A LocalBozo.com Restaurant Review
29 East 29th Street near Madison Avenue, Murray Hill
Getting There: 6 to 28th Street; N,R to 28th Street
Restaurant Review: Marta
Sure, the very bottom of the menu displays entrees like a beer-brined half chicken (“Pollo Ubriaco” $26), lamb chops (“Abbacchio Misto” $35) and pork spare ribs (“Costate di Maiale” $25). But that’s not why you’re here. Reservations have been especially difficult to procure (especially for dinner) at Shake Shack mogul Danny Meyer’s recently opened ode to Roman inspired pizzas at Marta, a modernized restaurant positioned as a ground floor lobby offshoot of the Martha Washington Hotel. Though the ambiance inside certainly doesn’t distinguish Marta much, the wood burning pizza ovens and meticulous attention to authenticity render at least one visit to the restaurant as an essentiality.
Underneath the Union Square Hospitality Group umbrella, Meyer’s tapping of Chef Nick Anderer to helm Marta’s direction is no surprise- their pairing at Gramercy’s Maialino garnered similar critical and customer fanfare upon opening, which continues to this day. But Maialino’s intrinsic sense of upscale Italian-nouveau dining doesn’t translate to Marta, where the sterile two floor space is rife with excited guests but quieted by its muted decor and an industrial setting that never entirely feels like its own space. You remain very aware that you’re dining inside of a hotel lobby, which unfortunately takes some of the luster away from the original and inspired fare.
Seating at the thick marble countertop provides an even more casual dining experience for guests with a dead-on view toward the staff hustling to prep pie after pie. The bar area, just removed from the busy dining room is sizable but still emotionless. The action, if there is any, is happening behind you. In all, the restaurant’s neighborhood location is fairly ideal even if this specific setting is not- but truthfully, the reason that anyone is griping about Marta’s lack of atmosphere, is because the food being served simply deserves better. It’s much easier to write a place off when the fare is lousy. But that’s just not the case here.
Though it’s easy to bypass the rest of the aforementioned menu, there are plenty of worthwhile appetizer options from which to choose before digging into Marta’s pizza. The savory “Polpettini di Coniglio” ($12) meatballs were of particular interest since they were creatively molded using rabbit. The subtle use of black olives paired nicely with the tender spheres of smoked meat, plated nearby just enough creamy ricotta to fully balance the dish. Equally as meaty was the sliced octopus tentacle of “Polpo” ($15/$22) lacquered in olive oil and oranges and seared to a char atop a bed of sunchokes. The tangy “Marta Mista” ($14/$20) salad meanwhile was a perfectly serviceable side dish of romaine lettuce, fresh radicchio and some truly tasty mushrooms and peppers to provide a nice contrast to the pizzas that would follow.
At Marta, the pizza is where you really want to break your bread and the menu is cleverly divided between red (Pizze Rosse) and white sauce (Pizze Bianche) depending upon your taste. Despite nearly a dozen different options, each pizza is carefully crafted with the same incredibly thin, incredibly crunchy crackling crust. The crispy cracker consistency deliciously dusts up your fingers with each fold of a Marta pizza. Doused with a sauce that’s never oily or sloppy, the “Napoletana” ($15) was our immediate favorite. The salty contrast of anchovy chunks and sharp diced red onion bits meshed brilliantly with the thin layer of their tomato sauce which is more sweet than savory. Non-fish fans can enjoy a similar experience with the more traditional “Margherita Classica” ($13), equally as noteworthy and satisfying. The “Cavolini” ($16) provides an array of outstanding seasonal flavors with pickled chili peppers and cauliflower hunks surrounding hearty Brussels sprouts in artistic fashion. Items like shoulder ham, potatoes, egg, artichokes and tripe all appear on different pizza offerings- but truth be told, you can’t go wrong with any of them since not a single pizza on the Marta menu exceeds $18.
Much of the criticism that’s been thrown at Marta justifiably surrounds the place’s locale. While that’s certainly fair, perhaps our time is better suited to throw some praise toward partners Nick Anderer and Danny Meyer who in 2014 have managed to concoct a business model that quickly prepares affordable yet highly desirable dishes and one that we’ve yet to see appropriately or creatively mastered to date in New York City. The pizzas at Marta are both delectable and downright excellent. And on the two occasions when we thought we had over-ordered, those last few slices staring back up at us surely knew that they never had a prayer of making it home.
Rundown of the Meal
Marta Mista ($14/$20)
Dal Forno a Legna
Polpettine di Coniglio ($12)*
Margherita Classica ($12)*