SERVING STELLAR MODERN AMERICAN CUISINE IN K-TOWN
Whenever a new restaurant opens in this town, it’s usually followed by buzz and hoopla, sometimes deserved and other times it’s just a fleeting flash in a city where what’s hot is king. When word got out about the opening of Saint Martha, courtesy of our good friends at Tart, the anticipation was high. Located in a Koreatown strip mall, this place became an immediate hotspot, and deservedly so.
Named after the Patron Saint of cooks and servants, Saint Martha operates in the tradition of Old World service where Chef Nick Erven cooks Modern American cuisine rooted in European tradition. An added attraction is the impressive wine program created by Sommelier and General Manager Mary Thompson who has put together a list of 50 underappreciated and unexpected wines by the taste, glass, piche and bottle meant to pair with the cuisine. Her wine list does not include a single California Chardonnay or any Napa Cabernet. “It’s a push-pull of the comfortable and unexpected,” she says.
While Thompson prefers to be called “cork dork” or “wine chick” instead of a lofty Sommelier, the fact is that she is offering first rate and mostly unheard of wines by use of a Coravin—a sweet contraption that allows her to pour wine via a long, thin needle without ever opening a bottle, which means she can pour by the glass wines that would normally only ever be available by the bottle (wines by the glass range between $6 to $120).
“Without the Coravin, we’d only be able to offer high end wines by the bottle, which would be a disservice to the wine geeks who enjoy coming in,” Thompson explains. “We wouldn’t be able to offer 50 wines by the glass. I want people to come back for really dynamic wines. We have wines from Israel, Long Island, Canada, Augusta, Missouri, Croatia, Georgia and Slovenia.”
During our recent visit for dinner, we sampled the menu and trusted Thompson to pair the wines—a great way to go. We started with the Snacks menu items, including the
Sea Urchin “tataki” with avocado mousse, hearts of palm and seaweed Doritos. Thompson refers to this dish as “off the chart delicious” and she’s right. Fans of Tart may very well remember the seaweed Doritos and in this case, Chef has really upped his game.
Other great “snacks” include the Chicken Liver Mousse with mushroom, hazelnut praline, pickled blueberries and toast. The flavors are so rich and mind-blowing. Likewise, the Octopus with Koshihikari rice, sauce nero, lardo and espelette is another must-have. These flavors are so comforting and natural—talk about comfort food hitting the spot.
Moving on to the Rawsome portion of the menu, the Juniper cured salmon with smoked goat cheese and everything bagel churro is an absolute winner—so light and fresh. But our favorite from this section was the Steak and Oyster Tartare with champagne sabayon and bone marrow beignets—unbelievable—and it really comes to life with a wonderful glass of wine.
From the Vegetables section, we went with the Brassicas with toasted brewer’s yeast, mushroom and egg. It’s a little heartier yet quite refined.
I love the Fish and Such section of the menu as it allows you to taste fresh and lighter fare, like the Diver Scallop with golden chanterelles, endive, white yam puree and smoked dulse—a really nice touch. From the Meaty Things, the Braised Niman Ranch pork belly with mustard, red cabbage gazpacaho and gherkins, as well as the Pecan Wood Smoked Brisket with hoisin, tiny lettuce and root vegetables are definite crowd-pleasers.
And do make sure to save room for dessert at Saint Martha. I often prefer a liquid dessert but their PB&J Brioche Toast, which has been described to me as “life changing” is ridiculously and decadently delicious. And don’t underestimate their take on Carrot Cake as it is spectacular as well. Sure, these are really rich selections, but by this point in the evening you’re better off just going for broke and indulge and enjoy all the flavors that make up these divine dishes.
In case you feel overwhelmed by what to order, they do offer tasting menus—5 or 7-course dinners paired with wines or you can choose your own vino. The 5-course dinner costs $65 + $35 for wine pairing while the 7-course meal is $90 + $47 for wine pairing.
An intimate space, there is a great, vibrant energy in the room that really creates the setting for a fun-filled dinner loaded with fine fare and exciting and dynamic wines. What more can we ask for? The atmosphere is just apt to get lost in conversation by good company and first-rate food and drink.
Saint Martha is located at 740 S. Western Ave. Hours: Tuesday - Sunday 5pm to 11pm. Free parking in lot. Call 213-387-2300.
Story by Jose Martinez