Marta’s Custom Wood-Fire Grills Evoke Brilliant Flavors

Executive chef Lena Ciardullo explains why wood fire is crucial to the Manhattan restaurant

Inside the near triple-height ceilings of The Redbury Hotel New York‘s Marta (an Italian restaurant from the Danny Meyer-owned Union Square Hospitality Group), ample airspace allows for the smoke of two wood fires to dissipate. One fuels the restaurant’s pizza oven. The second keeps the grill, cooktop, and convection chamber face-meltingly hot. Behind both, on most nights, is executive chef Lena Ciardullo.

“Wood fire is the story of Marta and our Grillworks grill is a centerpiece of that narrative,” Ciardullo tells us. “The many facets of our grill allow us to create a really diverse menu. Our grill has v-channel grates for cooking proteins with higher fat content like our heritage pork chops, mesh grates to cook more petite vegetables and greens, a plancha with extremely high heat to get a hard char, as well as fireboxes and a smoke box.”

Their Grillworks appliance, seemingly chopped at its waist, burns with such intensity that visits near it last mere seconds—otherwise, you’re left feeling a bit cooked. The fire burns below, wherein large logs keep the flame lit. To maintain the charred, smoked and seared flavors, the set-up can rarely be shut off entirely as doing so would render impossible the ability to get back up to temperature in time for the next service. Gas grills aren’t an option at Marta, as they’re not able to get hot enough for the restaurant’s standards. “Each feature enables the ability to create real complexity in flavor,” Ciardullo says.

The pizza here is tremendous. It’s Roman-style and thin but packs immense flavor into every inch. The Funghi (topped with fontina, mozzarella, hen of the woods, chanterelles and oyster mushrooms) is delectable, and the Mais (roasted corn, duck confit, provolone and pickled chilis) is unexpected but worth ordering multiple times over.

“Our focus is the freshest ingredients and mastering the subtlety of fire. We use each part of the grill to create something dynamic and special,” Ciardullo says. “Working with embers means managing your heat source as well as the food you’re cooking. In that way, fire is both technique and flavor.”

From the entree, appetizer and vegetable sections of the menu, ask for anything that’s seen the custom grill. The Calamari alla Diavola delivers smoky and savory deliciousness. The Salmerino, which pits fire-forged arctic char alongside marinated tuscan white beans, cherry tomatoes and oregano, is so rich with flavor that one begs to know the secret. But, the secret is no treasured seasoning formula or centuries-old marinade—it’s simply the searing of the fish atop a grill burning so brightly that the dining room feels like it’s in its orbit.

Images courtesy of Marta