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eater's digest: martha

There are few restaurants where I would advise diners to order both curry and creme brûlée. And yet, at Martha in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, I enthusiastically recommend indulging in both dishes.

Having refined his culinary chops at Michelin-starred establishments and underground supper clubs alike, Chef Andres Valbuena serves up a multi-cultural menu that riffs on cuisine from all corners of the globe. What’s more, he pulls this mish-mash off without a whiff of pretension.

Let’s start with the cocktails. As a fan of heavy-on-the-bitters drinks, I was pleased to be steered towards the more subtle Double Trouble: a simple mix of dry vermouth, cocchi americano and orange bitters. It was a diner’s refreshment, perfect for pairing with a variety of plates (a cocktail virtue that is too often overlooked). The Apple Fizz was equally drinkable, with the mineral bite of a dry French cider.

Moving on to small plates, we opted to test out the fluke crudo. On first impression, the portion was doubly generous, paired with hijiki (an “al dente” seaweed with distinct umami flavor) and salmon roe. The dish’s salinity highlighted the fish’s exceptional quality, as well as the chef’s unassuming creativity—a trait similarly infused in the dishes that followed.

Next, a miniature cast iron pan of crispy brussel sprouts, so perfectly dressed that they fit every taste bud’s fancy. The plate-licking combination of sticky honey, funky fish sauce, pickled jalapeño and crunchy peanuts was nothing if not cravable. (In a city full of fresh takes on what used to be an abhorred vegetable, these are easily among the most addictive sprouts I’ve found.)

A steaming dish of congee might have seemed a bit of a curve ball, served alongside two remarkably juicy, skewered lamb meatballs. Yet this savory porridge could easily transfer to a hip Brooklyn brunch—indulgent enough to satisfy those who hit the drink a bit too hard, but subtle enough to please more wide-eyed, curious customers.

Three courses of shared plates deep, we had already encountered enough variety that our palates risked losing their footing. But then, a rock-solid dish of little neck clam green curry arrived—spiced, but not overly rich—to refresh and center our senses. The shellfish themselves were meaty and tender (an ode to local sourcing), while the curry offered heat and focused flavor.

Then arrived the fried chicken, a dish so beloved and contested in today’s restaurant culture that we couldn’t pass up a taste. Its crispy, intensely spiced batter was dressed with a honey-based spin on General Tsao. In fact, there are so many layers of flavor in this creative dish, it merits a culinary dissertation. Among them, my favorite detail, fermented black beans, offered an unexpected pop of earth and salt, hidden among the crevices of fried crust and sticky sauce.

Yet of all the rule-breaking that reigns in Martha’s kitchen, their creme brûlée was maybe Valbuena’s most daring move. Less a custard than an egg-rich spin on melted ice cream, this dessert was sloppy in all the best ways. The shatter of a substantially caramelized crust caused apple shards to fall into a pool of vanilla-laced cream, and we lapped up every bite like we hadn’t already eaten five courses.

In retrospect, it’s hard to make sense of such a shapeshifting restaurant. But the fact that Martha’s menu makes no claims to cultural authenticity is exactly what makes it exciting. Eliminating the boundaries of tested pairings and single region references, each dish becomes an expression of sheer creativity.

It’s a risky pretense—one that could lead as easily to clashes as coherence—but Martha never skidded off course. Just like the innovative residents that have fostered today’s Fort Greene scene, these zany dishes play together surprisingly well.

Martha
184 DeKalb Avenue, Brooklyn
718-596-4147

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

eater's digest: bklyn larder

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

By mid-summer in New York City, the average food lover has spent plenty of time outside—grilling hot dogs, veggies and ribs; packing improvised picnics of bread, cheese and wine. By now, your "signature salad" may seem a bit redundant, or the humidity may have you researching a raw food diet. In other words, it's the ideal time to let someone else do the cooking. And for that, there's no better place than Bklyn Larder.

Started by the same team behind renowned Brooklyn pizza spot, Franny's, Bklyn Larder is not your average boutique grocery store. Community-focused in its vision, the Larder is a seasonal, local and eco-conscious shop, with much of their day-to-day produce coming from the nearby Grand Army Plaza of Union Square greenmarkets. The bread is also locally selected from some of the city's best artisans—Grandaisy, Bien Cuit and Orwasher's.

This savvy approach to sourcing translates into incredibly fresh and photogenic food, from an heirloom tomato and cucumber salad to an organic berry tart with vanilla pastry cream. It's worth noting that the Larder also specializes in cheese, so whether you're looking for local, raw milk, aged imports or a taste of each, the shop is stocked with an excellent selection.

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One of my favorite seasonal bites was an English pea salad with farro and dill buttermilk dressing, a cool and refreshing spin on grains.

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I also appreciated the aged prosciutto da parma from Pio Tosini, which beautifully complemented the naturally leavened, tangy dough and dark crust of a Bien Cuit baguette.

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For those in more of a rush, the shop has wrapped sandwiches to go, prepared with such care that the words pre-made seem misleading. On the contrary, if you've time to peruse the Larder's provisions, the thoughtfully curated goods extend to hard-to-find grains, tinned fish, oils and chocolates. I especially enjoyed the exceptionally creamy walnut and honey White Moustache yogurt that I spotted in the dairy case.

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For those too far removed to enjoy the Larder in person, you can still snag a pint of the shop's prized gelato and sorbetto, which recently became available for nationwide shipping.

Don't forget dessert: from their signature gelato and sorbetto, to these beautifully brûléed s'mores cupcakes, the shop's not short on sweets.

Don't forget dessert: from their signature gelato and sorbetto, to these beautifully brûléed s'mores cupcakes, the shop's not short on sweets.

So whether you stop in to prep a simple picnic, cater a house party or stock up on top-notch staples, Bkyln Larder's the type of shop that will have you lingering, daydreaming, yearning and scheming. You might even find yourself asking the happy, helpful staff if they're hiring.

eater's digest: brooklyn crab

I've always been the type who is eager for fall, who looks forward to long pants, chilly outdoor evenings and the chance to take a bike ride without breaking a sweat. That said, since the temperature dropped 20 degrees (overnight), I've been mourning the loss of my New York summer. And, in specific, craving a return to my favorite seafood shack, Brooklyn Crab.

Luckily, the crab shack is open year-round, given the happy heating of the upstairs deck. So now seems as good a time as ever to get a bit nostalgic. To lean back into the not-so-long-ago days of 'yore, when we biked, boozed and bean bagged away our steamy Sundays in Red Hook.

...And to imagine another side of Brooklyn Crab. A hood-and-boots, hot toddy game of corn hole. Followed, of course, by a round of whole bellies and the impressive Brooklyn Crab Royale.