I like to put myself in artful settings as often as possible. Doing this feeds my soul. I like sharing meals with good company and taking my time. These, too, bring meaning to my life.

When eating good food is also a transcendental experience, life is so darn good I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

If you read my column last week, you're probably thinking I really have gone mad. No, I'm just still lost in the reverie of my meal at Martine earlier this week.

I've heard it said that service is best on a Tuesday night, and this week certainly proved the point. The place was half full, and the ambience was perfect for a long chat and a tasty meal.

There have been times I've eaten at Martine when things have been downright bustling, and even then it's still great — simple menu, excellent cooking, a sophisticated setting.

The summer menu at Martine and the specials lately have been really fantastic. I love the tapas Martine serves because plates are sized just right for tasting a larger variety of offerings. If you are not familiar with tapas, think of them as a meal full of appetizers. Start with a few, order another round, sample some more, go home happy.

My friend Pam and I oohed and aahed our way first through the Mediterranean-influenced menu, and then through a first course of soup and salad. Soup for me was a cream soup of roasted red potatoes, saffron and fennel. Subtle and smooth with the delicate flavor of fennel and the barest hint of roasted potato skin.

Pam's salad was fresh young greens, roasted grape tomatoes, Pecorino Romano cheese and grilled portobello mushroom slivers with a delicate tangy dressing.

Tapas came up soon after these and we shared seared scallops over a risotto cake, flavored lightly with cumin. I am particular about scallops, they can't be too big and they must be absolutely fresh. I was very happy with the scallops at Martine.

We also shared walnut-studded salmon cakes masala, with a smoky-spicy harissa aioli drizzled over top. Again, this is something I am particular about. Salmon can be dry in ideas like this, so the recipe must be dead on. And man, were they ever good.

Also at the table was an interesting dish of small, thickish pasta called oricchiette, with a thin, tangy jus and shreds of morrel mushrooms and duck confit. It's great to see morrels this far into the summer, as they are one of those seasonal treats that are missed once they go.

I liked the elements of this dish, but the pairing of the al dente pasta and the "broth" weren't as well-matched as I would like.

Beef critics will be satisfied with the tenderloin resting on a tender potato cake and topped with minced crimini mushrooms. The beef is rare and has amazing texture and inherent flavor.

You should still have room for dessert after tapas, something about the size and pacing of the meal makes this so. I recommend Martine's grilled gingerbread with berries, caramel and vanilla gelato. And if chocolate is required, the Decadence is your choice. The densely creamy flourless cakelet swims in a pool of creme anglaise and a dab of vanilla gelato.

Martine is an excellent choice for fine dining downtown. The sophistication, cooking, service and intimate setting are among the finest in our city — and yet, it is refreshing that Martine is ultimately approachable, and unstuffy, as well.

Prices for tapas range from $7.95-$8.95, soup or salad $5, entrees $15-$17, desserts $7.


Martine

**** 1/2 (out of five)

Hours: Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-10 p.m.; Saturday 5-11 p.m.

Location: 22 E. 100 South

Phone: 363-9328

Payment: major credit cards, checks, travelers checks

Reservations: recommended on weekends


Stephanie Tanner-Brown is a free-lance writer and designer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News.

E-MAIL: stephanie@desnews.com