I never get excited about brisket. It is a source of perpetual disappointment. Sometimes I order it at restaurants. And sometimes it gets trotted out during a press dinner. I bite in hopeful. I swallow disappointed. Not enough flavor. Too dry. It just tastes like generic meat to me. Perhaps I’m not sophisticated enough to enjoy the subtlety of a well-cooked brisket, but my palate does not do subtlety. I like rich, bold flavor.
The brisket at Saint Martha (740 S. Western, Los Angeles) is the best I’ve ever had. I told the sommelier those exact words while I was eating it. The sommelier’s job is to suggest wine, but I felt like I had to tell someone. “I’ve never seen Joe this excited about brisket before,” my wife told sommelier Mary Thompson, who had only come by to fill my wine glass, thereby giving Thompson a complete and totally unnecessary appreciation of my history with the dish.
Chef Nick Erven’s brisket was unlike any other I’ve had. It was soft and a little fatty, and it was covered in a sweet and tangy sauce and topped with veggies a la Korean street taco. It paired wonderfully with the pinot noir Thompson selected. On the way out I wanted to tell people coming in, “Get the brisket or you won’t have lived a complete life.”
Saint Martha—brisket maker of my dreams—is named after the patron saint of cooks and servants. The Koreatown restaurant is run by the same people who run Tart, the Fairfax restaurant where diners can jump in the pool for half-off their brunch. Saint Martha faces a nondescript parking lot, and so its interior steals a page from restaurants like Melisse: If the view stinks, don’t give the customer a stinky view. Saint Martha has no windows, pushing the customer’s focus to the art, each other, and, of course, the food.
My wife Jen and I enjoyed an array of creative dishes, including the seaweed sea urchin “tataki” with avocado mousse, hearts of palm and seaweed Doritos (that’s them on the right—they were great); octopus with Koshihikari rice, sauce nero, lardo and espelette; steak and oyster tartare with champagne sabayon and bone marrow beignets; and diver scallops with black trumpet mushrooms, endive, white yam puree and smoked dulse.
The brisket was the grand finale. Growing full, I forced myself to stop eating, and our server wrapped the precious remainder in a tinfoil swan, which I lovingly placed in the backseat of the car for the ride home. I wondered if I should buckle it in. I didn’t want anything to happen to it. “Drive carefully,” I told my wife.
I finished it off at lunch the next day.
And now the question…the big question…the only one that matters.
Saint Martha: Is it good?
Saint Martha is good.
Have I mentioned the brisket?
All images stolen from the Saint Martha website
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