Soup sleuth, Part V: Martin Cooks - PHOTOS
blog by Thea Tio • December 05, 2013 @ 3:10pm
“Soup is always the first course that people get, so we want it to be dramatic,” said Martin Cooks owner and head chef Martin Danilowicz.
“We usually try to go a little over-the-top with the garnishes. We made a pea soup and took phyllo dough and cooked it very thin and crispy and put prosciutto in between. Then we made a buttermilk ice cream that we shaved and on top of that phyllo dough crouton, we put a pea salad with pea tendrils and mint leaves,” Danilowicz said.
Dramatic indeed. Danilowicz opened Martin Cooks on May 1 and got the inspiration for his restaurant from his travels—which included the open-air kitchen concept from a Brooklyn restaurant.
“I never wanted to be in a conventional kitchen ever again. I wanted a kitchen that had windows so that I could look outside every day instead of being confined to a basement or back room. I wanted to be able to interact with customers, and I wanted the customers to be able to watch us cook,” said Danilowicz.
“I invite people into the kitchen when they come in, have a glass of wine and hang out; it’s very interactive,” he added.
The menu and wine list at Martin Cooks both change every week.
“It’s eclectic, you’ll have a different dining experience. You can feel comfortable coming here once a week for dinner and you’ll never have the same thing twice,” said Danilowicz.
The day I stopped in, Martin Cooks was serving a hearty Beef Stew (pictured right) topped with potatoes and carrots that made this soup look like a culinary piece of art.
Other soups that have been offered are: Pear and Parsnip; Apple and Cheddar and Mozzarella Soup with Tomato; and Tempura Basil.
Also, Purple Dumpling Soup has been on the menu, an eggplant and curried soup with homemade black-rice dumplings.
Another unique soup Danilowicz has concocted is Bread Soup.
“In Spain, they roast copious amounts of garlic then cook it in bread and chicken stock then puree it. A lot of these people were very poor and using leftover bread to thicken soup was natural. Not everybody could afford to buy cream. Bread Soup is a very traditional soup there,” explained Danilowicz.
The other soup that was offered the day I came in was a Butternut Squash Chili (pictured left), a hearty bowl with seven different chilies along with roasted squash and red kidney beans.
While this recipe is vegan, the ground-up chickpeas really do emulate the texture of meat. The only ingredients that aren’t vegan are the cornbread and sour cream ice cream served on top. This chili has a kick of heat to it and squash’s sweetness offers a crucial contrast.
Danilowicz says every week the staff tries to make something they’ve never made before in their lives.
“We have a lot of regular customers, so every week they’re expecting something different and better than before. So we really have to be on our game. It’s a constant challenge but I put more pressure on myself than my staff,” said Danilowicz.
His 10-person staff has worked together now for a few years even though Martin Cooks has only been open for a fraction of the time.
“We kind of know how the other thinks. We call all of our meat and fish purveyors, our farmers and see what’s available for that week. We list all of the ingredients they have and make long columns and figure out what’s going to go with what. Then we try to figure out how we can manipulate each ingredient, whether we turn something into ice cream, a powder or dehydrate something, so there’s lots of different textures through each dish,” Danilowicz said.
Danilowicz has been cooking for 20 years and started as a private chef in Buffalo, which he still does today along with his restaurant.
“Every year I’ll travel to a restaurant that I think is going above and beyond what I’m capable of, and I’ll go and work there for free. I have thousands of cookbooks—my life revolves around food,” said Danilowicz.
At Martin Cooks, lunch is served a la carte from Tuesday to Saturday with no reservations needed.
They have a prix fixe dinner menu: a five-to-seven course meal runs for $60 with an optional wine pairing for each course for an additional $40. The restaurant, situated at the entrance of the Horsefeather’s Building, seats 12-16 people Wednesday to Saturday for two dinner seatings at 6 and 8:30 p.m.
As of now, Fridays and Saturdays are booked six weeks out and Wednesdays and Thursdays are booked for the next week.
“It’s all been word of mouth, no advertising. The whole idea behind all of this was we all make a lot of decisions every day. When people come in for dinner, they don’t need to make any decisions. You come in and, as soon as you walk in the door, you get a glass of champagne. Our bartender Jimmy Wells starts bringing you wine, the food starts coming out—there’s no decisions to be made,” Danilowicz said.
“You don’t have to look at a long menu and try to figure out, ‘Do I want the pork or the fish?’ I think taking that thought process out for the customer, they really appreciate it. Most of our regular customers now don’t look online to see what the weekly menu is, they just show up, and then receive a dish they would never order normally in a restaurant,” he added.
Martin Cooks also has its very own grocery store adjacent to the kitchen.
“We sell products that are difficult to find in Buffalo. Different types of truffle products from Italy, canned seafood from Spain, wonderful maple syrups that are really hard to find. We carry different types of olive oil caviar and we make a lot of products ourselves as well,” said Danilowicz.
Those ingredients are incorporated into Martin Cooks menu. “So if you taste something you like, you can go to the grocery store and buy it,” he said.
Danilowicz thinks going out to eat isn’t as entertaining as it should be.
“When people come here, I want them to have a good time. I want them to have fun!” said Danilowicz.
“I had an 80-year-old woman come here the other night for the 8:30 seating, and she said ‘I don’t want to leave, I’m so comfortable and having so much fun. I don’t want to go home.’ That’s the best compliment anyone could ever give me, that’s just the best thing ever,” he said with a smile.