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Lunch at Marea - possibly best meal of 2011 (with photos)

Cheeryvisage Sep 6, 2011 02:48 PM

There hasn't been many reviews of Marea recently. Over the weekend, I just had what could possibly be my best meal of the year.

I went for lunch yesterday. My request for a table by a window was honored and I was led to a nice sunny spot with a good view of the dining room.

It took me some time to deliberate over my selections. I was trying to figure out whether I should do the lunch prix-fixe with add-ons, or just go with the tasting menu. My server Melissa was most patient explaining the tasting menu to me and despite my numerous questions, she had no issues running to the kitchen to check whether my proposals would be permitted. Upon discovering the tasting menu wasn't to my liking after all and deciding to do the prix-fixe with add-ons instead, I felt bad about having made her run back and forth over my hypothetical tasting menu choices. The entire time, Melissa was incredibly kind and gracious about it all. Very impressive.

My choices were the following:

1. Astice - nova scotia lobster, burrata, eggplant al funghetto, basil
What a wonderful starter to the meal. The tender chunks of lobster meat paired perfectly with the creamy burrata. The cherry tomatoes were juicy and sweet and together with the basil, provided excellent flavor and textural balance to the dish. Delicious, light, and refreshing.

2. Polipo - grilled octopus, smoked potatoes, pickled red onion, chilies, tonnato
Astounding. This was my first time eating octopus and it far exceeded my expectations. I couldn't believe how tender, meaty, and satisfying it tasted. The potatoes had the most beautiful, enticing smoky scent and oh dear, was fantastic when eaten together with the octopus and the tonnato sauce. I was so pleased that my first experience with octopus was so successful.

3. Fusilli - red wine braised octopus, bone marrow
Of course I had to order this. This dish completely lived up to its hype! The first thing that hit my tongue was the ultra-umami basil-and-tomato sauce. The strands of house made fusilli were delightfuly toothsome, oh my. The bone marrow cubes, so rich and decadent, were like eating soft butter. Having already had the octopus validated in the previous dish, I bit into the sauce-laden tentacles with enthusiasm. So good. This dish made me literally sigh out loud in pleasure. There were still quite a bit of the delicious sauce left after I finished everything else, so I asked for more bread to wipe the plate clean.

4. Affogato - zabaglione gelato, espresso, and amaro
I'm not a coffee person, yet I love coffee flavored sweets. I was pleased when a runner finished up this dessert at the table because I saw the glass contained three scoops of gelato. Yes! The Affogato tasted like coffee ice cream, but one hundred times more awesome. I was very happy about the high ratio of ice cream in this dessert (90% ice cream and 10% coffee and alcohol). It was just enough to give the gelato a lovely coffee flavor and a hint of the bitter amaro kick. Excellent.

I've seen some complaints about Marea's portion size. For me, by the time the meal ended, I was in food coma. I have an average appetite for a female. Honestly, I'd have been perfectly happy with just an appetizer, a pasta, and maybe a dessert. It was really a perfect meal experience. For once this year, I had absolutely nothing to pick on at a fine dining restaurant. Everything about the meal, the food, service, and ambiance, just came together perfectly.

I will definitely return.

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Marea
240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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  1. ellenost RE: Cheeryvisage Sep 7, 2011 08:13 AM

    Lovely report and great photos! I would definitely want to try the lobster and the dessert dishes. Can't bring myself to try the octopus.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ellenost
      Cheeryvisage RE: ellenost Sep 7, 2011 08:36 AM

      Thanks, ellenost. I was pretty apprehensive about the octopus initially too. But since the two octopus dishes were so highly recommended everywhere I read about the restaurant, I decided to go for it (you only live once, right?).

      It was a revelatory experience. In Marea's chefs' capable hands, the octopuses (in both dishes) turned out wonderfully tender and delicious. I really look at this ingredient in a new light now. It was thrilling to take a risk in the dish choice and be handsomely rewarded for it. :)

      Though, I have to admit that Marea wasn't shy about about displaying the grilled octopus dish in its full tentacle-y glory. Haha.

    2. r
      RGR RE: Cheeryvisage Sep 7, 2011 08:34 AM

      As usual, a wonderfully written review, Cheeryvisage. I'm glad that for you, Marea was a winner. For us, after two dinners, we're done with it. Although the pastas we had were superb, and I agree about the affogato, we encountered several problems, including a seriously overcooked piece of fish -- inexcusable at a restaurant (a) of this caliber and (b) one that's fish/seafood-focused. Plus, there's something about the ambiance that just doesn't appeal to us. I have posted a detailed review of both dinners on my blog.

      http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

      8 Replies
      1. re: RGR
        Cheeryvisage RE: RGR Sep 7, 2011 08:49 AM

        I had indeed read about your experiences in your blog when I was researching the restaurant (full admission: I look at your Flickr photos a ton whenever I research potential restaurants. Thank you for the great photos. :) ). But I just couldn't resist giving Marea a try after seeing the No Reservations and Bizarre Foods footages on the restaurant. The food looked so enticing.

