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Saturday, November 26, 2005

The afterburn, it hurts so good

I knew we’d get at least one post up during the month of November, even though I had grandiose plans of going to a bunch of the 25 for $25 restaurants. We haven’t been to a single one yet, and with only a handful of days left in the month, I doubt we will make it. I did try to make reservations at a couple of the participating restaurants one night, but ultimately got shot done by the rude hostesses on the other end of the line. It was like they were saying to me, “how dare ye try to make a reservation on the same day, you bloody newbie.” OK, so they weren’t pirates, or British, but seriously, it was early in the day on a Thursday. But, I guess we’re not in San Luis Obispo anymore, eh?

Fast forward a week to Thanksgiving, the ultimate day for eating and gluttony and all that crap. How would we spend it here in Seattle? Our first year married, our first year in Seattle – our first year all by our lone selves. Actually, it wasn’t that bad. It was kind of nice, being able to leisurely make pumpkin pies and pumpkin cheesecake while still in pajamas. Not feeling like we had to rush off to my parents, or join the masses on the roads to make it in time for turkey at Roth’s parents in Sonora. We cooked a turkey and all the traditional fare here at our new home. And just enjoyed being together. Christmas will be different, as my mom and stepdad are driving up from California. It will be a tad more hectic, perhaps.

On Friday, I got over my irrational fear of eating leftovers and finished off the T-giving mashed potatoes. Roth ate more turkey and stuffing. This was around 2 p.m. A couple hours later, when the thought of warming up more leftovers for dinner popped into my head, I pushed it away, turned to Roth, and said, “I want Mexican food.” I wanted something to eat that was totally different than the heavy comfort foods we had been noshing on for two days. I wanted my senses to come alive with the flavors of the Southwest. I wanted my mouth to burn and my eyes to water while eating habanero-infused sauces.

OK, I wasn’t thinking all of these things exactly as we headed over to Matador in Ballard. All I was thinking was that I wanted something different. And different is definitely what we got at Matador. Upon entering the trendy corner restaurant, guests must walk through a red, cape-like curtain to find the hostess. How very apropos for a restaurant called Matador, eh? We were given the standard “20 minutes” for a table. There was no room at the bar or the fireplace, so we waited outside. A few minutes later, the hostess came out to let us know that some seats at the bar had opened up, if we wanted to wait there.

At the bar, we were greeted with an expansive wall of all kinds of tequilas. Roth ordered his standard drink, a Hefeweizen, while I went for the Matador Margarita, like a traditional margarita only with a splash of cranberry and orange for zing. We waited a little while longer and were finally seated next to the window. I had been longing for a booth against the opposite wall, but c’est la vie.

We decided to get an appetizer – Tex-Mex spring rolls – which was interesting. It came with two dipping sauces, one was an avocado-sour cream blend, which was refreshing and went well with the fried rolls, and one was sweet chile sesame, which was kind of odd when paired with the chicken and black beans. The fusion of distinctly different flavors, like Tex-Mex and Asian, seems to be pretty popular these days. But it didn’t really work in this particular appetizer.

After the margarita, I decided to try their mojito. This would be my third mojito ever, and I was hoping it would be good. I had watched the bartender make one a few minutes earlier, violently mottling the mint with a wooden stick that looked more like a mini baseball bat. My drink arrived with a small straw, which was much more conducive for avoiding the mint-up-the-straw-and subsequent-bitter-taste experience from the last mojito. I still can’t say that I’ve had a fabulous mojito, but maybe mojitos aren’t that great after all. Something to ponder.
Matador mojito
Moving on the entrees … I ordered the blackened white fish tacos while Roth opted for the habanero enchiladas. We both were torn between these two dishes, so we figured we’d split the different and share with each other. After copious amounts of chips and tasty salsa, our entrees arrived.

Mine – two corn tortillas filled with blackened white fish, guajillo-ancho sauce, sour cream and pico de gallo – was fantastic. I’ve had fish tacos in the past that were mushy or too fishy. These were the perfect blend of spiciness and sweetness, with a little fresh crunch of cabbage and pico. And the blackened fish, as opposed to batter-fried or grilled, was a nice touch. Really made the dish.
Matador tacos
Roth’s dish – two shredded chicken enchiladas topped with cilantro, Monterey jack cheese and habanero red sauce – was also fabulous. But be warned if you decide to order this entrée: they aren’t kiddin’ when they describe it on the menu as “hot, hot, hot!!” Now, I claim to enjoy foods that induce a little bit of eyebrow sweating, but these enchiladas were downright painful. But in a good way. After the first bite, which solicited the frantic gulping of water, I still went back for more. I’m a little masochistic at times. When it comes to food. Roth thoroughly enjoyed the enchiladas as well, noting that the sour cream and guacamole served as “coolants” for the spicy-hot-cha-cha-cha of the dish.
Matador enchilada
After finishing our entrees, we both sat back and assessed the place. In the middle of the restaurant is raging fireplace surrounded by a countertop. Good for waiting for a table, or a happy hour drink. Speaking of happy hour, we took a look at the menu, which featured A TON of $4 appetizers. $4 for shrimp tacos and spicy nachos and everything else on the starters menu! Definitely worth coming back for the discounted food and drink.

And the ambiance was pleasant, too. A little dark, but overall extremely warm and inviting. When trying a new restaurant, I often wonder if it would pass the test with my dad. He’s a seasoned restaurateur (he doesn’t own a restaurant, but he’s managed plenty and knows what’s good and what’s bad). I think he’d like Matador. And we’ll definitely have to take him there next time he’s in town.

Matador signage
The Matador
Restaurant & Tequila Bar
2221 NW Market Street
Seattle, WA