Pizza at Marta Crackles with Flavor
Danny Meyer & Company’s latest addition to the Union Square Hospitality Group Marta has been on our radar since the day it was announced, but with pressing deadlines through yesterday, we weren’t able to attempt to make it into the three-day-old restaurant until today. Our initial idea of getting there at noon today wasn’t working out, so — not finding an open table on OpenTable.com — Karen called shortly after noon (when the hotel transferred her to the restaurant) to make sure the restaurant would be taking walk-ins, and was assured Marta was. She also asked about the somewhat confusing language on the website that “*The kitchen will only offer Pizza from 3:30 – 4:30 pm.” We definitely wanted pizza, so did that mean we had to get there during that one-hour window? No, she was told, but if we wanted to eat during that one-hour window, all we’d be able to order would be pizza. Got it — thanks so much.
Despite the torrential downpour that was in full force in Manhattan this afternoon at 3 pm, we managed to make our way to Marta before 3:30 pm — when we were stunned to be told that the restaurant wasn’t serving any food at that time, pizza or otherwise. “But we called…” we protested. “Not sure who gave you that information…” the restaurant replied. One person after another asked the next up in the Marta hierarchy who continued the denials, until one asked if we wished to speak to the restaurant’s general manager. We did, and sat down in comfortable seats to wait. Finally, we were told that we would be able to order pizza, and that the restaurant was glad that they’d be able to serve us. We were glad, too.
As the restaurant’s website states, “Marta celebrates the Italian tradition of cooking seasonal specials ‘alle brace’ — over open embers.” Its pizza-only menu offered between 3:30 – 4:30 pm (and at lunch and dinner, too, as we learned) offers five “Rosse” (red-sauced) pizza selections and four “Bianche” (white sauceless) options. We ordered one of each: the Mercato ($14), which comes topped with corn, okra, cherry tomatoes, and ricotta salata; and the Funghi ($15), whose Fontina is adorned with hen of the woods mushrooms, chanterelles, red onion, and thyme.
If a restaurant is only offering a single menu item, it damn well better be good. Happily, Marta’s pizza is. Andrew enjoyed watching Salvatore Olivella making our pizzas, and picking up tips as to their flavor secrets. Baked in a very hot oven fueled with both oak (for heat) and cherry (for aroma) woods, and taking just three or so minutes from start to finish, the restaurant also follows the 100-year-old tradition practiced in Salvatore’s family pizzeria (Finstrella di Mare Chiare in Naples) of seasoning wood shavings laced with dried herbs (e.g., oregano, rosemary) and tossing them onto the fire to release their aromas. We enjoy a bit of char on the edges of our pizza, and noted that the Funghi’s earthiness made it better equipped to handle the char’s bitter aspects than the much lighter-and-cleaner-flavored Mercato.
Marta’s wine list offers a lovely selection of “Bollicine” (bubbly) wines by the glass, and we were happy to split glasses of Lambrusco Veccia Moderna Cieto Chiarli 2013 ($9) and Franciacorta Cuvee Presige Ca’ del Bosco ($15).
After Marta’s warm wait staff asked us if there was anything else we needed and cheerfully bagged our leftover pizza to go, with our final sips of bubbly this afternoon we raised a enthusiastic toast: “To Marta’s success.”
Marta is in the lobby of the Martha Washington Hotel at 29 East 29th Street (bet. Park & Madison Aves.) in Manhattan. 212.689.1900. www.chelseahotels.com