By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
On the back of one of my Marty's sampler place mats, someone scrawled this wine: Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino, half bottle. A curious scrawl, because according to the wine department, Marty's doesn't even carry a Brunello (grown around the town of Montalcino and considered one of Italy's finest red wines) from this producer. But they did tell me this wine in a half bottle would empty the wallet by $18.75 retail. If this wine were on Marty's WineBar list, that's exactly the price you'd pay with a full-service dinner--none of the double or treble markups you'd find on lists at some of the city's finest restaurants.
This is the beauty of Marty's. Yet perhaps the best thing about Marty's WineBar is what's on the front side of that place mat: flight markers for four whites (or reds) with regional descriptions, flavor profiles, and menu-pairing suggestions. When you order a sampler flight, you'll receive 2-ounce pours of each wine for $6.95--a steal in the pursuit of wine knowledge. This creates a no-fuss, interactive process from which to compare grape varieties, as well as the same varietals from different parts of the world. For example, on both visits each sampler (one wine changes roughly every two weeks, while the entire sampler is redrafted once a quarter) included a California Chardonnay and a white Burgundy, as well as a California Pinot Noir and a red Burgundy. (Marty's isn't big on Bordeaux, so the same comparisons with Cabernet or Merlot are not possible--yet). Noting such similarities and differences, especially once the food arrives, can significantly elevate any dining experience.
Not surprisingly, wine is the best thing about Marty's WineBar, which opened in the 55-year-old wine and gourmet shop last spring. Service is near the top as well. Not that there is anything seriously deficient with the food. It's quite good, especially when you consider the prices: the most expensive entree, filet mignon, comes in at $16.95, and most hover around $14.
Greek salad is opulent and colorful with a stuffed grape leaf (a little mushy), olives, tomato, cucumber, and greens splashed with a vivaciously crisp vinaigrette. Chicken satay with corn cakes consisted of generous strips of juicy chicken with a clean peanut sauce and firm, moist cakes with a good, swift heat kick. Jack Daniel's-glazed quail featured chewy, moist birds with forward gaminess deftly balance by the J.D. sauce.
Other things were dicier. Grilled tuna Niçoise salad was marred by dry, hard, and strongly fishy tuna resting on browning lettuce. Asian marinated breast of chicken lumbered with a viscous sauce that seemed to blanket more than marry with the juicy meat. And while they weren't as velvety-rich as you'll find (probably at twice the price) at other places, lamb chops Provençal were moist (if a bit fatty), chewy, and well seasoned. A side of haricot verts (green beans) laced with bell pepper and shiitake mushroom was a bit tough and woody.
Still, the food holds its own. And when you consider that Marty's has the most enjoyable, user-friendly wine program in town--maybe anywhere--by virtually any measure, there's a whole list of reasons to make it a frequent dining stop.
Dunston's Prime Steakhouse. Harry Hines Boulevard at Regal Row, (214) 637-3513. Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Friday, 4:30-11 p.m. Saturday, 4:30-10:30 p.m. Sunday $$-$$$
Marty's WineBar. 3316 Oak Lawn Ave., (214) 526-4070 ext. 155. Open 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday $$