Via Matta: A touch of Tuscany in Boston

Via Matta 4Via Matta's got location and style as it dazzles regional flavors of Tuscany. Sitting on prime real estate in Back Bay, Boston, Chef Michael Schlow dishes Italian with flair and a sense of humor. Know what "matta" means? It means "joker." Via Matta is "joker's way" in Italian and I wonder about it but no one's saying, at least not to me. It's nice, not taking yourself too seriously. I mean, his Facebook page says he plays with food for a living.

Schlow gets interviewed a lot. He was on the radio last week and of course, he brings food to the hosts. As you would expect, doughnuts make the guys happy. On his website, he lists places he likes to eat, not just in Boston. I see that he and I agree on the local places. As well, he posts recipes with pictures that make you want to run right over to Via Matta. I ate this calamari as soon as Julie snapped it. (See recipe below.)

It's capered and you taste the squid in its peppery red sauce; no breading. So relieved that it comes with not a single lima bean. For his kitchen mood, Schlow has a list of tunes he likes to cook by. I can picture him on an endless loop of "Grazing in the Grass," "Walking to New Orleans," and "Baby, I'm Yours" leaning over the grill putting together our meal. Well, maybe not him, but still. What are they playing now and have they moved on to Graham Parker's 1976 "Between You and Me" and Cressy St Breakdown's "Cookin' on Three Burners."


Via Matta 8Julie starts with Umbrian Grechetto Colli Martani that she calls floral with minerals. It takes a lot of tasting to find a $12 retail wine that goes down this well. As it happens, there's a fair amount of what I call inexpensive wine, showcased at our favorite places, that tastes much better than you expect. The trick, of course, is finding them.

Chefs take ordinary vegetables like beets and turn them into good-looking salads with things like pickled green strawberry, pear, radish, olives and puffed wild rice. Not so ordinary, really, and who wouldn't eat vegetables every day if they were this good? Julie's beets are sweet and sour with crunch and this is one reason why we go for vegetables and salads when we're out. With a bunch of small plates, antipasti to you, we get to try a lot of stuff.

Via Matta 7Julie's next is housemade ricotta with sage, olive oil, plenty of red chili and crostini all so perfectly arranged it's a crime to disturb it, but disturb it we do. It's creamy with a hint of olive and sage. The toasted bread's warm, taking to the easy spread of ricotta that's mild with a little sweet. This is one that works summer or winter, inside or out and it can be more than an appetizer if you want. We like the marriage of salt and hot. It tells us who's in the kitchen too since if his/her taste matches ours, we don't mind there's no salt and pepper. (Yes, they appear after a while in tiny wooden bowls and no, we didn't need them.)

My crunchy eggplant is hot and we give it a moment to cool; I am so happy when my order of anything is hot and it's even better when a server warns me not to touch the plate. Judging from people who eat here, eggplant's a favorite. Eggplant has not always been for me but it is now. We get height of the season tomatoes marinated with basil, and shaved parmigiano so thin you can see though it. Are you as nuts about hot vegetables and cool tomatoes that keep the cheese from melting? Schlow's cooking is endearing: the simplest ingredients yield flavor that's sophisticated, pure and I don't know, real.

A protected patio means you can try the stylish palm court on cooler days and you may bring your dog. Though it fronts a busy street, there's no sense of the ongoing construction and traffic; ditto the romantic dining room that gives me the feeling we've gone off to somewhere else. Lunch also offers pizza, with sandwiches and pasta for those who can eat more than I. Our server, Vincente, has a team working with him as they bring, no, they don't just bring, they present our plates. It is a presentation.

I'm wondering now if Dan remembers our lunch here and my job interview so long ago. His office was just upstairs. The food was good then, it had to be if I noticed with my stage fright, and it's very good now. LA friends, you can visit Michael Schlow's place, Cavatina, on Alta Loma in West Hollywood. It's similar, sort of, but not at all matching. Let me know what you think.

3 oz of extra virgin olive oil
6-7 thin slices of garlic
large pinch of kosher salt
large pinch of fresh cracked black pepper
large pinch of crushed red pepper
pinch of fresh thyme
6 ozs of fresh squid, cut into rings
1/2 cup of fresh lima beans, blanched (canned can be substituted)
1/2 cup of fresh, ripe tomatoes,medium dice
10-12 black olives, pits removed, cut in half
2 tsp of capers
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
juice of half a lemon

Place a large sauté pan over high heat, add olive oil and garlic. Cook garlic until light golden brown, about two minutes. Add salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, thyme. Add squid and cook for approx. two minutes. Add all other ingredients and gently warm.

79 Park Plaza
Boston, MA 02116
617. 422. 0008

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© Photos by Julie Moffatt. Kitty Kaufman is a writer living in Boston. See more of their adventures at Corporate Edge and follow Kitty Kaufman on Twitter.