When we first moved to NYC in 1983 we knew nothing about what neighborhood to live in. In typical fashion which we did not realize was our typical fashion until later on we came in to NYC after traveling around the country in a car for 6 weeks and found an apartment in one day. It was the right neighborhood because Fred and I could walk to work. Located on 28th and Madison in a new apartment building we rented a studio loft so our bed was accessible by a ladder. Underneath that loft was a walk-in closet with a single bulb where we sat on two old trunks playing cards most nights until our first purchase of furniture arrived.
Little did we know that this neighborhood was full of single room occupancy hotels filled with drug dealers, the elderly, unstable homeless people and prostitutes that hung out at every corner as soon as the sun set. Not a pretty time for the city as these people were all thrown into pure chaos and were all scared of each other. One of the hotels that housed this group was the Martha Washington.
Today the Martha Washington hotel has transformed itself as has the neighborhood. Danny Meyer’s latest restaurant is front and center in the newly renovated absolutely beautiful Martha Washington Hotel. The restaurant is called Marta. The restaurant is bright, airy and hopping. Instead of closing itself off to the hotel it literally bleeds into the lobby creating a warm inviting atmosphere. You see this beautiful open kitchen with wood fired stoves upon entering the hotel. If I had just arrived to stay here it would make me smile the second I wanted in the door.
Danny has been a pioneer in the restaurant business starting with the opening of Union Square Cafe in 1985. He redefined white table cloth dining in NYC with that casual air of elegance and fresh ingredients. He continued to open up restaurants that have made their mark on the NYC landscape such as Gramercy Tavern, the Modern, 11 Madison and plenty more. He handed over the keys to 11 Madison to Daniel Humm and Will Guidara a few years ago which IMHO was the right move. Danny opened Shake Shack years ago in Madison Square Park as an anchor of a park that he got behind transforming it from a unkempt scary park into a beautiful destination location. Just a note it was also the first major donation that Fred and I had ever given located just down the street from our first apartment. It was the first park where the public/private partnership transformed an area. That is the essentially the model that the High Line used. Then he took Shake Shack on the road and there are now over 57 of them across the globe. Once again ahead of the curve building out a next generation burger stand.
His latest venture is Marta. Marta is one of those restaurants you just want to come back to over and over again starting with breakfast all the way to a late night meal. The wine list is large and approachable and the menu changes seasonally. A group of starters that come under different headings from Fritti, Insalade and Dal Forno A Legna. Then the pizzas; Rosse and Bianche. Next is Alle Branche, entrees of fish, meat and chicken. Last is Contorini a smattering of sides to go with anything you choose.
We started with the rabbit meatballs. Dense yet light slightly caramelized meatballs sitting in a red sauce with small dollops of ricotta on top. They are delicious and I particularly loved the spicy kick.
It was tough to choose the right pizza. We finally decided on the cauliflower, brussel sprouts, pickled chili and parmigiano under the white pizza heading. Thin crust with the toppings finely chopped so that it was not so heavy that you can not pick it up and eat the slice. A winner. All the pizzas coming out of the oven and touching down on the tables around us were hard not to stare at. Everyone of them looked absolutely divine and creative.
Marta is an absolute winner. Returning very soon to check out the other meals too. After all, this was the neighborhood where we started our life in NYC.