By Dan England
Martel, a French (American ) bistro in Fairfield, is named for a small town in the Dordogne Valley in France, not too far from Turenne, a picturesque village where Martel’s owner, Marty Levine, is a sometimes occupant. Most of the time, however, he hovers in the corner by the attractive and welcoming bar making sure pours are generous and customer needs are receiving the helpful wait staff’s full attention.
Daily specials, under the direction of Executive Chef Roland Olah, tempt diners even before they have had a chance to consider the wide-ranging main menu with its emphasis on French cuisine. These include soup (do not be surprised if you start exclaiming “Oh, that’s good!” to a stranger at a nearby table) and appetizers, such as whole belly clams. There is always a fish special, such as the fabulous swordfish, as well as a meat dish, such as the pork shank (a Henry VIII sized portion that will surely get you to use the word succulent).
Of course, if you opt for one of the specials, you will have to ignore the regular entrees like the Duck Confit that would make a French gastronome groan with delight, or the exquisite Meat Loaf. The Romaine Salade is dressed up with bufala mozzarella, warm potatoes, pancetta and a creamy horseradish dressing. For lighter fare, there is a charcuterie board with prosciutto, dry sausage, pate and local cheeses. Classic escargot is not served in one of those little white partitioned ramekins, but rather on country bread with crimini mushrooms, tomato, Madeira cream and hints of heat and garlic.
For lunch, a sandwich perhaps, such as a Croque Monsieur, or a PLT (pancetta, arugula, tomato and mozzarella) will surely satisfy. There is also a sandwich that incorporates braised short ribs that are a regular part of the entree menu, and if you are one of those people who can’t see the point of ordering chicken out at a nice restaurant, the whole roast baby chicken will convince you otherwise. Oh, and don’t overlook the truffled macaroni and cheese which will certainly wipe out your guilt for ordering it with your first bite.
For dessert, try a Warm Apple Tarte served with ice cream of course, a rockslide of Beignets that are so light you may think you skipped dessert, or the chocolate cake that will tell you otherwise. Did we mention the chocolate fondue for two or the Pots de Creme trio? How about the Mixed Berry Shortcake served with Grand Mariner and whipped cream?
The decor is tasteful, upscale and punctuated by the tasteful art created by a friend of the owner. Once you make your way through the newly added rock-walled patio, the bar area features a large wooden mantel, filled with the usual adult beverage fare and some specialty French cognacs. The main dining room is pleasant, not overly crowded and somehow maintains a quiet hum when full. There is a nice energy about the place contributed to by the lack of a TV pointlessly flickering away. Sports bar enthusiasts will be disappointed but those wanting to concentrate on their companion and their meal will not miss the distraction. Add to that service is both omniscient and unobtrusive and the full picture starts to evolve.
Stimulation of the sort that comes with wine abounds. The extensive wine list is put together personally by the owner and a few trusted palates. No bottle is over $90 and most are in the $40 range, but you could use a dart to pick from the wine list and wouldn’t go wrong. You can get a generous carafe maison, or just order by the glass from an excellent and unusual selection priced at about $10. And here’s the thing about a glass of wine, or any cocktail at Martel—the pour is generous, like the amount from your best friend in a good mood.
Speaking of cocktails, there is a happy hour that will really make you happy. It runs Sunday to Friday, 4pm to 6pm. No buffalo wings here. Instead, there are beautifully presented oysters fresh from the Long Island Sound, plump shrimp and briny clams, with a variety of sauces and in any combination you choose. So that sounds like a once- in-a-blue-moon treat, right? Um, actually, they’re only $1 each, what Marty calls Buck-a-Shuck—as many as you want.
The basics: Martel is located at 2316 Post Road in Fairfield CT
For information call (203) 292-6916
On Sundays, a brunch is featured and food is served all day every day from 11:30 am until 10:30 pm. Martel doesn’t take reservations but everyone usually gets accommodated. Take out is fine and the place is handicap accessible.
The bottom line: best restaurant in Fairfield.