ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Forty years ago, Rampart Street–the thirteen blocks of it that formed the northwestern frontier of the French Quarter–looked is though it would shortly be the place to be. Nice wide avenue, with lots of available space in cool old buildings, the Municipal Auditorium, and the soon-to-open Armstrong Park, where the Jazz Festival was recently born. A handful of serious, much-talked-about restaurants opened. All this played out by the mid-1980s, with a sort of literal death knell when Marti Shambra died and his trendsetting restaurant vanished. Even though the excellent Peristyle took over the space for a good while, the idea of a reborn Marti’s kept floating around. It finally came to ground in 2013, right about where it would be if it and Marti had never left.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
New Orleans has so many long-running restaurants that there’s not much need to revive long-dead restaurants, even those with memorable names. But Marti’s might be the effort worthwhile. With the city’s two major auditoriums for live performances nearby, a growing demand for Rampart Street restaurants has emerged. The surroundings and memories the new Marti’s brings back to the scene seems perfect for this development. To say nothing about the new flowering of the Treme section.
WHAT’S GOOD The old Marti’s was unique in that instead of creating fancy, expensive new dishes, it retooled a host of familiar classics of Creole home cooking, using great ingredients and delicious flavor signatures. For example, it brought pannee veal to fine dining. Every time I’ve dined in the new Marti’s, I walked away with the feeling that if the old Marti’s had lived on, it would be exactly like the new Marti’s. The cooking and raw materials are decidedly local, with a scattering of Italian touches.
The original Marti’s was the city’s first openly-gay gourmet restaurant. Unstated but quite obvious, that quality brought in a large number of customers from the local arts world, with their audiences. The big name was Tennessee Williams, one of many well-known regulars. Marti’s opened in 1972 with a menu like that of a neighborhood cafe. A few years later, owner Marti Shambra pushed the concept upscale. The place shortly became a four-star eatery, and it remained so until Marti’s deteriorating health and a fire brought the restaurant to an end. The building became Peristyle, which had its own four- and five-star run. Chef Tom Wolfe took over in the early 2000s, but he never really reopened after Katrina. The building sat there until Patrick Singley–owner of the superb Gautreau’s–thought the time was right for Marti’s to return, sans its old socio-sexual quality–which nobody would notice anymore, anyway.
You enter through the long, narrow, tiled bar, where oysters are shucked and cocktails are mixed, both with aplomb. A dozen steps through a narrow passageway puts you into the main dining room, with large windows on two sides and a general retro-modern-deco look. With terrazzo floors and unclothed tables, the sound quotient is high when the place is full. The servers are easy to imagine as French Quarter denizens, sophisticated and young.
DOZEN BEST DISHES, DESCRIBED
»Blue crab soup, saffron oil, garlic croutons
Hearty greens, pumpkin seeds, pickled shallots
Spinach & frisée salad, lardons, poached egg
»»Pommes frites, housemade mayonnaise and ketchup
Tuna tartare, shallots, capers, dijon mustard, avocado, potato gauffrettes, quail egg
Seared foie gras, smoked salt, green tomato jam
»Bucatini pasta, rabbit ragu, tomatoes, roasted garlic
Shrimp and corn risotto, mushrooms, white truffle oil
»Raw half shell oysters, with Champagne mignonette and lemon-caper vinaigrette
»»Roasted oysters, pimento butter, bread crumbs, herbs
Chilled Louisiana shrimp cocktail
Plateau de fruits de mer (lobster, shrimp, marinated crab claws, raw oysters, scallop ceviche)*
Steamed Prince Edward Island mussels, tomatoes, white wine, oregano
Maine lobster salad, greens, tomatoes, orange, Thai chiles, haved fennel & citrus vinaigrette
»»Seafood provençal (scallops, shrimp, crab, mussels, saffron broth & rouille)
»Seared Columbia River king salmon, tomato-lemon vinaigrette
»Gulf fish amandine, green beans, almonds & brown butter
Grilled filet mignons, asparagus, shallots, fingerling potatoes, truffled mushrooms, bordelaise
»Mississippi rabbit two ways (braised legs, grilled sausage, mustard greens, dirty rice)
Duck leg comfit, chickpeas, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes
Crispy pork Milanese, mustard, farm green
»Pan-roasted chicken, quinoa, squashes, tomatoes & basil
»Cappuccino, beignets, Bailey’s Irish cream
Dark chocolate pot de crème, salted caramel
»Blueberry napoleon, vanilla pastry cream, chocolate sponge cake, minted blueberry sauce
»“Bananas foster” tiramisu
Handmade ice creams & sorbet
Artisan gorgonzola dolce, honeycomb, toasted nuts & grilled bread
FOR BEST RESULTS
Start with a cocktail and an order of fries. That will give just the right amount of time to let the menu sink in, and you get used to the idea of eating some of the less-familiar ideas. Have a discussion with the waiter, and go along with much of his advice.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The extensive wine list is too expensive and the corkage fee even more so. An off-duty policeman might pay for himself in relief of people’s worries about the neighborhood (not as bad as you’ve heard.)
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +2
- Consistency +2
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +2
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +2
- Good view
- Open Sunday brunch and dinner
- Free valet parking
- Reservations recommended