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Mar 9, 2011 08:23 PM

Going Overboard at Marea (review)

As usual, full review with photos on the blog: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot...

It's been well over a year since I've been to Marea, and I'm happy to say that the food is still stellar. While I've had both the 4 course prix fixe ($89) and the pasta and crudo tasting menu ($125, but they seem to be fazing it out) before, this time we went a la carte because I wanted to try the whole fish. It took a while working with the vast menu to plot the a la carte course of attack, but I think we did a very good job, even if we did go a little overboard.

To start, we had the signature RICCI, which is sea urchin draped in lardo with a little sea salt over a crostini. It's great, with the warm rich lardo a terrific pairing for the unctuous uni. But here's the thing. Every time I go there, I ask for a wedge of lemon and squeeze a few drops over it. I think it balances everything and makes it even better. If you've had the ricci here before, I strongly suggest trying it my way. If you've never had it before, I suggest trying it as the chef intended before adding the lemon juice.

Also joining us to start the meal were SARDINES, house marinated and served with arugula. It seemed a bit stingy at three tiny filets to an order, but they were absolutely delicious. The marinade was well balanced and the arugula was a good pairing. We could have eaten many more of these.

We got a preview of our whole branzino on ice. I pushed for this because you don't really find wild Italian branzino at many places. The ones they have average two pounds, and are meant for two, but we split the flesh amongst the three of us and just ordered more from elsewhere on the menu.

Our amuse was a butternut squash soup. The texture, combined with the sweetness, made me feel like I was drinking syrup.

For the most part, one of my dining companions kept to his diet and ate vegetables. A simple salad of greens and vinaigrette is literally the only full plate of vegetables/salad on the entire menu. The other vegetables come as sides.

It was really hard, but we narrowed it down to four choices for our crudo course. SPARNOCCHI were side striped shrimp, lemon, black lava salt, served on a thin cucumber slice. The shrimps were super sweet and the cucumber and lemon made it a very refreshing first bite. LANCIA, which was marlin with sturgeon caviar and mussel vinaigrette. The firm flesh of the marlin held up well to the very tasty sturgeon caviar. This was good stuff. I'm also pretty sure that there's much more caviar on the a la carte order than on an order that comes with the prix fixe. The next piece doesn't seem to be on the current menu, so I don't have a description. I remember that it was a type of mackerel served with shisito peppers, and that there was an acidic note that went well with the strongly flavored fish. Our final selection was the TONNO, which was a cube of very fresh tasting bigeye tuna with an oyster crema and crispy sunchokes. The crisp on top was really important to this bite, adding a saltiness to the flavor in addition to the crispy texture.

We then moved on to the antipasti. First up was the RICCIOLA. Lightly poached yellowtail, yogurt, oven roasted pepper, hen of the woods, and whitefish roe. The yellowtail was cooked beautifully, and I really liked how the yogurt and the roe went together with the fish.

Another one of his signatures is the ASTICE, which features nova scotia lobster, burrata, eggplant al funghetto, and basil. This is unique because you don't normally see lobster and cheese paired together. Everything works really well together, from the creamy textures to all the flavor components playing important roles, especially the basil.

However good those were, the POLIPO was the dish that I thought was truly stellar. Grilled octopus with smoked potatoes, pickled red onion, chilies, and tonnato was absolutely wonderful. From the outrageously tender meat with a slight char on the edge of the tentacle, to the sweetness of the sauce mixed with the smoked potatoes, this dish just wowed.

Next was the pasta course. First was the TORTELLI, lobster ravioli with bagna cauda and trout roe. While I enjoyed this, and there was definite lobster flavor, I think I much prefer a previous version I had here when the lobster raviolis were mezzalunas.

We also had the signature FUSILLI with red wine braised octopus and bone marrow. There is so much complexity at work here, and yet the components are balanced in harmony, such as the richness of the bone marrow and the acidity from the tomatoes.

Because getting a whole fish wasn't over the top enough, I added one seared langoustine ($19@) which was delicious. While we didn't get to see the fish still in the salt crust, you could tell the cooking method just by tasting it. The fish was so incredibly moist and flavorful. The fish came with four sauces (sicilian caper and wild oregano, citrus lemon, tomato with olive and caper, and parsley with basil) and they all worked well with the beautiful flesh of the fish. I couldn't pick a clear winner.

