For 20 years, chef Michael Schlow has lit up Boston’s restaurant scene with sophisticated samplings of popular cuisines, from slow-roasted ribeye at Radius to lobster tacos at Tico and crunchy veal meatballs at the Italian restaurant Alta Strada.
For his next venture, though, Schlow will feature food that is hard to find in Boston: high-quality Greek-inspired cuisine, a nod to his wife’s roots in Greece.
“What we’d like to do is really embrace the ideology of how Greeks cook,” Schlow said. “They cook what they see. The food isn’t overly complicated. It’s about healthy, light, delicious food.”
But for longtime fans of the celebrated chef, the new restaurant will come at the expense of an old favorite: Via Matta, the Italian restaurant in Park Square that he opened in 2002, will be shuttered at the end of May. This fall, after a renovation, Schlow will open in the same 7,500-square-foot space Doretta Taverna and Raw Bar, which he said loosely translates to “a gift” in Greek.
Schlow has wanted to change up Via Matta for several years. But with a new wave of development in the neighborhood, including a $95 million renovation of the Park Plaza hotel and a new STRIP by Strega restaurant across the street, he feels the time is right.
“I’m not embarrassed,” he said of his decision to close Via Matta. “I’m sad, but it’s time for something new. There’s a lot of new activity here, and we want to be a part of that.”
Once crowded late into the night, Via Matta slowed in recent years. There weren’t many Italian restaurants of its kind around the city when it opened, as diners still instinctively headed to the North End.
In Via Matta’s heyday, Schlow and his staff would have to kick people off the outdoor patio at 2 a.m., even on weeknights.
Celebrities such as Mick Jagger, Billy Joel, Jimmy Fallon, and Bob Kraft frequented Via Matta, sometimes sitting at the “chef’s table” that overlooks the kitchen; once, musician Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band broke into song at the restaurant.
But dining trends in Boston have changed in the last 13 years. As more restaurateurs aim for “upscale casual” eateries — the types of places where a guest feels equally comfortable in a suit or in a pair of dark jeans — Via Matta and its white tablecloths became even more upscale, in comparison.
To close out Via Matta, Schlow plans to throw a month-long celebration with a special “Originals” menu that features old favorites — and some throwback prices — such as homemade ricotta and herb ravioli with fava beans.
Schlow moved to Boston from New York in 1995 and started cooking at Cafe Louis, a restaurant attached to the luxury retail store when it was on Newbury Street. He and his former business partner Christopher Myers opened his first restaurant, the fine-dining establishment Radius, in 1998. Schlow’s cuisine was quickly rewarded with accolades from James Beard and national magazines. He went on to open more than a half-dozen restaurants in Boston and beyond, specializing in ethnic cuisines from many cultures.
At the Park Plaza location, Schlow will move the entrance of Via Matta and hopes to install French doors that open to an expanded patio. The bar, currently set against the walls, will be moved to the middle of the room and become the focal point of Doretta Taverna.
Schlow said the decor will be casual, with reclaimed wood accents and tables, sans tablecloths. Cooks will plate dishes such as oysters, salads, and desserts at a food bar in front of the guests. The menu will include warm flatbreads and spreads, roasted whole local fish, bone-in lamb shoulder, and crispy zucchini chips with Greek yogurt, among other dishes.
Schlow, who has spent time in Greece, said he plans to cook Greek food with ingredients available in New England. He said diners should not expect anything like the gyro shops available in Boston today.
“This is bittersweet for me,” Schlow said. “I love Via Matta. I love what it’s been for me and I have so many wonderful memories. But this is a new chapter.”