14 January 2009

Martinique, finally.

It happened one night when I suggested that my dad, stepmom, brother and I go to Mila for Dad's birthday dinner. As it turned out, Mila was closed for the holidays. Were we up a creek? Who was to say? We tossed around other ideas but ultimately settled on Martinique. Martinique is that neighborhood bistro: upscale but familiar, indulgent but low-key. Maybe it's not as thrilling as reservations at Restaurant August, but it is reliably yummy and that's what matters most at the end of the day.

I should mention the menu first. It's not rife with innovation, but it's ALWAYS full of things I really want- imagine French homestyle cooking with a facelift. The soups are hearty and the salads thoughtful. One of my favorites has always been a goat cheese salad, a variation of which is ever-present on the menu. It's got a warm goat cheese crouton, crusted in a certain nut (sometimes hazelnut, sometimes macadamia, you get the picture) and dressed in a certain vinaigrette (strawberry, pomegranate-molasses, etc.).

That day was just damp-damp-damp, and as I drove home to get ready for dinner, I could smell the earth through my car windows. (Wow, that sounded much more hippieish than I meant.) My point is that the smell of soil was pervasive, and I was struck with this very carnal craving for beets. So I got a salad with watercress, beets, chive-scented goat cheese, and toasted hazelnuts. It was good enough that I ate the whole thing but not remarkable enough that I still remember the dressing. Caroline got a tomatoey soup that was smooth and rich and tasted of bacon. Dad got a salad which I will talk about in a second. I don't remember what Raphe got.

The point of this entry is the gnocchi- an appetizer I ordered for my entree. This gnocchi was à la parisienne, which means that the adorably stumpy little dumplings are made without flour, unlike their Italian counterparts. They came in a warm sage cream sauce redolent of Lilette's gnocchi in sage brown butter, but in some ways I prefer this gnocchi to Lilette's. First of all, the dumplings are smaller; at Lilette, it would seem a bit gluttonous to eat two gnocchi in one bite, whereas they are more compact at Martinique. This dish comes with thin ribbons of fresh spinach and prosciutto (cut to roughly the same size so each bite has the perfect balance of flavors) as well as little bits of autumn squash, an appropriate and pleasantly seasonal accompaniment. A good shaving of parmigiano reggiano cheese was duly in the mix as well.

But that's not all! Because the next day, my mom calls me and asks if I'd like to go to dinner with some family friends. "Sure," I said, never passing up an opportunity to eat out, "where are we going?" She informed me that we'd be going to Martinique. Like I said above, though, everything on the menu has appeal if not whimsy, so I looked forward to dinner. To start, I got the same salad my dad had gotten: a jumbo lump crab Cobb salad with baby spinach, arugula, applewood-smoked bacon, avocado, hard-boiled egg, and blue cheese tossed together in a creamy, earthy green goddess dressing. The plating is part of the fun, since the salad comes shaped in a perfect little cylindrical tower that one can then demolish and devour. I'm just now training myself to like blue cheese, and that made it slightly harder for me to truly adore the salad -- although it did give me progress in my training.

For our entrees, Mom and I decided to split the gnocchi (she'd heard my raves and wanted to see what the fuss was all about) and the soup du jour, an artichoke-brie soup. The gnocchi were good, of course, and so was the soup, although I felt it had far too much artichoke and Mom thought it had far too much brie. Go figure. In any case, there was not a good balance of flavor, and I also had to put in lots of black pepper, which I hate doing since I think any dish should come properly seasoned.

In total: Martinique is a blessing to have in the neighborhood, particularly for the nights when other nearby places (Reginelli's, Taqueria) just don't cut it. The service could be better but the restaurant itself is well in tune with its identity, and it produces quintessential, delicious bistro food every time.

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