Saturday, March 5, 2016

Bar Marta

While there are some restaurants that I plan on going to months in advance, there are others that I decide on the day I go.  I recently had nothing on my agenda and wasn't looking for anything spectacular or extravagant, so I decided to look at one of the neighborhood places close to me.  Bar Marta isn't in my neighborhood, but it is close, in Humboldt Park, and it's where I decided to go.  I read before arriving that many of the people from Bar Marta had previously worked with Brendan Sodikoff's restaurant group, Hogsalt.  I was not sure if this meant that it was part of the Hogsalt Restaurant Group, but it did give me an idea of what to expect.  While the group has a number of restaurants serving a wide variety of cuisines, they all have a certain commonality.  They are all dark, their food menus are fairly small and each feature a significant of small plates with a few large plates.  They have a good selection of craft beers and many of their featured cocktails are classics or based on classics.  Pulling up to the restaurant, I saw that while there is a sign on the door, it is very unobtrusive and you would never know that the place was a restaurant unless you saw the sign.  It sits on a corner on a main road with the narrow side on the main road and the entrance on the long side.  Walking in, I saw that it followed one of Hogsalt's key things, it was very dark.  There was a long bar opposite the entrance which is where I decided to sit.  The dining room is carpeted and while there are large windows on the long side, opposite the bar, they are covered by heavy curtains.  The room was a light color, but I because it was so dark, I couldn't really tell what light color it was.  The bar was a substantial element in the room.  It was big, looked heavy and had a white marble top.  Looking at the beer and cocktail menu, I saw that they had a pretty good beer and wine list.  The cocktails were divided into Shaken, Stirred, Sparkling, and Old Fashioneds.  While I was interested in a cocktail, I wasn't looking for anything really heavy, so I went for one of the Sparkling drinks.  Called a Strange Brew.  Served on ice, it consisted of Gin, Pineapple Juice, and Evil Twin Yang IPA.  As I like both gin and IPAs, this was a nice choice.  It was heavier than a beer, but was a lighter cocktail.   It tasted first of pineapple with herbal notes from the gin and the hoppy bitterness and head from the IPA.
The food menu was divided by the featured elements of the dish (Pantry, Seafood, Vegetables, Meats, Pasta, and Dessert) with smaller courses at the top of the list and more substantial courses further down the list in that category.  For my meal, I chose a vegetable and meat course, but I was torn about the seafood and pasta.  The vegetable courses consisted of several salads and some other interesting things.  I am generally not a regular green salad orderer so that did limit my choices somewhat.  What I did order though was based on what I ordered for my meat course.  What I did order could technically be considered a salad, the greens were no the main element.  I ordered Marinated Beets with Grapefruit, Sunflower Seeds, Arugula, and a Mustard Dressing.  I like beets and these were very good.  The addition of the grapefruit added some citrus bitterness which paired well with the arugula.  The sunflower seeds added a some crunch and a nutty flavor, and the mustard added a tart finish.
For my main course, I went with a bistro classic, Steak Frites, which is exactly what it sounds like, Steak and French Fries.  The steak was a prime hangar steak wet aged 21 days cooked medium rare (diners choice).  It was tender and flavorful with a little funk to it.  It was not listed as aged, but it definitely had an aged flavor that had not quite reached blue cheese flavor, so I asked.  The fries were double fried which makes them crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.  They were also well salted and served with a Chili Aioli on the side as French Frites would be.
It wasn't listed on the menu, but a good bar will generally have a selection of Amaro.  I was interested in a digestif, so I asked what they had (because it was too dark to really see the bar back to see what they had).  After asking about a few things specifically, I ended up with an Averna.  It was thick and thick with a gently herbal bitterness, and I thought it would go very well with my dessert.
I only took a quick glance at the dessert menu because there was something that I saw that I knew immediately that I wanted.  Called an Eaton Mess, it is a traditional English dessert (actually spelled Eton) created for the annual cricket match between Eton College and Harrow School.  It consists of Whipped Cream, Seasonal Berries, in this case, Blackberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, and Strawberries, and Meringue.  I had previously only seen this dish in London, so I was very excited to see it here.  I had previously seen this served in a dish or a cup, this was seved as what looked like a tower of whipped cream.  The tower was supported with slabs of meringue and covered in berries.  It was light, sweet, and crunchy, with an abundance of fruit in every bite.  It was a mess to eat, but it tasted good and it was fun to try.

Other than the dimness of the light, I enjoyed my time here.  It was quiet, had a low-key vibe, and the staff was friendly and informative.  The food was very good and there were a few things that I may have to return for.           

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