Recent studies show that nearly 60 percent of restaurants fail, so Cafe Matisse’s longevity is no small potatoes.
OpenTable, the online reservation service, based its Top 100 on votes by its users. The US Top 100 are listed alphabetically, but OpenTable broke out a ranked Top 10.
Number One was St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in Santa Rosa, California.
Interestingly, no New York City or Philadelphia restaurant made the Top 10. The only East Coast cities to make the Top 10 were 4) Charleston, SC; 5) Baltimore; 6) Boston; and 8) Pittsboro, NC. See the whole list here.
Cafe Matisse also did well in the specific category listings for North Jersey, such as Best Overall, Ambiance, Service and Food. For all North Jersey awards, click here. For all Central Jersey awards, click here. For South Jersey, click here.
Based in San Francisco, OpenTable handles about 12 million dining reservations a month at 30,000 restaurants throughout the United States, Canada, Germany, Japan, Mexico and the UK. Five million OpenTable users emailed their reviews and ratings, which the service tabulated to produce the list.
Cafe Matisse, an intimate 40-seat restaurant, with memorable, Matisse-inspired decor and a tranquil, lushly secluded rear garden with tables, has always been chef/owner Peter Loria’s baby.
Loria opened in 1987, calling the place Park Avenue. He ran it as a local pasta spot before redesigning and renaming it for one of his favorite artists in 1993. The walled sculpture garden, opened in 2000, is always in demand in warm weather. In the spirit of Henri Matisse, the purple, red and gold color scheme is lush and bold, with jeweled chandeliers and a beautiful, hand-painted barrel ceiling that evokes Monet’s impressionism more than Matisse’s solid blocks of color.
Also in the Top 100 is Loria’s mentor David Bouley, for his famed Manhattan restaurant, Bouley.
Loria, 61, credits his success to making sure his staff "loves what they do," and to his customers, who “have grown old with me,” he says.
“To be a little side street restaurant that has accomplished this is kudos to my staff, myself and especially to my customers,” he adds. “They’re the ones who make the difference.”
Loria, whose father passed away when he was young, spent his formative years at a boarding school in Hershey, Pennsylvania. He became an electronics engineer and spent 12 years in the field before admitting to himself that “it just wasn’t fulfilling in any way,” he says.
At 33, he enrolled in The French Culinary Institute in Manhattan. He graduated from the 8-month program number one in the class. “Actually, the class started out with 36 students, but finished with only seven," he says. "Some people got discouraged because they found it really was a lot of work.”
He met David Bouley after graduating and worked for him for 18 months. “I was like a sponge,” he says. “I wanted to learn everything.”
He then opened his own place, starting as a one-man band. “I was the pastry chef, the prep chef, the purchaser, the dishwasher. I did it all.”
Classically trained, Loria at first presented French Nouvelle Cuisine. But over the years, he says, his style has evolved into “American-Eclectic with French overtones. I call it artful cuisine, because I like to create plates that look like artwork.
“It’s about being playful, and not taking anything too seriously. It’s about love. I’m a chef, and I love food, and people can feel it.”
167 Park Ave, Rutherford
SUZANNE ZIMMER LOWERY is a food writer, pastry chef and culinary instructor at a number of New Jersey cooking schools. Find out more about her at suzannelowery.com.Click here to leave a comment