Saint Martha sommelier and general manager Mary Thompson wants diners to be comfortable. That may be why when you enter the semi-hidden strip mall restaurant on Western, you’ll spy a large glass jar filled with soju, blackberries, cantaloupe, and bay leaf. The fruity solera-blended concoction flow freely at Saint Martha, with servers offering a taste to customers who are waiting for a table, or have just finished their meal. “It’s just something we like to give out from time to time,” says Thompson, who worked at restaurants like Daniel and Jean-George in New York before traveling west to Portland and eventually L.A., where she served as G.M. at John Seldar’s Rivera, among other places.
Thompson’s wine list, which she designed to pair with chef Nick Erven’s offbeat small plates, is as complex and multi-faceted as the food. Sure, you’ll find a classic Sancerre from the Loire Valley and a juicy Pinot Noir from Oregon, but also less common gems, like a Riesling grown near New York’s Finger Lakes, a Northern Italian “orange wine” from cult winemaker Dario Princic, a complex Viognier from Virginia, or a dry Blanc du Bois from Texas. “I wanted to showcases things that people haven’t seen before,” says Thompson, “wine regions like Texas, Virginia, or Baja California are starting to come into their own.”
But all the variety doesn’t mean wine drinkers should be intimidated. Each wine (plus sake and sherry) is available by taste, glass, piche (carafe) or bottle—offering an accesible way to explore the list at your own pace.
As for pairings, Thompson also works with Erven at Tart at the Farmer’s Daughter Hotel where they serve as G.M. and chef respectively, so the duo have a familiarity that shows on the menu. “Nick was very creative and inventive with many of the dishes at Sainta Martha, so I wanted to pour some weird and unique wines that matched the food without overshadowing it.”
For example: One of the most refreshing summer dishes on Saint Martha’s menu is a raw milk panna cotta with jellied tomato dashi and a bright array of just-cooked summer vegetables. It’s a great companion to a chilled, chuggable bottle of Broadbent, a sparkling Vinho Verde from Portugal that bursts with crispness and acidity. If there’s a better cure for the dog days of summer, we’ve yet to find it.
Saint Martha, 740 S. Western Ave., Koreatown, 213-387-2300