I’ve never been to a Marlin Kaplan restaurant, until this past weekend. I’m familiar with the popular One Walnut, and of course, I’ve heard of the now closed Lire and Pig Heaven, but for whatever reason, have never made it to any of them. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again, and when my husband asked me where I wanted to celebrate my 32nd birthday, I quickly answered with Luxe.
Prior to heading into Luxe, we checked out a couple of the stores in the up and coming Gordon Square Arts District, including our friend Danielle’s store, Room Service, and the neighboring store, duoHome. Both are wonderful home stores featuring all sorts of fun and unique treats for your personal space. More on Room Service later.
After visiting these two beautifully decorated stores with wonderful offerings, it’s a perfect fit to have Luxe as a neighbor. What a beautiful space. Simple, rustic sophistication with a lot of vintage touches and good use of exposed brick. For example, dishtowels that remind me of the ones my grandma use to have hanging in her kitchen, are used as runners on the table. Moreover, the dishes – they reminded me of the fun throwback finds you would pick up at Fishs Eddy. And speaking of my grandma, the server’s station looked like an old credenza from her house. It’s clear Marlin shares the same good taste my grandma has.
Marlin also pays homage to the space’s former tenant by using the bank vault to store wine. And in the bar area when you first walk in, you are immediately greeted by the giant bar, which has to be from the 1920s or 1930s.
The only element we didn’t care for were the quotes. In general, I like his idea of using quotes and tried to read several, but to me, it was a bit too chaotic all grouped together on the window and almost too much.
The Mediterranean menu is a mix of shared and small plates, sandwiches, pasta and pizza with four daily specials serving as a larger meal. The drink menu offered a good variety of wines, brews and fun and inventive cocktails, like lavender and blueberry handmade lemonade with citrus vodka or the Splendor, with fresh pomegranate and sparkling wine. And much like Bar Cento and Lolita, everything on the menu, from food to drinks, is fairly reasonable.
Jamie, continuing with his summer beer kick, opted to try his new favorite beer: pyramid apricot. I think he is also enjoying having a pregnant wife and thus a designated driver for the next six months because he enjoyed several.
For our meal, I started with the panzanella special with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, olives and crunchy bread, while Jamie went with the calamari with fried scallions, spicy tomatoes and lemon aioli. For our meal, we opted to share the potato gnocchi with asparagus, peas and tomato saffron sauce and the Plain Jane pizza with mozzarella, marinara sauce and prosciutto. While there were several interesting pizza options, I’ve noticed my tastes have changed slightly (thank you, hormones) and it was this simple pizza that really jumped out at me. For dessert, we went with the bananas foster sundae.
Well, Kaplan has lived up to the reputation I have heard so much about. Every bite of our meal, from start to finish, was incredibly wonderful. The salad was so fresh, simple and packed with flavor, especially the olives. And speaking of fresh, the pasta was surprisingly fresh and light, not at all heavy, which is typically what I expect from gnocchi. The saffron in the sauce really made this dish.
However, my favorite dish of the evening was easily the pizza, which is ironic because I only thought I’d have a slice and ended up having three (plus finished the last two for breakfast the next day). This super thin and crusty pizza was so good; it’s easily my new favorite traditional pizza in town. The taste, specifically the sauce, was very familiar to me and reminded me of something. I’m not sure what, but clearly better than whatever I was thinking of since I can’t even recall it. The prosciutto was perfect, not too salty, and complimented the pizza well. There were several other options for the Plain Jane pizza, but this is the version I am going to be craving.
Another winner was the dessert. Simple and hit the spot with plenty of caramelized bananas. I especially savored this sweet ending because my birthday is the one day of the year I get to pick dessert. Which honestly, I can’t complain considering I usually pick everything else.
I have to say my first impression with Marlin Kaplan was definitely a memorable one. What a great restaurant he created in this up and coming neighborhood. During our meal, we had the opportunity to meet Marlin. Of course, I told him about the blog and regular chef interviews, so look for one from this former ad exec turned chef soon.