It’s only been about six weeks, give or take, since Match: Cuisine & Cocktails opened at downtown’s new boutique hotel, FOUND:RE—a visually stunning project that has made a significant investment in local art (and local food, but I’ll get to that). This is the second attempt by a team of developers to turn this down-at-the-heels establishment into a showpiece.
The first one failed, and I’ll be honest, I drove by the space regularly, literally crossing my fingers that the entire property wouldn’t be leveled so it could become some other embarrassing cookie-cutter dud. And the restaurant? I remember closing my eyes and wishing that if the space survived, please let the restaurant be good, as if hoping it could be great almost seemed too much to ask. Unlike other cities, Phoenix has a terrible reputation for obliterating anything interesting to replace it with corporate chains. Or banks. Or yet another faux-Tuscan quasi-luxury high-rise. Or, if you’re lucky, a Starbucks. I nearly didn’t allow myself enough hope to think that this place could be good.
I was wrong. I’ll say it again in case my mom reads this (yes, Mom, I can admit when I’m wrong, especially when I’m happy to be wrong). FOUND:RE is a gorgeous space with mostly impressive (and fun) art and a restaurant with the chops to make it on its own. Make no mistake, Match: Cuisine & Cocktails is as visually interesting and well run as its food is delicious.
If I could change one thing about this place, it would be to add a flashing neon sign in front, so there could be no mistaking your one opportunity for valet parking. This is significant because if you miss it, like I did, your options are to drive around aimlessly looking for a space (you probably won’t find one) or figure out a way to u-turn on Central and head all the way back to McDowell just to u-turn again to head south until you arrive at the valet station. Honestly, light rail it. The stop is barely a stone’s throw from the entrance.
Inside, gorgeous design elements abound, like a massive suspended front desk and loads of interesting lighting. Gaze again and your eyes will stop on a number of witty, inspired and mostly beautiful artworks. Make sure to take a selfie in the lobby in front of the Randy Slack triptych of Burt Reynolds naked on a bearskin rug (from his Playgirl shoot), wearing a Britney Spears wig. Did I mention the piece is embellished with gold leaf?
The drinks at Match are fantastic and gorgeous, like the Peruvian Pearls ($13), a sassy pisco-based number that comes with a tiny flower floating on top. I’ve never met a prosecco I didn’t like, and theirs doesn’t disappoint (Treviso, $9).
Because the menu is such a global-walk blitzkrieg, engage your highly trained server to guide you. Lauren was amazing and helped us navigate the menu that Chef Akos Szabo calls “global street food.” He’s not kidding. This menu, without the explanation, seems disjointed. Lobster bisque, green papaya salad, Korean BBQ and pizza? Trust me, he makes it work.
Chef Szabo calls the cuisine “glocal,” a portmanteau combining global and local. Match sources its tasty ingredients from 83 different local purveyors (they define that as anything within a couple of hours drive). Clearly, it would be easier and more efficient to streamline the supply chain. But that would come at a culinary cost—flavor. And with food this good, Chef Szabo has made the right choice.
The menu is divided into mostly shareable plates and entrees. The shareable ones here are called “social plates.” Take this route to sample the greatest hits. For me, that must include the Lobster Bisque ($18 for a bowl that they will happily separate into two cups). Thick, silky and loaded with marscapone gnocchi, this is probably the richest lobster bisque I have ever had (sorry, NOCA). Chef Szabo explained that the richness comes from the fact that 100 pounds of lobsters are reduced to three gallons of stock, which is the base. I call this soup “liquid lobster.”
The Oven Roasted Green Beans with Fried Pork Belly ($6) is a huge portion of crisp, smoky local green beans and a shocking excess of pork belly. My first thought was, “I better enjoy this before their accountant makes them take it off the menu.” I am unsure how they break even on this dish. The portion is large enough for a meal, and for an additional $8, a slab of sustainable salmon will definitely address even the largest appetite.
The butter and garlic fantasy that is their Escargot ($16) comes with grilled Noble Bread for dipping. It’s every bit as delicious and buttery as you would hope.
The Korean Short Ribs ($14) are a meaty, tangy and sweet stack of beefy perfection. The glaze on the meat is perfectly balanced—sweet, spicy, sour, with a balanced hit of salt from what I assume to be fish sauce. It comes served over a slightly kicky green papaya salad that is topped with cashews instead of peanuts. Chef Szabo’s take is an excellent homage to the origin of these dishes. You can order an entire mound of green papaya salad ($12) if you tilt vegetarian.
I loved the specials that I tried. The Duck Confit and Foie Gras Papusa ($8) was served atop a kicky mole sauce. This papusa was flavorful, toothsome perfection. You’d almost expect confit and foie gras to be too rich—it wasn’t. It was so good we had to seek out the chef and request that this dish stay on the menu. Something this good shouldn’t just be a special.
Putting their wood-fired oven to good use, try one of the pizzas. If you are really lucky, they’ll have their amazing Truffle Pizza ($20) as a special. Created with a slightly thicker crust, to handle the egg on top, the chef shaves a mind-boggling amount of French Burgundy truffle on top. Earthy, heady and sublime. Slicing into the pizza opens the egg, and the creamy goodness is a perfect balance to the richness of the truffle. This is an imaginative, luxurious and perfect palate pleaser.
For dessert, we loved the Oaxacan Wreckage—a walk through Pastry Chef Audrey Enriquez’s formidable skills. The uplifting mole is artfully blended into perfect quenelles of chocolate mousse, along with cubes of rum sponge cake, dollops of kicky cilantro cream and crushed nuts, to create an interesting textural treat. Rich and decadent, this is best shared with a friend.
As Phoenix continues its march toward gentrification, I am hopeful that more projects like Match at the FOUND:RE Hotel will come to the forefront. Local art, local chefs and a massive number of local purveyors all join together to create an incredible culinary project that is indeed more than the sum of its parts. Match is a special place with committed people creating wonderful food and drink. I can’t wait to come back, but I think I’ll use Uber next time.