it primarily includes small plates and wood-grill entrees. You'll find entries for Spanish Cheese (6 options, $8-$12 each, from Aged Manchego to Garrotxa), Spanish Meats (6 options, $11-$16 each, from Chorizo Iberico to Jamon Serrano), Olives, Nuts & Cured (6 options, $5-$7 each, from Boquerones to Marinated Manchego), Tapas (14 options, $8-$19, from Patatas Bravas to Charred Galician Octopus), Entrees (4 options, $19-$29 each, from Grass Fed Burger to Spicy Catalan Mussels), Wood Grill A La Carte (6 options, $18-$59, including Steaks, Pork Chop, Salmon, and Tuna), and Sides (5 options, $7-$9). Their Dessert menu has 3 options, $7-$9 each, including Creme Fraiche Ice Cream, Cantabrian Ricotta Cake, and Hot Churros.

There is a good diversity of dishes, though I wish they served one of my favorite tapas, Gambas al Ajillo, garlic shrimp. They also do not serve another of my favorite Spanish dishes, Paella, though they had considered it, eventually deciding to concentrate on tapas and wood-grilled items. During my visit, I concentrated on the small plates, and each dish was a nice portion size considering the nature of each item.

From Spanish Meats, the Chorizo Iberico ($11), sausage cured with smoky sweet paprika, is served exquisitely thin, with what appears to be a little olive oil. The spicy chorizo was tasty, a light dish which would be a nice way to begin your dinner.

From Olives, Nuts & Cured, the Marinated Manchego ($7) is prepared with olive oil, vinegar, roasted garlic and herbs. The cheese itself has a soft cheddar-like consistency and was an addictive little snack, with a nice blend of flavors enhancing the cheese.

From Olives, Nuts & Cured, the Spicy Gordal Olives ($6), made with some spice, are briny with a tender, fleshy exterior around the pit. The spice adds an intriguing taste to the briny olive, elevating them above a bare olive.

From Olives, Nuts & Cured, the Boquerones ($7), white anchovies, are made with vinegar, garlic, and herbs. The anchovies are tender and meaty, with a clean, lightly briny flavor. Even if you generally don't like anchovies, you need to try this dish as I think these anchovies will change your mind.

From Tapas, the Chickpea Fried Calamari ($12), with Andalusian dipping sauce, Ras el Hanout, Aioli and herbs, was excellent! The thin rings of calamari were especially tender with a delicious, clean fried batter. Some of the best fried calamari I've tasted in some time. And the Andalusian dipping sauce was a compelling complement to the calamari.

From Tapas, the Spicy Tuna Tartar ($16) is made with hummus, green olive, espelette mayo, and sesame, all atop a rosemary torta. There was plenty of silky tuna atop this dish and its flavors were intriguing, very different from the usual tuna tartar dish. The torta was flaky, with a pleasing herbal note to it.

From Tapas, the Pan con Tomate ($8) is a simple, but iconic Spanish dish, which basically consists of tomato rubbed garlic toast with EVOO and sea salt. The bread was nice and crusty on the edges and soft on the inside, with a clean and delicious taste, with the acidity of the tomato and plenty of garlic. A well executed dish.

From Tapas, the Patatas Bravas ($10) was an ample plate of crispy potatoes with sides of pimenton aioli and tomato romesco. The potatoes were tender and fluffy inside and I loved the spicy romesco sauce. I kept thinking about the other dishes that the romesco sauce could enhance, even the idea of slathering some atop a burger.

From Tapas, the Jamon Iberico Croquettes ($11) are made with Idiazabal cheese and are topped by Pimenton Aioli and herb salad. They are small enough that you could pop an entire one into your mouth, and when you bite into them, they are crunchy and creamy, bursting with flavor, including bits of ham.

From Tapas, the Basque Street Corn ($8), topped with roasted garlic aioli, Idiazabal cheese, and Espelette pepper, was probably my favorite dish of the evening. I've had similar dishes at other Spanish restaurants, and far too often, the corn tends to be a bit mushy. Here, the corn was tender and firm, the way an excellent corn on the cob should taste. The corn was grilled very well and the addition of the compelling melange of cheese, garlic and pepper well complemented the corn, creating an especially delicious dish. Highly recommended!

From Tapas, the Shrimp Toast ($15) is made with wild shrimp harvested from the U.S. Gulf, from Apalachicola, Florida. It's great to see that they are sourcing their shrimp domestically! The shrimp, with a number of veggies, including hot peppers, sits atop a thin slice of garlic toast and slathered with spicy saffron butter. The plump shrimp were tender and the rest of the toppings mixed for a tasty blend, with a mild spicy heat. Another winner of a dish.

Finally, we opted for one more Tapas, the Flaming Chorizo ($16), grilled chorizo pequeno with a piquillo honey mustard. The five plump chorizo sit in a flame for a short time on your table, a cool presentation. When you bite into the crisp skin of the chorizo, you'll be impressed with the moist and spicy meat, probably the spiciest of dishes we ate. Cooked perfectly, the chorizo were delicious, an excellent ending to our savory dishes.

I had to order one of the desserts, the Hot Churros ($9), which are covered with cinnamon sugar and accompanied by a rich chocolate dipping sauce, that was thick and reminded me of dark chocolate. The hot Churros had a crisp exterior with a fluffier interior, and plenty of sweetness from the cinnamon sugar. Dipping them in the rich chocolate made for a delectable treat, a great way to end an excellent evening.

Overall, I had an excellent experience at Matadora and they are doing quite well despite only having been open for 1 1/2 months. They have a very good drinks program, from their cocktails to wine list, and their food menu has plenty of delicious options. Portion size is reasonable, quality is high, and the dishes are certainly reflective of fine Spanish tapas. Service was attentive and personable, without being obtrusive. Matadora is a welcome addition to the local culinary scene and I definitely will return to try more of their menu, especially to explore their entrees such as the Spicy Catalan Mussels and even their Grass Fed Burger. I recommend you check out Matadora and get a taste of Spain in Woburn.

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