Do you remember when you used to go out to eat and just get meat and potatoes? Do you remember a time when kale and artisanal toast wasn't on every Los Angeles restaurant menu? Neither do I. Times are a changing and chefs are getting more and more creative in the kitchen. Is it our fault? Do we constantly crave something new and different? Or do chefs crave creating something new and different? Either way, I love the exploration into new territories.
Take Koreatown in Los Angeles. Not many people except the culinary adventurous would venture into Koreatown for dinner, but now there's hours-long waits at some spots, and Roy Choi has even opened several hot spots in the Line Hotel. If that's too swanky for you, you can roll up to a strip mall off Western Avenue to find Saint Martha, and free parking, in a lot, with no attendant. Remember that? Me neither.
Saint Martha is the patron saint of cooks and servants, and you can see saintly nods throughout the tiny, simple restaurant. Music ranges from Led Zeppelin to Naughty by Nature, but it doesn't blare at obnoxious levels, and you can in fact hear your fellow diners, if you wish. You can even learn a little Korean through 101 language tapes playing in the bathroom.
You probably haven't heard of Saint Martha's Chef, Nick Erven. He's worked at Los Angeles restaurants Tart and Messhall, and the sommelier and general manager, Mary Thompson, hails from time in New York and at Rivera. Together they're putting some truly inventive pairings.
We did the tasting menu which starts with a great lamb neck amuse bouche, served on top of a crisp cucumber with bright notes of mint. I liked the play with textures and flavors.
Yuzu is the ingredient of the moment. I think I've seen it at every meal I've had in the last month. It lent a tart pucker to the scallop crudo, while Japanese 7 spice horseradish brought the heat and spice.
Some people were bored by the "baby lettuce with lettuce dressing." Perhaps it was just the name, but as far as salads go, I thought this one was bold with a taste of the sea from fresh marinated anchovies on top and quinoa mixed in.
The next dish was my favorite, and I hope it never goes out of style. A rich mushroom ragu draped on crisp bread with a large sunny side egg on top. The winning touch was the bone marrow butter, making this dish truly decadent.
I had read about LA Times' restaurant critic's opinion of the steak and oyster tartare. He couldn't tell if he loved it or hated it, but he kept ordering it, so I'm going with love. I think it's one of those unique dishes that again, you definitely haven't had anywhere else, unless of course you whipped it up while making the side of bone marrow beignets. A faux egg sits on the plate and acts as a champagne sabayon sauce for the truly interesting surf and turf mix.
The braised pork belly didn't stand a chance after this dish. It wasn't nearly as fatty as some pork belly, which many will find a plus, but mine was actually a little dry. What was striking was the bright pool of purple under the pork - a red cabbage gazpacho. Never have I seen a shade of purple like that on my dinner plate. The green apple and gerkins topper lent pops of acidity to the entire dish.
I also enjoyed the sesame cake with miso ice cream - a nice nod to the neighborhood, but then the chef goes further with crisp mung beans on top. Sweet, savory, warm, cool.
We've definitely moved a long ways away from meat and potatoes, but when the inventions are as interesting and fun as they are at Saint Martha, I'm game for the change.
740 S. Western Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA