Danny Meyer rules the New York City culinary scene. No one else could create a burger shack in the middle of Madison Square Park and draw two-hour waits, while simultaneously serving eight-course meals at the Michelin Star restaurant Gramercy Tavern. He’s mastered a smoke house, and high end “Cafe” and turned museum food into a genuine culinary adventure. So, when Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group announced their newest addition to the family, Marta, foodies freaked out.
Marta occupies the space right off the lobby of the newly revived Martha Washington Hotel, in the area between Flatiron and Penn Station. There’s an extremely small bar area while you wait for your table to be available. Otherwise, you can stand slightly awkwardly in the hallway that leads patrons with wheely bags to the front desk to check in.
We were lead to our table shortly after our reservation, sitting down at one of the tables with the long bench connecting all of the seats together. Blue ceramic plates sit on each table, giving a rustic Roman feel to a restaurant serving pizza’s from the similar region. The waitress then offers complimentary sparkling water, which always gives a place an extra point in my book.
The wine list offers a variety of inexpensive Italian wines, boasting names unrecognizable to those not extremely savvy with the culture. The waitress offers knowledgeable recommendations to help guide you through both the drinks and the menu. She pointed out the seasonal additions to the menu, along with the favorites that have graced Instragram and every top blog since the restaurant opened its doors.
We opted to share two pizzas, fully acknowledging the leftovers we’d enjoy the next day, along with three appetizers.
The first appetizer to arrive, from the Fritti section of the menu, were the Pasta ‘Meatballs.’
Cut into the meatballs to reveal the steamy, gooey pasta interior.
This pasta meatball is eerily reminiscent of the fried mac and cheese from KK in college, or the gluttonous late night trips for mac and cheese bites to a place actually called Fat Sandwich. Disguised as a “meatball” these fried balls of cheese, pasta and sauce are super cheesy, creamy and crunchy all at once. Although, I have to admit, I prefer the late drunken version of these fried cheesy balls with a cold brew, rather then a nice Italian Red.
Our next dish, from the Insalate section, was the charred octopus with fresh fava beans.
After the extremely heavy, cheesy ‘balls,’ the salad of fresh, bursting fava beans and sweet tomatoes topped with charred octopus was a welcome relief. The octopus was cooked well, crispy and smoky, yet lacks something. Something that makes it better, better then the other charred octopus dishes gracing most Italian menus.
Finally, the dish the waitress ranted and raved about the most, the Rabbit Meatballs arrived.
Dark char hides the extremely pale Rabbit meat inside the trio of meatballs. Ground Rabbit dries out extremely easily, making the light tomato sauce and especially the silky, slightly sweet ricotta a necessarily addition to each bite. They’re slightly smoky from the large wood-burning ovens that churn out the majority of dishes. Once again, I was slightly disappointed.
Thin Crust Roman Style pizza acts as the main lure to Marta. The toppings on the pie change seasonally, with a few of their staple favorite planning to remain on the menu year round. Like at most pizza joints, the options are divided in two; Rosse (Red) and Bianche (White).
The thin crust, and slightly burn pizza isn’t meant to be eaten folded in half New York style. The thin cracker like crust wilts from the weight of the sauce, egg. It’s an art to transport the slice to the plate without losing any of the toppings, especially the thin slices of prosciutto. To tackle the pizza, pick up a fork and knife, deBlasio style. The flavor is there, the creamy egg, thin layers of fresh mozzarella, burst of saltiness from the thin layers of prosciutto. Black olives are haphazardly tossed on top, almost like a second thought in their sporadic placement. The really thin red sauce, doesn’t add anything to the dish, just making the crust a little softer.
Unlike the previous pie, this pizza could be eaten like a true New Yorker, folded in half and devoured without the any utensil other then your own two hands. Different mushrooms on top adds texture and flavor with the bubbly, gooey fontina binding all the ingredients to the crusts. Thyme and red onion add a bit of bitterness and acidity. This pie was by far my favorite part of the meal.
Marta, marta, marta. What am I going to do with you? I wanted to love you so much, to fall into the hype of yet another Danny Meyer’s masterpiece which even Serious Eats wonders if this is the next Shake Shack monopoly. Unfortunately, most of the dishes lacked that ‘wow’ factor. With the exception of the Funghi Pizza, all of the dishes were less then memorable. But you can bet with a name like Danny Meyer’s behind the restaurant, even with the word out about as my friend described “comme-ci, comme-ca” crust the crowds will still flock to check out his latest place. Because it has to be good, right? Yet, for the high price point, next time I’m craving a pie and some apps, I’ll head to my neighborhood, eclectic pizza shop instead of trekking to the vintage Martha Washington Hotel.
Marta – 29 East 29th Street – New York, NY
Location: Flatiron/Gramercy, NY
Perfect For: Girls’ Night Out, Date Night, Take Out
Reservations: Not Available
Favorite Dishes: Funghi Pizza, Polpettine di Maccheroni