When Patrick and Rebecca Singley, the owners of Gautreau's, announced they'd open their version of Marti's at the site of the famed original restaurant, which closed its doors in 1988, some local diners were intrigued. Dead restaurants, no matter how beloved in their heyday, aren't normally revived after 25 years (the address housed Peristyle for a number of years).
The Singleys have been busy of late. Besides keeping Gautreau's thriving, they opened the Uptown small plates and cocktail lounge Ivy, and in October, they opened Marti's — looking not to reinvent classic French Quarter dining as much as to celebrate a part of its past and usher in the future.
Marti's is beautiful. From the gold and white awning to the mural of New Orleans City Park's Peristyle in the main dining room, the aesthetics of old New Orleans elegance are clearly and effectively on display here. The room is intimate without being uncomfortably tight, and high ceilings — from which hang beautiful colored-glass chandeliers — give the space a sense not just of airiness and importance but a sense of history. You feel special sitting at one of these tables.
But does the kitchen match such luminous and lovely decor? To this task, the Singleys charged chef Drew Lockett, a Louisiana native who most recently cooked in Oregon. So far there's little not to love about the menu they've curated at Marti's. Carnivores will enjoy appetizers like seared foie gras with smoked salt, sour apples and white balsamic dressing, a version of poutine with goat cheese and short rib gravy and a small plate of crispy kurobuta pork belly.
It's the attention to detail in almost every dish that makes the food at Marti's something special. The "hearty greens" salad, featuring pumpkin seeds, idiazabal cheese and pickled shallots, is dressed perfectly with tangy white wine vinaigrette. Blue crab bisque with saffron oil and garlic croutons bursts with robust flavors, as well. Like Ivy, Marti's menu includes a beautiful tuna tartare, chopped coarsely, topped with a quail's egg yolk and served with a side of lattice-cut potato chips.
Seared scallops Provencal, a dish filled with shrimp, crab, mussels, saffron and rouille, put most standard bouillabaisses to shame, with a broth that begs for reverent sopping with bread. A pairing of rabbit preparations — braised legs and marinated, grilled loin — was a nicely executed serving of Louisiana game, plated with mustard greens, sage pain perdu and kidney gravy. Even a basic side order of broccolini, prepared with hot chilis, anchovies and lemon, didn't fail to please.
If there's any fault to find with Marti's, it's the expense. Granted, this is elegant dining, but $17 for a dozen raw oysters is on the high end, even when served with Champagne mignonette and tomato-horseradish vinaigrette. An appetizer of fried baby Spanish octopus is a nicely composed dish but doesn't warrant the $17 price.
That's the price one has to pay for a meal at Marti's, but French Quarter dining rarely gets more satisfying.