37 South 19th Street
(215) 564-2925

Philadelphia’s lawyers have hardly anything to do on 19th Street, from the Parkway through to the middle of Rittenhouse Square. Unless, of course, if Sophy Curson is having a trunk show sale at the corner of Sansom. Matthew and Sonjia Spector have changed all that by opening a delicious dollop of a restaurant, combining the first syllables of their respective names. They’ve made this formerly traffic-bereft skinny southbound street into “Matyson Avenue.”

One enters into a mini-foyer to be greeted and de-coated (being given a card from a deck of cards as a coat check). To the right are a half dozen paintings brightly lining the wall for forty feet, depicting various “objects de manger.” Above these are a series of rectangular mirrors which overlook a circular silver-foil covered air duct pipe twelve feet high along the ceiling. The mirrors shake from the decibels of cacophony cascading from the mega-monster sound system. Ask to “turn the music down,” and pianissimo occurs. But voices still must be raised to be heard. The acoustics here are antiquated. Therefore, conversation is hardly convenient, and almost at a “calling-Philip-Morris” yell. The food itself, however, is so bold and flavorful, it makes you want to be breathless, and loud with praise.

Almost immediately, a waitperson attired in center city black, opens your wine brought from home. Swirled patties of butter arrive next, accompanied by eye-catching round rolls topped with dough in the shape of a mortarboard graduation cap. It’s as if you’re about to tear apart and butter the head of a valedictorian.

On the square wooden table at which you’re seated, you’ll also notice a teensy bucket labeled “SALT,” adorned with an even teensier wooden spoon. They will be superfluous, destined for innocuous desuetude.

Start simply, with a scrumptious Mixed Green Salad ($8) balanced in a white bowl with deep extra curvature at its epicenter. Bosc pear slices, sun dried fruit bits, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), blue cheese, and lettuce greens are slightly sopping in pomegranate vinaigrette. Forkfuls of the conglomeration slip easily from lips to larynx. It’s as if your tongue has relinquished all effort in protecting your tonsils. This appetizer is the culinary equivalent of an “oil and lube” for your mouth.

Or start more brazenly with Blue Point Oyster Etouffe ($11), a stew with smothered rock shrimp, oysters and crispy polenta. The broth that inundates the morsels of toasted shellfish seems barbecued and balmy. Drown your soupspoon to pick up a myriad of flavors, including a wave of salaciously salty oysters mollified by the polenta’s corn and grain aftertastes. A swallow is frequently followed by an involuntary pucker.

Entrées run the gamut, from Bouillabaisse ($24) to Slow Roasted Beef Short Ribs ($22).

The former is a low-tide soup into which mussels, salmon chunks, tuna bites, striped bass filets, scallop and lobster pieces are bathing. Instead of sherry, as is usual, a saffron lobster broth adds warmth and character, with a kick from garlic aioli.

One’s teeth bite down tenderly into the perfectly prepared fish, only to open quickly to allow for the inevitable escape of a groan. Vocal chords become weary as the sea of sensations disappear from the bowl. Your heart and mind have heated exchanges, while taste buds go surfing.

The Short Ribs are just as toothsome. They are served high above a mound of mushy polenta, all of which is surrounded by steamed string beans and lots of gravy.

The ribs have seemingly lost their bony interior by the timeless length of the roast. The beef pulls away in thick fucia strands from the center, where bones had been. The meat melts, as if strings of cotton candy, onto the inside of your cheeks. Dimples disappear as you swirl the mellow mixture toward a gentle gulp. No knives or forks are utilized, because fingers are best to push and pick and pull. You’ll resemble a harmonica player trying to get command of “Flight of the Bumblebees.”

And if you want the tastiest duck breast in the city, get it roasted here ($20). Elongated crispy slices are presented with a rose interior, over red choucroute, fingerlings, and duck confit in a lively mustard vinaigrette. The duck is ever so slightly fatty around its edges, brandishing a smoky flavor to supplement the velvet smoothness of its middle. Melded together, it’s a savory satin.

The clear possibility of another bout of adult onset diabetes forbids me from other than merely alluding to Sonjia’s (formerly pastry chef at Novelty) White Chocolate and Pear Bread Pudding ($7) with bourbon smoked cherries and thoughtlessly abundant chocolate sauce, or her Matyson Cookie Jar ($12), with enough confections to satisfy the sweet teeth of a dozen jurors on a death penalty murder case.

On occasion, Matt Spector will take one ingredient, such as an apple or a duck, and tantalize you with a five-course meal developed around it. A bargain at the $40 prix fixe.

Matyson takes reservations and calls you on the day of your repast. And although, by eight o’clock, this shebang gets crowded, you’ll be seated in minutes.


Copyright 2004 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back