At a time when many restaurants are struggling, Fairfield’s newest eatery seems impervious to the faltering economy. Martel, a casual French bistro opened by the owners of Pane Vino in Westport, has been bursting at the seams since it opened in February. It is located on the Post Road in the former space occupied by Rory’s, however you’d be hard-pressed to find any similarities (save for the same bad parking situation).
Although the building’s footprint remains the same, the interior and exterior have been completely rehabbed. Among the changes are the flipped layout; the bar is now in the front room and the dining area in the back room. Both are attractive and feature both mahogany colored and black lacquered woods, red upholstered banquets and booths, and marble topped tables. The high ceilings, low lighting, and heavy framed mirrors all add to the bistro ambiance. Patrons are directed to use the front door which leads into the bar, rather than the side door which most of us had become accustomed to using at Rory’s. However, during peak hours, it is extremely difficult to navigate through the narrow and very crowded bar in order to reach the hostess stand, which is located in the middle of the restaurant.
On each of my visits, this was exactly the case. Martel does not take reservations, so expect to wait if you arrive past 6pm. There are a few bar tables that are first-come, first-served, but unless you don’t mind dining in the loud bar area (or having people backed up against your table while you eat), you are better off waiting for a table in the dining room.
The menu is moderately priced and casual. It includes a variety of sandwiches, burgers, and salads, but also has a very nice selection of entrees which range from comfort food (braised short ribs, meatloaf, truffled mac and cheese) to classic bistro fare (steak frites, roasted chicken) to Italian inspired (vegetable lasagna, lobster risotto, fettuccine Bolognese). There is also a lot of seafood, which seems to be a speciality of the house.
The wine list is also moderately priced, and includes about twenty bottles priced under $30. House wines are sold by the glass or by the carafe. The dessert menu is traditionally French, and features crème brulee (but flavored with banana and maple), a classic apple tarte ala mode, a trio of chocolate pots de crème (like a rich chocolate pudding), and beignets (which are similar to Zeppole, but light as air) to name a few. Word is that the ice cream sundae with toasted almonds is excellent, if you’re in the mood for something decidedly more American.
Each time I visited Martel, the service was good and very friendly. Our servers were always helpful and enthusiastic about both the menu and wine list. The pace of the meal was just right….not too fast or too slow. We did not feel rushed at any point, and were able to enjoy our wine and linger over coffee without being given the evil eye.
Whenever I’m eating out and planning to write a restaurant profile, I always keep my ears pricked for quotes from other diners. At Martel, I heard one woman say, “I don’t eat out often, but when I do, I’ll definitely come back here!”. Another person said she enjoyed the seared scallops so much that she “all but licked the plate clean” (they really were excellent). I heard a couple people (including one person in my party) commenting that they were not happy with their dinners, including the lobster risotto (“very little lobster”) and the seafood casserole (“lacking in flavor”). However, most people I talked to seemed to be very happy with the food and their overall experience.
I think Martel hits the trifecta with a good atmosphere, good food, and good wine. Oh, and good prices too. What more could you want?
My favorites: Mussels Au Gratin , Seared Scallops over Farro, Braised Short Ribs
Martel Bistro & Bar
2316 Post Road