I have to admit, I never quite understood why chef Pedro Matamoros suddenly left his first restaurant, Nicaro on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, and decided to open another one just blocks away. In some ways, his previous address seemed like the better real estate, just a block or so from the revitalized downtown drag once known as the gag-worthy Silver Sprung.
Nancy Hart Mola, Matamoros’ business partner in the newly opened 8407 Kitchen and Bar, told me a story behind the move. Last year, developer Theo Margas and a colleague were dining at Nicaro, where the real estate mogul marveled over Matamoros’ Reuben sandwich, made with house-cured corned beef. Margas returned the following day to meet Matamoros and make him an offer:
“Theo said, ‘Your food is wonderful. I have the building that is the best location in Silver Spring’,” recalls Hart Mola, who was GM at Nicaro. “‘Would you consider relocating?'”
The space that Margas had in mind was located across from the Silver Spring Metro station, the same delirious location that for years was home to the landmark Luau Hut, a ’60s-era Polynesian restaurant co-owned by former singer and entertainer Moon Kim.
The location’s recent history, however, was considerably more checkered. The space used to house the Caribbean-Style Restaurant and Lounge and, ever so briefly, the nomadic Teddy’s Roti Shop. The address didn’t do much for Teddy’s business, which apparently dropped 90 percent when the owners moved in. “People just want a coffee and a bagel,” co-owner Delia Nagar told me in late 2007. “They don’t have time to waste.”
Could this really be the location of Matamoros’ dreams? Hart Mola says yes. The foot traffic coming to and from the Metro station alone is worth the move, she notes, particularly compared to Nicaro’s spot on a semi-lonely stretch of Georgia Avenue.
Georgia is “not very well trafficked,” says Hart Mola. “I think it will be…but right now there’s not a lot of people walking on that part of Georgia Avenue.”
Then again, Matamoros, Hart Mola, and two other 8407 partners have created a space that may not need to rely on foot traffic. They’ve transformed the casual, mango-fevered Caribbean-Style space — with the dark undertone — into a warm and inviting neighborhood spot.
The ground floor sports a bar and lounge, with seating for nearly 50 people, while the second floor features brick walls, wood flooring, and exposed wood beams. A secondary bar upstairs is circled with marble. A “suspended wall of wine,” as Hart Mola calls the rack that will hold 1,000-plus bottles, is still to come. The seating capacity, at almost 200, nearly doubles that of the old Nicaro.
The space must have cost a fortune to rehab, but Hart Mola doesn’t know the price tag. She does know, however, the timetable of the Silver Spring Metro construction across the street, which is scheduled to keep crews working (and cabbies parked outside of 8407) until the fall of 2011.
She also knows what the downtime has done for Pedro Matamoros’ approach to cooking: The former Tabard Inn chef has developed more relationships with local farmers. “There’s definitely more of a focus on working with the farmers,” Hart Mola says. The chef is looking to connect the “community and neighborhood to those sources.”
But what about the Reuben? Is it on the menu?
“We had it on, but we took it off to put on something else,” she says. “But the Reuben will be visiting” from time to time.