Friday, August 22, 2014

Saint Martha: An Ode to the Patron Saint in Koreatown

An unexpected wine bar has opened in the heart of Koreatown with Tart's Chef Nick Erven (formerly Messhall) and sommelier Mary Thompson (formerly Rivera). The warm gougeres is just an amuse of the surprising and delectable dishes to come.


The appetizer puts almost all that is good on one plate - and it worked with the steak and oyster tartare and champagne sabayon, served with hot bone marrow beignets ($13)
Steak Oyster Tartare
Steak and oyster tartare: the combination of these two raw delicacies  was one of those "why didn't I think of that before?" moment.

Sommelier Mary Thompson has done a wonderful job with the wine list, and the servers know their stuff, too. I told my waitress what I liked and she recommended a lovely, crisp, 2012 Wagner Stempel Weissburgunder, Rheinhessen from Germany. This is one of the best new whites I've tried lately.

I ordered a white wine since I had some vegetable and seafood dishes coming, starting with the Summer corn with burnt avocado, whitefish roe, and chicken skin ($12)
Don't see it as a boring vegetable dish, the tender baby corn contrasts nicely with the crispy chicken skin.

Sea urchin "tataki" with avocado mousse, hearts of palm, and seaweed "doritos" ($10)
I still prefer my sea urchin fresh and plain, but I enjoyed this fun interpretation with the seaweed chips (aka "doritos) and the added rich mouthfeel of the avocado mousse. It seems like he likes to use avocado mousse this season, doesn't it?

After seeing other people's instagrams later on, I regretted not ordering the chicken liver mousse with hazelnut. You guys should order that and let me know!

For our entrees: Sauteed spot prawns with cream of wheat, almond-red curry broth and garden herbs ($22)
With the cream of wheat, this dish is reminiscent of shrimp and grits. I love spot prawns, and these ones were very sweet and succulent.

Pecan wood smoked brisket with hoisin, tiny lettuce, and root vegetables ($19)
For the brisket, the chef smokes it for a long time like a proper Texas brisket, but dresses it in hoisin and serves it with lettuce, reminiscent of the Korean way of wrapping meat in lettuce. Compared to the other dishes, the brisket's portion is unusually large, making it one of the best value items on the menu! The brisket was very tender, and the sweetness of the sauce was just right. This was my friend's favorite of the night - before desserts that is.

The desserts here were also unexpectedly creative. I ordered the Beet semifreddo with red berries, cacao crumble, and meringue ($10)
The beet's flavor surprisingly stood on its own compared to the sweeter berry sorbet and the chocolate it was served it - but if the thought of a beet dessert scares you, don't be scared. Beet desserts are wonderful!

Peanut butter ganache, roasted grape ice cream, griddled pound cake, chocolate feuilletine ($10)
I hadn't ordered this but the kitchen sent it out for me to try and I'm so glad they did. The reimagined peanut butter and jelly goes far above and beyond the original sandwich. There's the rich and smooth peanut butter ganache combined with the cold grape ice cream. And then there's my favorite part: the pile of roasted grapes mixed in with the crunchy chocolate feuilletine. It's a heavier dessert than the beet semifreddo, to be sure, but it is definitely worth a try.

The restaurant's interior makes you forget that you are in a Koreatown strip mall. It's quiet, dim, and subdued.
The name "Saint Martha" refers to the patron saint of "cooks and servants", and the restaurant's food is certainly a worthy tribute to the cooks' saint.

Unlike the demure dining room, Chef Erven keeps his kitchen fun, complete with a "hipster" neon sign and a maneki neko (lucky cat) piggy bank for the staff's "beer fund".

I really enjoyed my visit to Saint Martha, and I think other bloggers will agree with me when I say that this is one of LA's best recent openings. I myself can't wait to return to try more of the menu items - like that chicken liver mousse I keep hearing about.

Saint Martha
740 S Western Ave
Los Angeles CA 90005
(213) 387-2300
Saint Martha Restaurant on Urbanspoon


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