In 2018, when Martino’s Cuban, a Somerville favorite, closed after nearly 30 years, the owners’ son, Martino Linares, 37, set out to open his own place. It took a while to develop the concept for De Martino, which opened in April. Instead of traditional Cuban, Linares says, “I knew it had to be different.”
Linares spent two months working the line at Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen in Morristown, his first foray into a professional kitchen that wasn’t his family’s. The experience led him to reimagine his Cuban father’s native cuisine as “New Wave Cuban. I wanted to keep my father’s authentic dishes, but elevate the food and experience,” says Linares, whose mother is Colombian.
Linares found a space just off Main Street, one block from where his parents’ place once stood. As head chef, he hired an old high school friend, Ryan Corbin, who has worked at the Ryland Inn, Ninety Acres and Mistral. Veterans of the old place may experience culture shock. “People come in, like, ‘Hey, where’s the buffet?’”
De Martino delivers an experience more intimate, but also more elegant. The gray and beige walls are accented with large paintings illustrating life in Cuba: a vintage blue car parked in an alley, a man pensively smoking a cigar, a woman sitting on steps with her dog.
The menu updates tradition, often in appealing ways, as in its version of cod fritters. Instead of simply baking the fish, Linares and Corbin infuse it with flavor by poaching it in herbs, lemon and milk and smoking it over wood chips. The flesh is then balled, battered and deep-fried. The fritters are served with a winning Dijon mustard–spiked Creole sauce. Empanadas (beef or potato) come with another memorable sauce, creamy and bright green, of cilantro, lime, garlic and shallots. It was so fresh and herbaceous that I wanted to dip everything I ate in it. Yucca frites come with two delicious dips: avocado aioli and an earthy beet ketchup.
Less successful was the pork belly. Despite a two-day cure in salt, brown sugar and espresso grinds, followed by 14-plus hours cooking sous vide, the meat was tough and the flavor was overly salty, with little hint of coffee. (Oversalting is a problem in other dishes as well.) The accompanying apple, fennel and radish slaw was pleasingly crunchy, but lacked acidity.
Linares puts his own twist on several classic dishes. Instead of the traditional pork shoulder, his pernil osso buco uses a braised, well-seasoned pork shank on the bone. He serves it over a traditional mofongo of mashed plantains, but seasoned with a lively brace of spices.
His ropa vieja (shredded beef stew), on the other hand, is clearly recognizable as the national dish of Cuba. For the grilled meat dish, churrasco, he uses seared skirt steak enhanced by another terrific sauce, a chimichurri of charred tomatillos and poblano peppers. Too bad there was so little of it. The churrasco is supposed to come with Cuban rice and beans, but on the busy Friday night I visited, I was told they had run out of it and was served plain white rice instead. No matter. The complex chimichurri and the steak, grilled a perfect medium rare, held the spotlight. Fried sweet plantains, a Caribbean staple, accompanied both dishes.
After our waitress raved about the whole fried red snapper, we were eager to try it. Over a tasty mélange of sautéed onions, tomatoes, green olives and red peppers, the snapper arrived crispy and fragrant. But once we dug in, we found the flesh overcooked and dry.
There are just two desserts, both made in house and both very good: a coconut flan and a tres leches cake. The latter is a nod to the old Martino’s, where the buffet would be capped by servers delivering a tres leche slice to each diner. Yet De Martino is not Martino’s 2.0. And that’s more than okay.
- Cuisine Type:Modern Cuban
- Price Range:Moderate
- Price Details:Appetizers, $6–$14; entrées, $20–$32; sides, $2–$6; desserts, $8
- Ambience:At once soothing and stimulating, with neutral tones and art-filled walls
- Service:Warm and accommodating
- Wine list:BYO