For Italians, “la dolce vita” is not merely an experience of enjoying good food. The convivial ambiance of a meal—chatting with the chef about what’s in season, socializing amongst friends and nearby diners—all these experiences are as important, if not more important, that the food itself. And, if any one place symbolizes that experience of interactive dining, it is the Roman piazza.
At Marta, The Redbury Hotel’s trattoria and pizzeria just north of Madison Square Park, piazza culture is alive and well. Grab a seat at the pizza bar and watch the chefs tend to the smoldering wood-fired oven, chatting away with nearby diners. A banquette located in the center of the restaurant offers an ideal place to see-and-be-seen, while a perch nestled above the bustling dining room—the mezzanine—invites diners to simply take it all in from a bird’s eye view, overlooking the hustle and flow of the ever-evolving scene.
“We are driven by Roman authenticity,” says General Manager Erik Lombardo, who points out that Marta does more than replicate the Roman experience. “But this is New York City, after all. New Yorkers, and I am one of them, have a certain way they want something– a level of street cred.”
Take the pizza that emerges from Marta’s wood-fired oven: a crispy, thin crust topped with fresh, seasonal ingredients. It takes the style of Roman pizza and runs with it, becoming something all its own. “We have Italian guests who come in, who see our oven—which takes three full days to heat or cool—and taste the cracker-like crust on our pies. It shows them that we’ve done our research, and some have said they’ve enjoyed our food as much or more than what they get at home,” says executive chef Lena Ciardullo.
Pizza may be the obvious draw, but it’s not the only star. From the off-menu, wood-fired pork chop for two, to the “Marta Mista”—a salad adorned with radicchio, marinated vegetables, and Grana Padano—regulars know that sharing a pizza as primi is (pro-tip!) the best way to enjoy the menu. “If you want to simply have a pizza party, we can definitely do that,” Lombardo says, “But we may be the only restaurant in the city without gas running in our kitchen, and we take full advantage of that wood-fired flavor. It’s an experience you absolutely cannot recreate at home.”
Another experience you can’t get at home? The robust, expert-curated wine list, which offers an extensive selection and remarkable value across the board. “[The wine program] has become a bit of a hidden gem for wine drinkers, whether they come for our Italian bottles or the Champagne selection, which we feel is one of the best in the city,” says Lombardo. If you’re wondering why Champagne and not Prosecco, the restaurant also pours the latter by-the-glass from custom cuvées made exclusively for Marta (and sister restaurant Maialino). Yet the higher acidity and refined fizz of Champagne—not to mention the celebratory nature of the drink—garners it a dedicated spot in the cellar. “Prosecco is great for a light drink at 4:30 in the afternoon,” Lombardo explains. ”Champagne is in a class of its own, and we want to offer our guests the best of what we can. It turns an evening into an event.”
Most of all, the strongest Roman aspect of Marta might be the everyday versatility it brings to the neighborhood: “In the summer, it smells like a BBQ. In the winter, you just want to cozy up,” Ciardullo notes. “We have a repeat lunch crowd who come for a reliable 45-minute meal they can share with their associates, but who will also pop in at 4pm for a snack when they’ve missed lunch. Or, when friends are visiting, they can use our space like their living room, to play host or tour guide.”
Yet you don’t have to be a regular to feel at home at Marta. The attentive-but-casual feeling of the restaurant may be typically Italian, but it also reflects why New Yorkers have become so enamored with restaurateur Danny Meyer’s hospitality-focused locales: “We skip the pomp and circumstance that can distract you from why you’re really here: to relax and enjoy yourself with other people,” Lombardo emphasizes. “The fact that we provide great food and drink means you have one less thing to worry about.”