A delightful little getaway with excellent cocktails complemented by a small menu of bold, mostly impressive small plates
Annabelle's yellow hair dances in the wind as she prepares to run away with Barnaby Jack, who
hands Annabelle a bullet to hide in her sock and then says, “Be ready at midnight.”
That action takes place in “The Light of Seven Matchsticks,” a children's adventure book you haven't read. Actually, no one has read it because it's a fictitious work of fiction cooked-up for “Moonrise Kingdom” — a Wes Anderson movie — and the passage I cited was “quoted” in a promotional video for the film.
For two years, though, The Light of Seven Matchsticks has been a real (and pretty terrific) speakeasy-inspired bar and restaurant. Like the celebrated movie it honors, the establishment blends sophistication, whimsy and a love of literature in a manner that can seem a little precious, but is a lot of fun.
Bearing no signage and hidden beneath its progenitor — Natalie's Coal-Fired Pizza — Matchsticks revels in its subterranean identity. But the secret is largely out, and minuscule Matchsticks is so frequently packed that a two-hour limit is enforced on those lucky enough to score a table.
Such fortunate patrons will find a dark and eccentric space with handsome wood, a few velvety, tall-backed booths, an excellent vintage-jazz soundtrack, tireless bartenders getting a cocktail-shaker workout and menus hidden in old library books. True to form, each book also contains a “secret menu” of nightly specials.
About 30 cocktails are offered, and given their complexity and approachability, they're quite nicely priced. For example, The Happy Mistake ($10) is a dangerously easy-to-drink concoction made with rye, cognac, rum, bitters and three other liquors.
For something less potent, richer and a bit sweeter, try the Running with Scissors and Playing with Matchsticks ($11), which arrives garnished with a ball of caramelized spun sugar. And if you'd enjoy an appealing eau-de-vie-like libation named after a can-can dancer immortalized by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec that's created with local vodka, plus an Andean-style spirit produced by the brainy filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, this is the place (The Last Kicks of Jane Avril, $10).
Although outnumbered about three-to-one by the cocktails, the creative small plates hold up their end of the menu. Cheese-covered popcorn nibblers will find that snack substantially elevated with Grana Padano and duck fat. The spicy, generous-sized House Jerky ($7) with an alluring texture and bulgogi-style glaze is even better.
Korean influences likewise enliven the thick-and-zippy barbecue sauce coating the outstanding Pork Ribs (three for $12). The enticingly crusted, fall-off-the-bone, crushed-almond-topped ribs are plated with a great counterpoint: a vibrant, Napa cabbage-based veggie salad with snap peas and cilantro.
The Sicilian Meatballs ($13) are another home run. Five tender, seared pork-and-beef orbs with a smile-inducing center of molten house mozzarella are further enriched with pine nuts, gently sweetened with currants, drenched in a perky-yet-creamy tomato sauce and served with wonderful garlic toast.
Although its menu description might sound like a shrug, the Baked Goat Cheese served with thick-and-crusty toasted Italian-style bread ($14) is attractively plated, delicious and the best vegetarian preparation I sampled: addictive tomato sauce topped with four virtual clouds of soft-and-mild robiola accented with pesto, all oven-browned in a quiche dish.
Another inspired vegetarian dish — the veggie-laden Singapore Noodles ($12) enhanced by a “64-degree egg” with a creamy yolk ($1.50 extra) — had plenty going for it, including too much curry powder. I'd still try this again, unlike the Samosa Spring Rolls ($6), a misfire missing most of the promised vegetables, presented with an undressed slaw and scene-stealing chutney.
Chewing through the tender handmade wrappers of the delightful Soup Dumplings ($12) to reach a large, brothy filling of flavorful ground pork might not make your hair dance, but it's another fun little Matchsticks adventure.