Matchbox, Washington, D.C.

NOTE: Another replay. We returned to Matchbox on Wednesday before getting our very-delayed flight home that night. It was as good as I remembered it.

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Proscuitto and black mission fig

I’m always leery of the words “artisan” and “vintage,” usually because it means an upsell and a whole bunch of attitude. My boss and I had a couple of hours to kill before our shuttle to the airport. A quick review of the restaurant list from the concierge brought the idea of pizza, which led us to the nearby Matchbox.

The company celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. What began at the H Street NW location is now a group of six restaurants spread throughout the National Capital Area (and Palm Springs, Calif.), with the promise of three new outlets within the year. The locations are as eclectic as the menu — the Chinatown storefront stretches over four levels and the Capitol Hill location is a former vending machine warehouse. The owners promise a different menu and vibe at each location. And, really, how can you turn away from a restaurant with a style guide on its website?

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With just a couple of hours before faceoff at the nearby hockey arena, I was a little worried that we may have difficulty getting a table. Not so, though after a day of walking all over Capitol Hill we were distressed to learn that our table was two flights of stairs away. Our very attentive waiter took great pains to explain the beer and food menus, bound between hardwood front and back covers (I went for the Avery IPA; the boss got the Allagash White). Upon his recommendation, we found out the hard way that pizza was not the only specialty of the house.

Waiters at Matchbox don 3-6-9 t-shirts, promoting the house appetizer. The Matchbox sliders come in multiples of three, served on a brioche bun with a pickle chip and under a mound of onion straws. We opted to get one of each available cheese — mozzarella, gouda and gorgonzola — prepared medium. The burgers were minimally seasoned, letting the beef stand on its own. It didn’t take long for us to polish off the burgers and scarf down the onion shards littering the plate. We were barely through with the onions when a pizza peel arrived with our dinner.

Matchbox features 16 different pizzas available in 10- and 14-inch. Since leftovers seemed wasteful, we decided to split a large version rather than order two smalls. The kitchen allows half-and-half orders for each pizza, which is how we ended up with a half-proscuitto and fig, half-Italian salami. The apples-and-oranges comparison of each side would be futile. The salami brought all of the salty, cured flavors of pepperoni, salami and mortadella. It was bolstered by a healthy dose of garlic, marinated tomatoes and a red sauce. The spice factor was low, but the smokiness of the meat could not be denied. Strangely, the flavors did not bleed over to the other half, a combination of garlic, black mission figs, black pepper honey and proscuitto. The enormous figs stood out on each slice, balancing the salt from the meat and cheeses (gorgonzola and mozzarella) and the honey. Nothing overpowered. Everything was perfectly balanced, and topped with arugula. You can’t ask for much more than that.

The bistro menu at Matchbox is as eclectic as the location. Braised short ribs and wood-fired salmon served over grits are among the choices.

We return to the same hotel for our conference next spring. I have a feeling Matchbox may be a regular visit for us in 2013.

Dinner for two with one round of beers was about $45 before tip. Matchbox Chinatown is located at 713 H St. NW and is open seven days a week.

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