7824 Leary Way NE
Redmond WA 98052
A Visual Charmer with Missed Potential
By: Bryan R
From the outside, Matador looks pretty impressive. It's got a sense of style, it's got presence, and it's got tequila--tons of it. Stepping inside on an intensely sunny day, the darkness was a welcome relief. Details, like the nearly wall-to-wall bar and the western-inspired dcor, began emerging out of the welcoming darkness. Needless to say, we were a bit taken aback by this uncharacteristically stylish Redmond bar and grill. Maybe it's the beginning of the end for "Deadmond"?
Things were fairly slow that afternoon and we pretty much had the server, and almost the entire place, to ourselves. After a round of water, we mulled over our menu options. Billing itself as a Tex-Mex cantina (with a little bit of fusion thrown in for good measure), Matador has plenty to offer ranging from crab cake starters to braised carnitas entrees. It also had plenty of visual appeal that was heavily reminiscent of a chic, quasi-gothic western saloon. Huge mirrors with ornate frames, stained glass windows laced in elaborate ironwork, and dim, orange, dusty lanterns helped create a level of ambiance likely unmatched by Redmond's other 21+ venues. But for all its visual charm, Matador struggled to enchant our tongues.
While at Matador, we were certainly interested by the prospects of a couple dishes. For example, we couldn't resist trying the ber-fusion Tex-Mex Spring Rolls ($7.95), but we also tried the more traditional Ancho-Chipotle Wings ($8.50). For the main dish, Steve tried the Misty Isle Beef Matador Burger ($11.95). Grant opted for the somewhat traditional Tomatillo Chicken Enchiladas ($11.95). I, desiring a classic lunch sandwich, went for the Spicy Chicken Sandwich ($9.95).
I've always passed by other Matador locations in other areas e.g. Ballard, West Seattle, and thought that the outside looked more like a club than a restaurant from what I could discern. When we visited this location, I was hoping for something more than merely bar food.
The Tex-Mex spring rolls didn't do much for me. Actually, it made me think spring rolls and Tex-Mex weren't meant to be together. The roll was very bland by itself and the chicken and black beans mixed with the sesame seed plum sauce just seemed a little too odd for my palate. It tasted like a potential Fox network show titled "When food fusion goes wrong."
I ended up eyeing the Matador burger mainly because it was made with Misty Isle Beef. Pomegranate, also in Redmond, has a similarly sourced burger on their menu that I adore, so I wondered how Matador's version would stack up. Served with grilled onions, bacon and cheese, the burger was decent with a few minor problems that left me a little disappointed. The meat was a little overcooked even though I specified medium-rare, giving it a charred-like taste. Unhelpful, the add-ons didn't contribute much to the flavor either. The fries were lightly seasoned, tasting very similar to the seasoning used at Red Robin, though the chipotle dipping sauce was a highlight for me. Tangy and creamy with a little bit of spice, it was a much needed addition to my burger to get rid of that charred taste. It was a decent burger for bar food, but compared to other burgers I've had, it wasn't too impressive.
The small "secret blend of herb and spices" spring rolls were overpowered by the sweet sesame sauce. Plus at $9 a pop, it's a deal you can do without, as this is literally a bite sized appetizer. The also ill-portioned chipotle wings fared no better, dressed in a standard teriyaki style BBQ glaze and offered with ho-hum housemade ranch dressing.
With all the fanfare I have heard of Matador, I was genuinely hoping my tomatillo enchilada would prove to be a resoundingly good dish that would close the deal. And close I did--right into a chicken bone that nearly cut my mouth. Gingerly taking a few more bites, I found even more bones and decided to not press my luck. I imagine the bones were a chance result of an hurried or apathetic chef, but even a few occurrences of this level of oversight should not be happening.
It was a shame, because the enchilada wasn't bad, with a mildly sweet and tangy green tomatillo sauce coupled with swiss cheese and tender chicken. The beans and pico de gallo salsa were forgettable, but they often are and it was acceptable.
Matador was full of style, but lacked substance in the end. Our starters included the Tex-Mex Spring rolls, which were something between a taquito and a chalupa filled with moist shredded chicken. These small rolls generally lacked flavor and the Thai inspired sweet chili dipping sauce seemed out of place. Sometimes fusion cuisine can be taken a step too far. The creamy avocado sauce, however, was tastier--something of a Tex-Mex take of tzatziki sauce. On the other hand, the ancho-chipotle wings, which featured six spicy wings with a smoky, peppery, sweet marinade, were better--but in my opinion, still not great.
Slightly tough and dry at times, the spicy chicken sandwich was a little lackluster. This sandwich, which included a sizable cut of chicken, a thin smidgen of cheese, and a bit of bacon, seemed to be missing part of its namesake: spice. A bit of chipotle mayo on the side made a stab at spiciness, but it missed. However, the pile of caramelized onions with their sweet taste and unique texture was excellent. The side of spiced fries was pleasant but not remarkable. And to their credit, Matador used some of the best buns around, and I mean this as a sincere compliment. You won't find dissolving buns that leave a big mess on your hand here.
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