More good news from the Salt Lake City restaurant scene:
I had already kicked off my shoes and taken off my earrings—for me, that means the day is done. Then I received a text from a friend who’s a friend of one of the owners of Pub Group (Desert Edge, Stella’s, Red Butte Cafe, etc.) ‘Do you want to have dinner tonight at Martine? They have a new chef and want people there.’
All I can say is, it took us longer to find a parking place than it did to drive downtown. I put my earrings back on in the car.
Poor Martine’s has been under siege for years now—the construction around it seems never-ending. This time, we had to park in the old high-rise lot on Regent Street, walk down the stairs to a locked door, walk back up and down another flight of stairs, exit onto Regent Street, over some heavy cables and boards and down the alley. Whew.
Tom Grant was chef at Martine for decades; his departure opened a door to the future for this beloved restaurant. After some shuffling, Utah native Ed Heath, a graduate of CIA Greystone in St. Helena, has joined the Pub Group and is heading the kitchen at Martine. He is co-owner of Cleveland-Heath restaurant in Edwardsville, Illinois and was a Best Chef semifinalist in the 26th annual James Beard Foundation Awards.
Heath has rewritten Martine menu but stayed with the restaurant’s spirit—falling between cutting-edge and classic, dishes don’t seem to be geared towards the latest trends or tied to a specific heritage cuisine. Instead, like a true chef-driven menu, they come from an educated taste imagination. (The same approach applies to cocktails, an icy gin martini and an honest-to-goodness daiquiri, aged rum and lime chilled and served up in a small stemmed glass.)
If you’re hungry, the prix-fixe four-course dinner is the way to go. Chef offers two choices for each course; because I had guests, we were able to sample everything on the menu: the judiciously thickened corn soup (not too gloppy) and the hefty “Israeli Mixed Green Salad” with toasted orzo, feta bits, almonds and grapes in a red pepper vinaigrette. Second course: mushrooms on toast topped with an egg …
or a sweet and sour version of our friend pork belly, here called slab bacon, with watermelon lime dressing. As tricky as the latter dish sounds, the balance was precise; as weary as we all must be of pork belly, this was a refreshing, even intriguing, plate of food. Half a crispy-skinned chicken came with savory Asiago bread pudding and the seafood risotto with uni butter.
You’ve got the picture by now that Heath has moved the restaurant from its slightly moldy tapas format to encourage a full-meal deal. But there is still a list of small plates—chilled asparagus “Oscar,” with sauce gribiche. I have to admit I was a little bit thrilled to see old-fashioned notions like “Oscar” and “gribiche” on a modern American menu. Named after King Oscar II of Sweden, the classic dish is veal Oscar—a veal cutlet topped with asparagus, crabmeat and bearnaise. Heath piles crabmeat over asparagus and serves with gribiche, a sauce similar to bearnaise, but made with hard-cooked egg yolks and served cold. This would be a perfect summer lunch.
Another small plate, crispy but still rare quail, came on a bed of succotash made with lots of caramelized onion strings and merquen. (I was stumped, but it turns out this is a Chilean pepper mixture.)
I have no idea whether the menu we tasted is going to be the permanent summer menu at Martine or how it will change, as it surely must once Heath and his regular diners get to know each other. Obviously, this was a honeymoon meal and I was a recognized guest. I’ll go back in a few months more surreptitiously and see how it’s going.
It’s a testament to Martine’s charm that it remains open despite the city’s apparent efforts to kill it. But it won’t be long now. We were reassured that an end is in sight for the construction and when it’s over and the crowds come back, Martine will be ready.
P.S. Of course, after declaring we could not eat dessert, we agreed to split one and ended up ordering three. That’s how the sweet slippery slope often starts. at any rate, couldn’t be happier to see that a version of the former Martine’s star dessert, grilled gingerbread, is still on the menu, alongside newer treats.