This week, The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells gave Danny Meyer’s newest venture, Marta, a mixed review. If judged solely on the number of stars Wells awarded the eatery (which is two), then he thought it to be better than the majority of the restaurants in New York; however, his words seem to contradict his multiple-star rating.
The first sign of discontent is his passive-aggressive comment on Union Square Hospitality Group’s choice of location. A short background on chef Nick Anderer quickly turns into a shot off the bow about the Meyer team's venue scouting abilities, noting that “Anderer has been a faithful custodian of the more famous Roman landmarks at Maialino, in the Gramercy Park Hotel. Marta… is a continuation of that project, a spinoff that might have found a space next door if Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group had not decided to place it about a half-mile away in the soaring, stately lobby of the Martha Washington Hotel.” It’s a comment that might have been easily brushed off and completely forgotten had the rest of the review been glowing, but it was not.
Over the next few paragraphs, Wells warns against ordering a non-pizza entrée: “Lingering over a long series of courses is not advised. Marta works best when treated as a pizzeria, not a restaurant. Main courses are available, but they are not as trustworthy as the pies. Pork ribs managed to be both charred and undercooked, while a slow-roasted short rib needed a more potent infusion of flavor than gremolata could give it… in general the larger plates are best for those who can’t eat pizza.” He contends that the dessert offerings are a one-out-of-three situation (“there is an affogato that is exactly right, an ice cream sandwich that’s harder to like than it should be… and a cup of tiramisù that’s bracingly drenched in espresso”), and fully slams the choice of venue (“it’s a surprise just how little atmosphere the Union Square Hospitality Group has tried to conjure at Marta. The dining room… has the cold, empty monumentality of a 19th-century bank. There’s some energy at the counter that faces the ovens, but very little in the rows of square tables behind it. The restaurant is open to the hotel lobby, and after a while, the comings and goings can make you feel as if you’re eating in the waiting room of a train station”).
Make no mistake: the critic definitely enjoyed the pizza: “The pleasure of biting down on this pizza is both physical and auditory… a great pizza-fied version of carbonara, with dots of egg and grated pecorino over crumbled, starchy potatoes and baconlike curls of guanciale… an enjoyable two-dimensional trippa alla Romana, too… the margherita, spread with flavorful tomatoes that are more pulp than sauce and punctuated with mozzarella, is superb.” He also strongly suggests ordering an appetizer before the pies, specifically the unusual carnivorous delights: “Wood smoke wraps around rabbit meatballs…The kitchen does fine work with hot oil.”
Still, considering the many objections he voiced about the ambience and a large portion of the menu, this avid reader has to ask: Really, Pete? Two stars?