Aside from the food itself, one of the most important aspects of a restaurant experience is the ambience. It is an elusive quality that communicates the character of a place. You recognize it immediately upon entry, as you take the first breath of atmosphere. This quality is a concoction of the lighting, layout, furniture, and even the people you see when you step inside. Whether you feel like you can relax or feel like you are constantly being watched is a direct product of this attribute. Nick Erven, head chef at TART and Koreatown’s new resto, Saint Martha speaks to the powers of ambience and how he contributes to that character with the food he serves.
Nick Erven is really into the feeling of things, even down to the knife he chooses to work with. “Some knives just don’t feel right in your hand. My favorite knife is all beat up,but its not light, it has a good weight.” It is a japanese Sakai knife with a carbon steel blade. Not particularly fancy, but reliable, sharp, and was a gift from a good friend. It is no surprise that Erven values well crafted things. From in Riverton, Wyoming by way of Fresno, he has the affinity for comfort that is so well cultivated in the heartland.
Erven knows what he is doing in the kitchen but isn’t trying to be flashy he says, “Our food is unique, but not smoke and mirrors. It’s comfort food done in a slightly different way.” Like their beef brisket with house made hoisin sauce, or quinoa topped asparagus with lemon pith puree, they serve things you’ve probably had before, but never quite the way the do it. It is those contributions that add so much to the overall experience.
The last thing they want to do is cook for themselves, it is fine food, but very approachable. Saint Martha has a cozy dinning area speckled with remixed renaissance art and quaintly accommodates 38 guests. Whether you are sliding in a booth or grabbing a table they want you too feel welcome. “I’m in this business to make people happy, you don’t need a culinary degree to enjoy dinner.”
Before Tart, Nick sharped his skills at M Bistro in WeHo and Messhall, in Los Feliz. He’s formed a philosophy that drives him to stay aware of what happens after dinner. He wants you to come and eat heartily, but not feel too full to still go out dancing if you want to. “It’s a place to end your night, but to be a portion of it.” he elaborates.
It would seem as far as creating a welcoming cozy environment where people can come and enjoy great food Saint Martha is a success on all counts. Nick crafts the menu with this in mind and staff sommelier Mary Thompson adds her wealth of knowledge to the wine list as well.
Nick speaks with pride, not about how great the food and service are at Saint Martha but the fact that every now and again a group will come in and stay for a long while, laughing eating, and spending quality time together.His face lights up when he tells me a short story, “A couple weeks ago, two groups of strangers stayed for hours and rearranged the chairs forming their own dinner party.” It’ all about the ambience.
For reservations and info visit saintmartharestaurant.com
Saint Martha’s Restaurant
740 S Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90005
Koreatown, Wilshire Center
All photos by Carla Richmond (@go_carla_go)