First Impression: Il Matto

An article on UrbanDaddy compared Il Matto, the new restaurant where Arqua used to be, to “a futuristic art gallery.” I was definitely thinking art gallery when I visited Thursday, Il Matto’s opening night. But the restaurant reminded me more of Soho in the ’80s, or what I imagine Soho in the ’80s must have been like, or maybe a Milanese dream of what Soho in the ’80s was like: white walls, black floor, street-art-ish paintings, servers in casual black (or maybe dark navy) and sneakers, a mammoth red-and-white light installation, tableware from MoMA’s design collection. The calm, rustic charms of Arqua are gone, replaced by a highly urban style like nothing else in Tribeca these days.

The restaurant is above street level, and you enter via an enclosed, all-black stairway. The front third of the rectangular room is devoted to the bar. Appealingly, passersby can look up to see patrons framed in the windows; oddly, half of the bar is isolated by the aforementioned stairway, and consequently inaccessible to the bartender. The windows, as they were at Arqua, are magnificent.

White tables and plywood chairs line the perimeter, while in the center of the room are circular booths on wheels; according to UrbanDaddy, the banquettes spin around the tables, although no one was seated in them on Thursday night because they hadn’t been upholstered yet. For a minute, we weren’t sure whether they were intentionally unfinished. Despite its hard-edged style, Il Matto has a ReadyMade quality, as if friends got creative with a limited budget for materials. I don’t mean that as negatively as it probably sounds; in fact, the visible seams, if you will, added soul.

The plates and bowls are outsize—one dish reminded me of what veterinarians call an Elizabethan collar (those plastic devices that stop dogs from licking themselves). Salt and pepper come in grenade-shaped shakers, and the knives are torqued 90 degrees, making them impossible to balance on a plate. (I pitied the busboys.) The music originated with Björk in her less pop period and grew peppier. Björk might be a fair barometer: If you hate her, you might not love Il Matto.

We had the parmesan crème brûlée; a melon, prosciutto, and mache salad; farro lasagnette; and gnocchi with squid ink and crabmeat. The chef, Matteo Boglione, was formerly at Gradisca in the Village, and the food at Il Matto is far more ambitious than I recall it being at Grasdisca—although I haven’t been there in at least five years. It’s definitely true of the cocktail menu, which is heavy on savory and vegetable ingredients. I had a drink made with beet juice and rosemary-infused vodka—it was called the Buffalo 66, but given its relationship to a Bloody Mary, I think I would’ve called it a Purple Heart.

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