21 Jan A Hidden Gem: Saint Martha Restaurant
Saint Martha may be aptly named for its namesake, the Patron Saint of cooks and servants, but it also pays homage to Saint Vincent, the Patron Saint of wine. But you might not know this from the outside. Located in a run-down strip mall in Korea town, it’s neighbors are a “dentista”, an acupuncturist, an Allstate insurance office and a shoe repair shop.
And among these business sits Saint Martha behind a heavy wooden door.
But, open the heavy door and enter the cozy, low-lit windowless room, and find a world that honors and celebrates wine and food.
At the helm is Chef Nick Erven who is cooking Modern American cuisine rooted in European tradition. There are six sections on the menu: Snacks, Rawesome, Vegetables, Fish and Such and Meaty Things. Each section has three choices. And most of the plates are small-plates which makes it easy to order a number of items and share. You can also select to do a Chef’s Pick Tasting Menu Five Course ($65) or Seven Course ($90).
No matter what you decide to order, don’t miss pairing it with wine! Wine Director Mary Thompson has created an extraordinarily eclectic wine list that is not pretentious or intimidating by any means but will introduce you to regions and producers you may not be familiar with. If you love to taste wine and you like to try new and different ones, you will love Saint Martha’s list of 50 ever-changing wines. And, best of all, you can order wines by the taste, the glass, the piché (carafe) or the bottle.
We decided to order straight from the menu as there were too many dishes that we wanted to try. But, we asked Mary to pair each course with a wine. And what an incredible job she did! From an Austrian Riesling to a French Rose made with Gamay (85%) and Auxerrois (15%) and a German Rose of Pinot Noir to a Verduno Pelaverga from Piemonte, Italy (perhaps you have never heard of the grape Pelaverga but at Saint Martha you can learn all about this rare native varietal.).
The food is imaginative but not overly complicated and were great compliments to the wine.
We started with the Hamachi crudo with yuzu vinaigrette, avocado and seaweed doritos. The doritos were delicate and lightly flavored but added just enough texture to the tender crudo.
Along with the crudo, we had the crab and sake cream okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake.
Next up was the steak and oyster tartare with champagne sabayon and bone marrow beignets. I liked the combo of steak and oyster but the true star of this dish are the decadent bone marrow beignets. When you bite into these triangular fried pillows, the marrow just flows out and down your hand. Such goodness!
The Octopus with Koshihikari rice, sauce nero, lardo and espelette has perfectly cooked octopus tentacles on top of creamy, nutty pillows of rice.
After covering items from the Snacks, Rawesome and Fish and Such sections, we moved on to Meaty Things. The pecan wood smoked brisket has been smoked for a long time and is tender with a hint of sweetness. It is served with carrot, daikon and chili-hoison that you can wrap in lettuce.
And finally, we had the braised pork belly with black garlic porridge, an almost 5 minute egg and a bunch of onions.
To finish off the meal, we had the anise hyssop panna cotta with plums, coffee granita and almond-oak crumble and the peanut butter ganache, roasted grape ice cream, griddled pound cake and chocolate feuilletine. An elevated PB&J, I loved the chocolate covered frozen grapes.
The last thing you might except in this obscure little Koreatown strip mall is such amazing food and wine. But Saint Martha is a gem and worth fighting the LA traffic! At the very least, head to Saint Martha for a glass of wine or two and some small bites. The creative wine list is challenging, inspiring, eclectic and unique and will continue to surprise and impress.
Saint Martha Restaurant
740 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles