Restaurant Review: Martin's
Published: January 2009
Gareth Davis visits Key West and finds an old favourite that still delivers with style…
For such a tiny speck of a place Key West Florida, the pendant at the end of a long island chain, is packed with culinary goodies. The moneyed who make their way here for the winter months insist on quality and verve in their cooking. It’s sink or swim when a new restaurant opens its doors, and locals are very upfront in expressing their opinions. So the fact that Martin’s at 917 Duval Street has been around for 20 years is testament to great achievement. This is a fairly new location for the long-standing eatery. A year ago the Busam brothers, front-of-house Fritz, and eponymous chef Martin, relocated from a trad little spot on Appelrouth Lane to what is undoubtedly the most stylish site on the Key West Strip.
Duval Street is the island’s main drag; a tumble of art galleries, souvenir shops, high street brands, bars, and restaurants. And at night, the searing cobalt blue light against black of Martin’s sets this place apart from the rest of the twinkle. A shaft of the urbane, the likes of South Beach, New York or London, seems to have landed, stark alongside the Victoriana. The dining room to the left is replete with crisp linens and crystals, walls in silverine paper and B&W photos uplit in soft pinks and aquamarine. To the right an open air lounge bar stretches back to a garden dining area. There’s something of the Japanese in the design of the lounge – white walls, black wooden block tables, floating chiffon drapes, raffia armchairs and sofas with pale upholstering, and a long banquette. The latter supports a 15ft signature photographic canvas consisting of panels of dark green climbing ivy. It’s the work of Fritz who for many years was a photographer in Germany, as is the design of the whole site. The intimate garden space is spotted with more intimate linen-covered tables and lit by flaming torches. The result is hugely chic and a refreshing urban breeze in Key West’s hot gastromanic climate.
Of course, all would be in vain if the cooking weren’t up to scratch. And it is. 20 years is a long time to sustain excellence but back in the kitchen that’s exactly what Martin has done. “Modern European with an island influence” is how he describes his approach. The latter is seen in the strong representation of locally sourced fish and crustacea. For European visitors there’s the gorgeously comforting presence of escargot, filet mignon, beef wellington, and splashes of Germanica like wiener schnitzel reflecting the brothers Black Forest origins. Starters are from $14.50 and mains from $20.50.
In my opinion, the wine list is the best on the island – and I’ve waded through many a tawdry volume of confusion and blandness. Old World balances New with a strong varietal presence from Albarino through Riesling and even a good old Alsace Gewurztraminer. Reds start at $36 for a Californian Pinot Noir and whites from $30 for an Italian Pinot Grigio.
I kicked off with seared foie gras on rocket with balsamic vinegar and a poached pear topped by lingonberry marmalade; the f.g. was gorgeously soft and more than able to hold its own against the sharp balsamic and sweet fruit. My dinner companion had a tropical Waldorf Salad which reinvigorated my interest in what’s unfortunately become a bit of a sandwich filler; this salad was all crunch and creaminess.
We both had duck breast “schwazwald”, another nod to the Old Country, which consisted of soft pink slivers of quack with the sting of raspberry vinaigrette and more poached pear and lingonberry. Ending with Banana Fosters, a torrent of caramelised banana and cinnamon syrup over vanilla ice cream, we got our first whiff of the New Country; the portion was typically American in size.
Out in the lounge, diners were nibbling on tasty little tapas; old favourites like Serrano ham and jalapeno remoulade and touches of cheekiness like curry wurst. Post 11pm on Friday and Saturdays the lounge transforms into a chill out area where 30 somethings unwind to the sounds of light house. I can think of no better way of meditating on what could possibly be the best cooking I’ve ever enjoyed in Key West.
Restaurant Review: Martin's
Gareth has been with TRAVEL CHANNEL since its launch in 1994. He has produced and presented on TRAVEL LIVE and THE TRAVEL BUG, produced ESSENTIAL... and reports on TRAVEL TODAY. He is a regular contributor to the website. In 2010 he produced the hit series THE HOLIDAY SHOW which he also co-presented with Ginny Buckley. Gareth’s passions are history, culture, food & drink.
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