I would have almost missed out being personally pampered by Hari and his kitchen staff at Matt & Meera, had I not had taken the earlier flight out of Boston, that afternoon. A very elaborate debrief from the chef on directions, a couple of train-changes later, from Newark Airport to Hoboken, and a leisurely stroll of 6 blocks from the station to Washington Street brought me to this friendly, almost economical in decor yet, very stylish restaurant.
When you see M&M from a block’s distance, its clustered among the several rows of the mile-long chain of restaurants on that road. Its only when you cross the road, and enter the small enclave that you realize how unique and different this place is from the rest of its counterparts along the same side of the road. I almost immediately spotted my favorite corner in the restaurant.
I could right-away imagine myself at that table in the corner of the room against the vast glass pane facing the street, a book tucked in one hand, a glass of pomegranate ginger beer to sip, and munching on their home-made masala chips. And that’s really the essence of this restaurant. A place you can be comfortable in.
A place that serves your favorite home food, familiar enough to be casually not paying attention to it, and at the same time taking in each bite with a pinch of surprise, because of the unique flavors that have gone into making local cuisine global. Their tagline sums up this essence beautifully. Local Favourites, Global Flavors.
A warm familiar smile greeted me at the door, and I knew that very moment, that the chef and his team make sure that every customer who walks into the restaurant doesn’t leave without the same comforting warm smile, and memories of a good meal. It was early evening in New Jersey. My last meal was a wrap of fresh lobster-meat at 11am at Legal Seafoods at the Boston Logan Airport, and by now I was craving for food. Good, easy food.
The menu has been crafted meticulously to include local American favorites giving it a very contemporary global accoutrement. There is a very rustic get-up to the restaurant, complimented by a very zen-ish look and feel.
The artifacts have been individually handpicked from very interesting places around the country, and some have been sourced globally, as well. There are two wooden frogs, sitting side-by-side perched up high on the shelf, as if casually overlooking and supervising the restaurant!
There is a stone Buddha wrapped in rock. Some rustic and antique wooden bowls and spoons. Metal letters of “M & M”, tucked behind cookbooks written by celebrated chef, Hari Nayak. Spice racks. A toy metal motorbike parked behind toy stone mushrooms. Bottles of dips and sauces. Colorful square-shaped quarter-plates. Very comforting, and very original.
I decided to change places while trying the different dishes. It’s a peculiar, I know.But somehow it helps me with new perspectives. As if I am a new customer, at every table. My first hot-spot was one of bar stools placed beneath the centrally placed long table. The feet of these stools are curiously interesting. They are wire-frames and in multiple colours! Those seats actually made me nostalgic.
Of places in India, called ‘mess-es’ that serve impossibly delicious, cheap homemade tasting food. A ‘mess’ is a place where you can afford taking people who won’t get judgmental about you. With people you can be yourself. Comfortable and base.
It’s a place where you can share your love for little things known and unknown…a place you can catch up with a friend on your day at work, your unbearable bickering boss, or an ex-lover’s idiosyncrasies, all with the same level of passion! And that’s the basic concept of the ‘Shared Plates’ on this menu. Large heart portions that can be shared with a near and dear one over the day’s stories.
I allowed the expert to bring in his first recommended course, aptly named Matt’s Calamari. It came in an aluminum oval container, served on a bed of crumpled newspapers. Its such a clever, authentic and ingenious idea to serve fried foods in material that absorb oil. We all do that while we cook at home, don’t we?
Why hide it? The calamari was fried to a perfect sunset gold, speckled with the bright red chilli flakes and spices that would have been mixed in the frying batter itself.
Crispy and crusty on your first bite, till it gives way to moist fleshy chunk of calamari inside. The side dip was uniquely a tomato chutney served in a little steel tumbler.
The kinds you would serve long with a masala dosa in India. Ripe red tomatoes blessed with tempered mustard seeds, and probably a few bruised curry leaves. The second recommendation was the fully-loaded Naan-Chos. Baked crisp slices of naan, placed geometrically sliding one below the other, topped with goo-ey caramel coloured Masala Queso, fresh chopped tomatoes,cilantro and green chillies, dollops of sour-cream, mushy avocado, and ground lamb crumbles.
You can’t stop this dish at one bite, I promise you. The pomegranate flavoured ginger beer arrived while I licked the avocado infused sour-cream clean from my fingers! Ginger-pink in colour, and poured into a glass container that could have been easily mistaken for a sugar-canister…except that it had one handle instead of two! Absolutely refreshing for a summer day. The drink was boosted by the foraying in of the home-made masala chips.
These are baked, and hence free of any guilt. Your taste-buds will immediately notice the difference in the taste. Chaat masala, red chilli flakes, pepper powder and splintered curry leaves, served with an assortment of their signature dipping sauces-the Tomato Chutney, the Wasabi and Lime and the Mustard Aioli.
Main course(es) came next. I tucked into my next favourite corner, beside the glass pane, for this. A platter of lamb sliders, correctly titled ‘Homemade Lamb Burgers’. The lamb inside was essentially flattened lamb koftas, flavoured with (among other things) garam masala, ginger-garlic coriander and cumin. The patties were perfectly moist, and the bun soft and fresh. What was interesting is that the sliders were held together by a straw stick knotted at the top.
Almost like a dried thread of hay, pulled from a stack lying out in the rural villages of India. Vicariously, I saw myself, sitting on a swing, in a large field of mustard greens dangling my legs..my anklets ringing in little joyful beats..and watching a train at a distance screeching its way across the field, emitting bellowing steam from the engine! Very Bollywood,I know! Very ‘Meera’!
The last, was my ‘farmaaish‘! ( An Urdu word, meaning a request that can be made only to a dear one!)The Soft-Shell Crab Sandwich. An entire eight-clawed soft shell crab batter-fried as a succulent ‘pakoda’ and served between a lightly toasted bun, layered with tomato slices, red-onion rings and fresh iceberg lettuce.
With the ginger-beer washing down every bite of all this good food, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to indulge my evening.
M&M reminds me of the story of When Harry met Sally. Different people, fighting their differences out all the time. But at the same time, they cannot do without each other, because of a bond that is natural, yet hard to fathom. Much like Matt and Meera. Marrying them off is not natural, but absolutely not impossible.
Some relationships are meant to be. No matter how much you want to run away from it. It is that kind of a place. You will always want to run into it, not away from it. And everytime come out of that door wearing the same smile, that you would when you see a happy couple in love. Like Matt. Like Meera.
Matt & Meera opened doors for a full-fledged dinner fare in August.
PS: Recipes for the Masala Chips and the Lamb Burgers can be found exclusively at Lassi with Lavina.
Matt & Meera
618 Washington Street
Hoboken, NJ 07030