Fine wine and food in charming, historic surroundings in New Hope, Pa.
By: Antoniette Buckley
NEW HOPE, Pa. Set back slightly from Main Street’s store fronts in New Hope, Pa., stands a tiny stone building that preserves a slice of the area’s history and for the last 20 years has housed Martine’s. This restaurant grants a privilege to its patrons to spend some down-time over fine wine and food in its charming surroundings.
The building was built in the 1700s before the American Revolution and operated as a salt store where townspeople would purchase salt to preserve meat. Just that snippet of information conjures up quaint images of a time gone by. Being in the restaurant augments that feeling and adds an updated sense of style.
Tables topped with plain white tile interspersed with pretty floral tiles keep the intimate old space looking alive. On the first floor, an active bar where locals gather is the focus of the room. However, we were led up a steep narrow staircase befitting a 1700s building, to the most desirable spot to dine a smoke-free, dimly lit, nugget of a room that was flooded with smooth music. We looked over the menu and waited for our first dish to the tunes of Steely Dan and then ate underneath an album of blues artist, Robert Cray.
White plaster walls and green painted half walls have the ability to fit in with a historical building and still put a contemporary feel forward. Paintings done by local artists are for sale and displayed all around. A small and handsome dividing wall with glass window panes makes a clever addition to the space even though it sits smack dab in the center of the room. Exposed wooden beams cradle a peaked ceiling and allow a view of a beautiful stained glass window that faces the street. Hanging lamps glow over every table, each displaying a different stained glass lamp shade. They could have served us meat loaf and we would have been happy here.
Fortunately, the menu did pique our interest much more than meat loaf would have. The menu offers an eclectic array of fine foods without flowery descriptions. Rack of Lamb, Filet Mignon, Magret of Duck, and Seafood Puffed Pastry are all on the regular menu. Entrees range from about $16 to $24, with most leaning toward the higher end. Yet the appetizers on the regular menu, which swing heavily on the seafood side, are the most shocking in the price category. They are overpriced in a range of $8.50 to $18.
A $9 special salad of emerald green baby spinach, artichokes, roasted red peppers and torn strips of provolone cheese was a bright medley of colors and flavors, both marinated and fresh. The cheesy French onion soup ($5.50) pleased a fan of this classic cold-weather starter.
The Melange of Seafood appetizers ($15), featured unquestionably fresh and vibrant shellfish in a mild white wine, garlic and herb broth. The mussels, clams, shrimp and sea scallops were cooked just right, and all had a larger-than-life presence that we savored. The garlicky broth was good, but not so tempting that we had to soak up every last drop with bread.
Wild Mushroom Pastry ($12) with a rosemary sauce that didn’t harbor much rosemary flavor was actually a phyllo dough pastry triangle cooked separately from the wild mushroom ensemble. The mushrooms were pleasant in an unexpectedly sweet sauce that involves tomatoes. It was not the early rendition I was expecting, but it sat well with the taste buds.
Our two entrees diverged on a measure of success. A special entree of the evening featured a dry and chewy veal chop ($23) in a Madeira mushroom sauce. The sauce could have been the only element to save the dish if there had been enough of it to go around. Instead, it was equivalent to a minuscule puddle in a vast desert. Roasted potatoes on the side were unexciting, but the green beans found in both entrees were done exceptionally well.
Magret of Duck ($20) with a pear and red zinfandel sauce was wonderful. Slices of buttery textured, well-flavored duck melted in your mouth while the scrumptious zinfandel sauce seeped into every nook and cranny of the dish. That served the rice and green beans well, and made them more than just an aside. Thinly sliced red pear graced the dish with a sweet, inventive interest.
Two desserts also took opposite paths. Key Lime Pie ($5), admittedly on the sweet side, still delighted with a raspberry sauce drizzled on the plate for dipping. But the Bread Pudding ($5), with a warm bourbon glaze, was a monstrous piece that was too dense and badly burned underneath.
Service was sufficient. Our bread and wine were slow to arrive to the table, but our appetizers and entrees were presented at a comfortable pace. Our server was the only one waiting on tables in a rather full restaurant that spans two stories. It’s no wonder her manner seemed like it fit more in a diner than it did here serving escargot.
The food at Martine’s doesn’t quite meet the high expectations that its aura seems to set for itself. But, the atmosphere is so dreamy, I almost don’t care.