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Ariana’s Restaurant – Chef Martin Murphy’s “Great Food Experience” Gets a New Home

Chef Martin Murphy’s
“Great Food Experience” Gets a New Home

This article will appear in the fall issue of Here in Hanover.
by Karen Wahrenberger photos by Lynn Bohannon

The fine-dining experience of the legendary Ariana’s Restaurant has moved and expanded in a location that is more convenient for most Upper Valley residents. Chef Martin Murphy and his entourage have set up residence in the Lyme Inn as of January 2018, moving south from the Bunten Farmhouse Kitchen in Orford, New Hampshire. While Chef Martin looks back fondly at his time at the small farm, he notes that the drive was a challenge for most Upper Valley residents, especially in the winter. “It has been a positive move for both of us,” he says, referring to the Inn and his restaurant. “We have more than doubled our business. It is a beautiful space and location.” In turn, the Inn’s phone is always ringing, with some people coming to stay at the Inn, according to Miranda, the front desk clerk, just to eat at Ariana’s. She recommends people book reservations at least a week in advance, especially for larger parties.

Chef Martin has worked in the restaurant business for 40 years, including in Maine and Florida. He comanaged Stella’s Restaurant in Lyme for several years before opening Ariana’s in Orford in July 2011. He says he realized “the goal of his life” when he opened his own restaurant and named it after his daughter, Ariana.

The chef has gained a loyal customer following stemming from his belief that fine dining is about the integrity of the ingredients. He focuses on farm to table dining, using fresh vegetables and meats from local farms. He gets his lamb from Epic Acres, veal from Robie Farm, and beef from Tensen Farm.

Since his culinary style is basically Mediterranean and he enjoys working with fish, he looks to the Gulf of Maine as his New England source for sustainable seafood ingredients. He “embellishes” his meat and fish dishes with sauces, local mushrooms, and vegetables from Echo Hill Farm and Root 5 Farm, but he believes it is all about the main ingredient. “I make all of my sauces from scratch, which is labor intensive, but I love them,” he adds.

“In reality, we have two menus,” he explains. “The signature vegan and gluten-free dishes on the fixed menu will never leave. They are crowd favorites. We get a lot of positive feedback from vegetarians.”

The fixed menu includes a warm spinach salad, mushroom crepes, a vegan tamale, vegan curried rice, a shrimp dish, and a chicken dish. But Chef Martin also likes to be creative and wants Ariana’s “to be a place for everybody.” So the second menu page is called “Tonight’s Additions” and changes every two to five days. He adds, “This is where I really play.”

Two to three meat dishes are offered in addition to fish or lobster dishes, and there is a filet mignon about 80 percent of the time. With “Tonight’s Additions,” Chef Martin says, “I’m able to be more creative, and I’m always keeping it different every time.” Desserts may include vegan avocado chocolate mousse, crème brûlée, or gingerbread upside-down cake.

“I don’t want to be stuffy,” he adds. Ariana’s offers a high-end table setting and several high-end menu items, but he also makes sure that there are reasonably priced regular menu items for everyone.

In addition to great food, Ariana’s has an impressive wine list and unique cocktail choices. Chef Martin’s son, Ryan Murphy, and his mixology partner, Ashley Aldridge, have come up with a trendy cocktail list that includes a “raspberry limondrop” vodka drink and a “wildflowers” cocktail with lavender-infused gin, simple syrup, Prosecco, rose petals, and a lavender and rose ice cube.

Twice a month, the restaurant hosts wine dinners for 30 people with a prix fixe menu and a guest winemaker. They are also booking smaller groups in the “tasting room” for five-course special parties.

Although Chef Martin is excited and energized by his new endeavor at the Lyme Inn, he concedes that doubling his business has been a lot of work. He has also had to double his staff, which initially “created a huge learning curve.” For him, employees are as important as the customers and are like family, so dinding and training so many at one time has been a challenge. He is grateful to have his former comanager from Stella’s, Maggie Schemmel, still working as his right-hand woman. She oversees the staff and is “the general” of the kitchen.

Because of the increased business, Chef Martin has less time now to come out and talk to his customers, the one major aspect of the move that he regrets. He has to spend three to four hours a night “doing aerobics” in the kitchen—maintaining the consistency and attention to detail his customers expect. He says, “I take a lot of pride in what I do.”

Chef Martin knows that ultimately he will have trained the right people to work the line at night so that he can focus on the “creative planning” part of the job. He is taking care of himself, though, and exercising and eating right because he says he plans to spend the rest of his life where he is now. “We put together real food with real people. It means a lot to all of us,” he says.

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