SANTA FE, N.M. — Word kept trickling in that there was a cute, new, little cafe in town on, or just off, Cerrillos Road, with the catchy, curious moniker of Madame Matisse. My first thought was of Monsieur Matisse’s famous 1913 portrait of Madame Matisse, Amélie Noellie Matisse-Parayre, known as The Green Stripe (La Raie Verte), for the green band that divides his wife’s face in half. It is by no means a flattering portrait, especially of a spouse, and one gets the feeling that it hints at a less than felicitous union.
Be that as it may, we found the cafe-patisserie Madame Matisse, but no evidence of the painting, tucked behind the Baskin-Robbins and across Cerrillos from the venerable El Rey Inn, in half of the former space of the now sadly departed Bodega Prime (a name I always thought more suitable to a racehorse than a restaurant, but no matter).
Outside, it’s a bit of tight parking lot, and luckily there’s parking along San Felipe Street; inside, Madame Matisse is light and bright, thanks to an east wall of fenestration, tables and chairs set before a padded banco along one wall and a few others set along the windows. The nice, new, sleek glass and steel display cases are well stocked with an impressive array and variety of croissants (plain, almond, ham and cheese from $2.50 to $4.25), brioches ($3.50), rolls, danish ($3.50) and muffins ($3.50), all made on the premises by a fellow named “Eric.”
It was a bit claustrophobic along the wall, so I changed tables to the window, and waited for my friend and lunch companion, The Actor. As I sat and contemplated the breakfast and lunch menu of baked goods, eggs and omelets, salads, sandwiches and quiches (only breakfast and lunch served), I became aware of the fact that, although there were only the staff and a handful of patrons in attendance, there was such a din reverberating throughout the premises that I could barely hear myself think. Concrete floors never help, of course, and the ambient music could have been a decibel or two lower, but it’s nothing that a few ceiling-suspended or wall-hung Matissean draperies couldn’t take care of. Just a thought.
The Actor arrived and, now onstage, we perused the minimal and attractive menu. Quelle dommage, they were out of the Quiche Lorraine ($10.50) this afternoon, and while j’aime a proper French onion soup ($6.50), and it certainly looked inviting at a nearby table, a warm day in June is not the time. Consequently, I went with a classic Croque Madame ($10.95), grilled ham and Swiss cheese, topped with an egg sunny-side up (oeuf á cheval, in the parlance). It was classically formidable!, though a little heavy on the mayo (another French invention), and the handcut French fries were above average.
Meanwhile, The Actor’s House Tuna Sandwich ($11.50), with onion, apple,and tomato on 6 grain toast with fries was superb. A modest repast, but as we know, there are no “modest repasts.”.
Prompt, congenial service; fresh, tasty ingredients all round; and comfortable, minimal premises, Madame Matisse is eminently more attractive than Henri’s 1913 portrait of her. Check her out!