Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Marea Review

Marea: If you haven't heard about this sweet spot on Central Park South, then you haven't been paying attention. This name has recurringly popped up as a place worth mentioning —on twitter feeds with people spying celebrities dining here or food industry notables posting about their amazing meals. And, if you want to take it from a lowly food blogger, the hype is justified.

A dinner at Marea should come with a warning — you may develop a love/hate relationship here. This is the type of meal that leaves you feeling like you can't breathe at the end because you need to unbutton those pants. You'll be in pain but a pain that you wish you felt more often. Even when you are so full you can't take another bite, you urge yourself to do so because you don't want to miss out on a thing. You'll curse those extra pounds at the end of the week, but use the memory of the meal to motivate you to run harder at the gym so you can eat here again. It's pricey and you might be inclined to lament how much this will lighten your wallet, but you'll be overwhelmed by an appreciation for how far your money goes and how much a good meal can do to bring you happiness.
Amuse bouche
Parsnip soup with shrimp and lemon zest. The lemon pierced through the thick soup with the heavy flavor of the root vegetable, making for a zippy opener. But the soup was almost too thick to shake out of the narrow shot glass into my mouth; I hated seeing the lingering drips that I couldn't get out of the shot glass.

Ricci: Two crostini with a heap of sea urchin blanketed by the transparent layer of lardo and a shaking of sea salt. Heavenly, with the sweet flavor of the ocean.

Tasting of crudo: Geoduck with fresh chilies and lemon. A lovely solid, clamlike texture buffeted by the chili. The acidity of the lemon was a nice, light undercurrent.
Delicate shrimp on paper-thin zucchini slices and lemon zest. These shrimp had a surprising creaminess to them.
Branzino with sturgeon caviar and mussels vinaigrette. A great choice for caviar lovers with a generous portion complementing the fresh fish.

Zeppole: Seaweed, shrimp and chickpea fritters served with a tartar-like sauce. The texture was unexpectedly soft, not crispy like deep-fried things typically are. Once past that surprise, the ingredients blended together well, in the lightest version of zeppole that you'll ever try.

Grilled octopus, insalata di riso, fava, yellow tomato. The charring gave it crisp edges and a wonderful ashy flavor while preserving the tenderness of the sea meat.

Nova Scotia lobster with burrata, eggplant al funghetto, basil. The burrata was more like mayonnaise than I expected and the eggplant tasted pickled. I was excited to order this based on recommendations I had read and the lobster was good, but overall this wasn't a dish I would tout as much as others have.

It's amazing how much better pasta tastes when it has been cooked to the right degree of doneness. Top that off with some amazing flavor combinations and it's hard to go wrong. When you taste the pastas at Marea, you'll realize how many places still don't get it right.

Fusilli with red wine braised octopus and bone marrow. Order this for an unusual combination of octopus in a tangy tomato and red wine sauce that still manages to bring comfort in a hearty helping of chewy al dente pasta. You'll be amazed at how well it comes together.

Spaghetti with crab, Santa Barbara sea urchin, basil. A bright and rich pasta dish.

Garganelli with sausage ragu, parmigiano. Of all the pastas we sampled, this was the simplest in the sense that it felt like something you could easily be eating at home, but don't get me wrong — the quality was still better than anything I could make!

Ferratini with manila clams, calamari, hot chilis. The pasta came in a slightly brothy liquid  that worked well with the seafood. I loved that the dish was quite spicy.

Branzino with broccoli rabe.

John Dory with brussel sprouts, pancetta.

Roasted guinea hen, black trumpet mushrooms, cabbage, rosemary. The menu tilts heavily toward fish; this hen and a steak were the only main options for those craving meat. Normally I would take that as a sign to stick to what the restaurant clearly specializes in and I almost never order the "chicken" option as it tends to be boring. But I had heard that Marea had managed to cover all its bases and so decided to balance all the seafood I'd already head with a little more meat and didn't have a single regret. The hen, though prepared fairly simply, was tender and meaty with the ever-important crispy skin and served with flavorful and buttery sides.

I liked the pasty chef's philosophy:


Chocolate and hazelnut mousse cake with fior di latte gelato. Standard, but satisfies the chocolate cravings.
Panna Cotta with huckleberry frozen yogurt. The huckleberry frozen yogurt — wow! I wish I could get more of that.

 Torrone (almond-flavored) gelato with black cocoa thin cookies and sour cherry compote.

Ginger beer budino bread pudding with stout gelato. This, a dark horse dessert, was the winner among them. The flavors were strong and balanced. The stout gelato was a little too heavy, but I'm not a fan of stout flavor in general.

Petit fours
Chocolate truffles: peanut butter, caramel, mocha and mint; Chocolate and almond biscotti. Often the petit fours are throwaway sweets, but not here. These were quality chocolates and the biscotti were great coffee-dippers.

This was a top meal in its class and I could see it easily becoming one of my favorites, equal to a place like Gramercy Tavern. The setting is beautiful, the service spot-on, and the food perfectly executed. I knew I wanted to return before we even walked out the door.


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  2. This is fantastic. I was recently there for the 12 course tasting, and although it was spectacular, I still left feeling like I had still missed out on something - and after reading your review, I think I know what it was! You were able to sample a huge variety of dishes - was this part of any particular tasting, or just many dishes ordered by your party?

  3. We didn't do any particular tasting menu, just ordered ala carte. We're just pigs and like to sample as much as possible so we just ordered lots of stuff — and even at that, it was hard not to want to try more!