Restaurant News & Reviews

Shaken, not just stirred. This new Tacoma lounge is serious about its frothy drinks

I remember complaining a few years ago about frothy cocktails to Chris Keil of Tacoma’s En Rama, which is at the top of my list with Devil’s Reef for the best cocktails in Tacoma.

At the time, I had been ordering pisco sours and flips across town. They were made with egg whites, but they weren’t foamy enough.

Keil had a good explanation. Barkeeps need to shake the cocktail longer than they think they should. You shake it until your arms ache, he said.

We can add one more cocktail place in Tacoma that shakes until it aches: Matriarch Lounge.

I was intrigued after spotting three egg-white cocktails on the opening menu. It’s rare to get a foamy cocktail here outside of a pisco sour, so of course I ordered all three and give a solid recommendation to the foamy trio.

The funky lounge opened May 15 in downtown Tacoma with barkeep Jackie Casella, formerly of Brix 25 and Maxwell’s, alongside Joe Korbuszewski, front-of-house trainer who previously worked at The Red Hot.

In the kitchen is Kyle Wnuk and Mike Joinette. Wnuk was the original owner of Sixth Avenue’s now-closed Marrow and Joinette its former sous chef. They’ve assembled a mix-and-match menu of skewers and small plates to pair with those interesting cocktails.

Matriarch Lounge starts serving cocktails, skewers and small plates when its two-month-old sister restaurant, Honey Coffee + Kitchen, stops serving breakfast across the hall at 4 p.m.

Both restaurants operate in the ground floor of Alma Mater, an arts organization that operates in the old Carpenters Building, which also houses the organization’s concert venue, art gallery and recording studios.

Here’s a first-bite look. It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.

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Comfortable lounge seating at Matriarch Lounge. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

The space: Am I cool enough to be in here? Pretty sure I’m not, but I forged ahead and plopped down on one of the funky low-slung couches. Those and the lounge chairs come in vivid gradient shades of emerald, jade, hunter and olive. The vibe here is mid-century modern all the way down to the coupe and martini glasses.

Little touches effuse style: Tufted fabric on the couches. Handmade marble-top coffee tables. A halo of lighting snaking around the top of the room. Greenery in the form of live plants softens the mood. Blonde wood paneling climbs the walls. Broad windows yield great daylight, plus a peek-a-boo city view. The lounge seats 46.

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The seating is striking and arranged for lounging at Matriarch. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

Table service: Unlike its more casual sibling restaurant where diners order breakfast at the counter and find their own seats, host seating and table service is offered.

Booze theme: Nine specialty cocktails spanning three specialty areas: foam, smoke and brandy. Cocktails fairly priced at $7 to $9, making this a great value among cocktail lounges in Tacoma.

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The Blood Moon cocktail from Matriarch. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

Brandy menu: A robust list of 25 brandies by the glass, including Spanish and California brandies, pisco, calvados, cognac and armagnac ($6 to $45). Wine and beer also listed.

Food menu: Split between skewers and small plates. Skewers include eight choices with a focus on unusual meats, such as camel kefta ($10), lamb belly ($12) and beef heart ($9).

Ten small plates range from roasted-beet salad ($10) to cedar-wrapped halibut cheeks ($14), beef heart tartare ($14), bone marrow and tamarind oxtail marmalade ($17) and Peruvian octopus sashimi ($11).

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From left to right is pan-fried halloumi cheese, Baja-crusted shrimp and pig's trotter croquettes. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

Happy hour: Bargain eaters will rejoice at the prices, $6 to $7, with all kinds of interesting nibbles, such as papas bravas ($7), beet pickled eggs ($6), blue cheese stuffed dates ($6) and blistered shishito peppers ($7).

On a first visit: For cocktails, look to the egg white-based cocktails that shake up light-and-frothy.

The Golden Girl was a boozy mix of bourbon and citrus with Angostura bitters sprayed in a decorative grid on the foamy-topped drink ($9). The Ophelia — served with a frothy top in a tall glass over ice — tasted like something grandma would order alongside her hipster granddaughter: a mix of brandy and sherry with pomegranate molasses ($9). The Baroness was a creamy dessert-ish drink with sweet, dark and nutty swirls from the amaretto and chocolate bitters with an unexpected punch of rocket fuel from cognac. Like the others, it was served frothy ($9).

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The Golden Girl cocktail with bourbon, maple syrup and egg white at Matriarch Lounge. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

If testing the brandy cocktails, I’d veer to the one-two apple punch from calvados and Pommeau in the Necromancer, with more boozy reinforcement from cognac. It drank strong ($9).

On the smokier side, the Blood Moon started smoky with mezcal and finished sweet from Cherry Heering, a complex cherry brandy, a splash of sweet vermouth and orange juice ($9). Alma Modern also was made with mezcal, but with a much lighter and brighter flavor profile from orange bitters and sloe gin ($9).

For nibbling, you can’t go wrong with Korean-spiced pork belly skewers, which arrived as supple strips of thick pork on sticks ($9). Two wedges of albacore tuna were barely kissed by the grill, served on sticks with a light orange aioli for swiping ($11).

For small plates,broad slices of grilled octopus topped a frisee-herb salad with assertive castelvetrano olives and a bonito vinaigrette ($11). Baja shrimp were completely encased in creamy shredded potatoes, fried into little golden brown missiles ($11).

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Pork belly with a Korean pepper sauce from Matriarch. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

From the happy hour menu, pig’s trotter croquettes were an exquisite deal with three bouncy fritters filled with unctuous pork oozing with flavor ($7). Pan-fried halloumi were sturdy wedges of cheese with pomegranate molasses for dredging ($6). I fell in love with the chicken feet with the sticky Moroccan spiced honey glaze ($6).

Coming next: Brandy flights and a menu changeover at neighboring Honey soon.

Sue Kidd: 253-597-8270, @tntdiner

Matriarch Lounge

Where: 1322 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma

Info: matriarch@almamatertacoma.com or almamatertacoma.com/matriarch-lounge

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday

Happy hours: 4-6 and 8-10 p.m. daily. All day Sunday.

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