The whole fish also comes with two sides. We had the BRAISED ESCAROLE with ANCHOVY and the ROASTED BRUSSEL SPROUTS, minus the pancetta. I thought the escarole had too strong of an anchovy flavor. While it might have been a good side for another entree, the delicate fish did not need to be accompanied by something so strong.

A selection of little biscotti to start the sweets, which included a sorbet selection with mandarin orange, green apple, and cassis mint. All were nice but I was most impressed by the green apple, which managed not to be too tart.

I didn't get a taste of the fromage blanc PANNA COTTA with mandarin orange, pink peppercorn, and thyme. My dessert was the AFFOGATO, with zabaglione gelato, espresso and amaro. This was so, so good that I had another. Yes! I ordered another one following this and polished it off just as quickly. This affogato really will rank amongst the best you've ever had.

A small selection of petit fours to finish off the meal. I think there was meyer lemon gelee, something with pistachio, and chocolates with salted caramel and espresso flavors. As a parting gift, we got a lemon-flavored cupcake that was really big and dense.

Okay, so between the five separate a la carte courses, adding a langoustine, and having two desserts, I may have gone more than a little overboard. But the food was just so delicious across the board, and extraordinary at times. I'm very glad I had an opportunity to return to Marea.

240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

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    1. Great report, sounds like an epic meal. I've only been to Marea once but it was fantastic and have been meaning to go there again (there are just too many great restaurants!). Our meal was right around the James Beard Awards and Chef White was in the kitchen cooking that evening. We were actually seated next to Eric Ripert and across from Rick Moonen! Anyways, seeing how I've read relatively few reports re the tasting menu, it seemed rather sporadic as our waiter needed to check with the kitchen when we inquired what it consisted of.

      Anyways, for those interested in it, we started with the Ricci, had a trio of Crudo (Tonno, Polipo, Scampi), split some Oysters, moved on to the Astice, then the Polipo, had the Risotto Nero, Orechiette, Fussili, Tagliata, a pre-dessert, Chocolate dessert and petits fours.

      Good to know that Marea is still doing great!

      240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

      4 Replies
      1. re: TheDegustationAsian

        That's one of the things that I find interesting about Marea. We are all so used to tasting menus and prix fixes when it comes to the top tier of restaurants in NYC, including my previous visits to Marea. But the whole fish there offers the option of truly going a la carte and Marea's menu seems perfect for it with so many choices for other parts of the meal.

        1. re: fooder

          I agree. Having just recently visiting Ai Fiori, I get the impression that White enjoys steering diners towards the a la carte path. In fact, our server actually suggested we avoid the tasting menu when I inquired about it.

          Typically, if its my first visit to a high profile restaurant, I tend to go with tasting menus to get a better sense of how the chef feels the meal should progress, as well as having the chance to sample more of the restaurant's dishes. That said, for restaurants whose menus don't change as often, I'd most likely go the a la carte option upon returning. Will have to pencil another Marea visit soon, and will be sure to report back.

          240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

          Ai Fiori
          400 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018

          1. re: TheDegustationAsian

            My feeling is that a large part of the reason we often end up opting for tasting menus to "have the chance to sample more of the restaurant's dishes" is because of how expensive these meals are and how hard it is to get reservations. Since we don't go back often to try the rest of the menu, we end up trying to have the whole menu in one meal.

            Have not been to Ai Fiori yet, but am looking forward to giving it a try once it enters my new restaurant time window (8months-1year)

            1. re: fooder

              go to ai fiori now! the food is beautiful. i've been maybe five or six times since it opened and each time i'm wowed by how lovely everything is. especially gorgeous is the trofie nero, the lobster veloute, the uovo, and the cold poached lobster dish. i've done both prix fixe and a la carte; the lunch deal (new, i think?) is 35$/two courses. also there's the white label burger, only available during lunch. it's a must try!

      2. Great review. I can't believe you had two affogatos, lol.

        1 Reply
        1. re: peter j

          thank you for the first-rate review, which I just now saw.
          Dining solo, I had a less epic, but still spectacular, meal at Marea a few weeks back. Crudo tasting, Spaghetti/uni, dover sole . . . washed down with a sublime glass of grappa. Extraordinary restaurant, and grateful to be able to walk in on a Friday eve, belly up to the bar, and dine at the highest level.

          240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

        2. good thing you didnt taste the panna cotta. it's wacksauce IMO.