Henri Matisse is my favorite artist of all time, and a visit to the Matisse Museum in Nice was something of a pilgrimage visit a few years back. I do have some prints in my office and home, so when the opportunity came to check out Matisse Restaurant at the Ayres Hotel in Hawthorne, I was quite excited.
The good news is that this is a really nice place where the chef, Sheri DiBernardo, puts a lot of technical effort into the food—the bad news however is that there are is no Matisse artwork hanging in the dining room.
Chef DiBernardo’s background and heritage is a mixture of Hawaiian and Italian, giving her a unique creativity in the kitchen. About 20% of the diners at Matisse during the week are corporate businessmen staying at the hotel, while most of the weekend action is with hotel guests on vacation, or locals familiar with the chef’s work. After all, she has been there for six years, and primarily relies on the freshest of local ingredients making her menu work without being over the edge.
A prime example would be her appetizer of Ahi Mango Poke ($13) with wasabi, pickled ginger and cucumber Namasu all served in a wonton cone and the most savory of dishes.
Same goes for the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes ($14), yet another contender for best crab cake in the city, with a combination of cilantro, roasted corn, cojita cheese and tomato salsa. The cilantro did however take away some of the crab taste for my guest, otherwise it would have been an almost perfect dish.
Also notable were the Mini-Duck confit tacos ($12) spiced up with red pepper-papaya and the Red Romaine Salad ($7) which cleverly included a nice touch of dried cranberries, feta cheese and sugared pistachios. Her own signature raspberry vinaigrette complemented this dish.
The potato wrapped Chilean Sea Bass ($34) was a first time experience for me and is another sort of a signature dish for the chef. Sautéed with julienne peppers, zucchini and carrots, the fish is served over Peruvian mashed potatoes, a hot item right now.
The Juniper Berry Crusted Rack of Lamb ($38) comes paired with a wild mushroom risotto confirming the fact that lamb is a staple that can be served with any of a number of different side dishes. Being a mint fanatic when it comes to lamb, I was pleased with the minted grilled zucchini and was also impressed with the blood orange jalapeno reduction.
Desserts are much more than an afterthought at Matisse, and the chocolate selection we tried was fabulous, but my notes were getting a little scrambled by that time and the details are sadly a bit lacking. It capped off an excellent meal at a restaurant that may still not be living up to its full potential, purely because it is in a hotel location.