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Bar Marta

PHOTOS: Christina Slaton

Restaurants often take on the personality of the neighborhood they’re in. Everything in the West Loop has a bit of revamped warehouse feel. Most Lincoln Park spots feel familial and neighborhoody. And dining in River North comes with a side of fake boobs and a face full of botox. It’s not absolute, but neighborhoods here are so defined that restaurant's can’t help but pick up on some of those characteristics. Not Bar Marta though, a place that's dictacting its own rules.

Bar Marta sits on the random corner of Chicago Ave. and a small side street, Washtenaw. The windows are blacked out so you can't see inside, and the entrance is barely noticeable even if you walked right by it. But there's a slim chance you'll be walking over here at all unless you're looking for Bar Marta. We consider this the crossroads of Humboldt Park and Ukrainian Village, an area not known for destination dining of this style. And that's what gives Bar Marta a blank canvas to do their own thing.

Once inside, you’re immediately hit with a small and dimly lit space, but one that’s full of people and conversation. It’s intimate dining in that tables are small and close together, but it's not formal or romantic. There’s a sense of coolness here, and overall, that's what Bar Marta brings to the table. It starts with not being able to see inside from the street, and is further emphasized by tables and the bar being packed at 9:30pm on a Wednesday night. That’s not a common occurrence in Chicago, and it speaks to the fact people are flocking here to grab a meal at all hours, days, and occasions of the week. You should go for a date, go for some action at the bar, or catch up with friends over cocktails and drinks as long as your group isn't any bigger than six.

The space is great, and when coupled with the food it creates the complete package. Just like the place as a whole, the food doesn't fit one particular cuisine. We'll call it American food with a hint of Italian, but in general there are a wide variety of dishes on a menu that has something for everyone without being overwhelmingly large. Bar Marta offers familiar items like steak frites, cacio e pepe pasta, and meatballs. But they also push the creative envelope with mussels, clams, and bone marrow in pork broth, marinated beets salad with grapefruit and sunflower seeds, and a green garganelli pasta topped with a pork ragu. It’s all good for sharing, which is the ideal way to do things so you can try it all.

And you should go try it all. Just don't try to peg Bar Marta into an already existing mold.

Food Rundown

Baked Oysters

Bar Marta's remix on oysters rockefeller. Oysters baked with smoked ham, horseradish, and bread crumbs. If you like oysters rockefelller you'll like these. You order them individually, which is nice.

Marinated Beets

Marinated purple beets with grapefruit, sunflower seeds, and mustard. The combination of the beets with the citrusy grapefruit is unique. You have to like grapefruit to like this dish, but if you do it's a good light bite.

Caesar Salad

This is what a caesar salad is supposed to be. Uncut lettuce, parmesan, anchovy caesar dressing, and bonito flakes, which add just a bit of extra flavor to give it some flare.

Chicken Liver Toast

A chicken liver pâté with crispy skin and chiles on grilled toast. The pâté is good but also really rich, so this is best shared amongst a few people. You won't want more than one piece.

Mussels & Clams

All kinds of yes. The presentation is fantastic in a giant pot with mussels, clams, and bone marrow in a pork broth. The broth is still rather light though, and it's overall a great dish.

Meatballs

Meatballs, red sauce, parmesan. We could eat two orders of these.

Cacio E Pepe

Handuct noodles with pecorni and black pepper. A simple and excellent dish that has the perfect balance of cheese and pepper.

Cheese Gnocchi

Light, pillowy fluffs of gnocchi goodness with lamb sausage, rapini pesto, and basil.

Garganelli

Herb pasta with pork ragu and fresh cheese. The most interesting of the pastas.

Steak Frites

If you're looking for your own dish that revolves around red meat, this is the way to go. The fries are great, especially with a bit of the chili aioli you'll get on the side.

Chocolate Tart

This is the only dessert we had, but if you're a chocolate fan this is a must order. It's basically a super rich chocolate pie with salted caramel and fresh whipped cream.

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