        I'm glad my experience turned out well though. Hopefully when I return to the restaurant in the future, it will still wow me like it did on Monday.

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        Marea
        240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

        1. re: Cheeryvisage
          r
          RGR RE: Cheeryvisage Sep 7, 2011 09:31 AM

          I'm truly flattered by your compliment about my photos, Cheeryvisage, since yours are so superior. :))

          Our experiences were what they were. But that doesn't mean that others shouldn't try Marea. In fact, our daughter and son-in-law have yet to go there, and I would not discourage them from doing so. We might even overcome our reluctance to return and go with them. Perhaps, as the expression goes, the third time would be the charm.

          http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

          1. re: RGR
            Cheeryvisage RE: RGR Sep 8, 2011 08:40 AM

            Armed with only a point-and-shoot, I go out of my way to have early dinners or early lunches on weekends if possible to ensure I get well-lit photos. There's something addictive about looking at the photos later to relive the relishing of every bite experienced at the restaurant.

            Plus, dining during unpopular hours makes it easier to get reservations. 5:30pm dinner? Sure, no problem! :)

            1. re: Cheeryvisage
              r
              RGR RE: Cheeryvisage Sep 8, 2011 09:02 AM

              I agree that it's lovely reliving one's delicious restaurant experiences via one's photos.

              I don't use regular flash either. My point-and-shoot does have a special food setting that includes an internal flash; however, it can only compensate so much for poor lighting. But we don't plan our meals out with the best lighting for photos in mind.

              http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

              1. re: Cheeryvisage
                d
                deepfry7 RE: Cheeryvisage Sep 8, 2011 09:08 AM

                Love the photos. Glad to read that you had a great first octopus experience. I've had very good octopus at Marea, Babbo, and Carnevino (Batali's restaurant in Vegas) recently as well.

                I also don't mind eating early so that my pictures turn out better. I kind of regret going to Per Se (my only time) two summers ago at 9:30 instead of the "coveted" 5:30 reservation I was offered. I just wish my friends shared the same view :)

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                Babbo
                110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011

                Marea
                240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

                1. re: deepfry7
                  Cheeryvisage RE: deepfry7 Sep 8, 2011 02:52 PM

                  Haha, I'd rather have taken the 5:30 reservation too.

                2. re: Cheeryvisage
                  plumpdumpling RE: Cheeryvisage Sep 12, 2011 04:20 PM

                  Agreed! When my upcoming birthday weekend at Per Se was full but for an 11:30 a.m. lunch, I was like, "Yes, PLEASE!" These pictures really are super. And I'm a fan of coffee-flavored desserts but not coffee, too, so your dish really appeals to me. I've been dying to go here; thanks for convincing me further!

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                  Per Se
                  10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

                  1. re: plumpdumpling
                    Cheeryvisage RE: plumpdumpling Sep 13, 2011 07:32 AM

                    Nice! Look forward to your report for Per Se!

          2. h
            H Manning RE: Cheeryvisage Sep 7, 2011 12:59 PM

            Great review and photos. I love Marea too.

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            Marea
            240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

            5 Replies
            1. re: H Manning
              Cheeryvisage RE: H Manning Sep 8, 2011 08:43 AM

              I noticed that the reviews of Marea here on Chowhound aren't exactly overwhelmingly positive like some other restaurants'. I enjoyed my experience so much that I wanted to provide another datapoint and get my perspective out too.

              1. re: Cheeryvisage
                strangemd RE: Cheeryvisage Sep 8, 2011 08:53 AM

                I've had dinner there 6 times in the last year or so, and find the food consistently superb--as long as I avoid the main courses. We've learned to make a meal of the crudo, antipasti, and the pastas. My experiences with the fish courses mirror RGR, which I realize is a serious criticism of a seafood restaurant, but one can still construct a delightful meal.

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                Marea
                240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

                1. re: Cheeryvisage
                  j
                  j.jessica.lee RE: Cheeryvisage Sep 8, 2011 11:33 AM

                  Yes, I appreciate that. After my first visit to Marea, I was so disappointed and underwhelmed that I thought I would never return. However, after reading a few rave reports (much like yours) and after doing some homework, I went back with my sister earlier this year and had a fantastic meal. At Marea, I think one has to be very careful ordering. It is not the type of place where you can order basically anything off the menu and have a great meal. My standout dishes there have been the Astice and Polipo appetizers, the rigatoni with seppia, fusilli with bone marrow, and the bomboloni. I stay away from the mains, unfortunately - as RGR said, if a seafood-centric restaurant cannot prepare seafood to the highest caliber.....

                  When Marea gets it right, it's truly stunning and fantastic. When they don't, it really feels like a slap in the face, especially when you're paying that much.

                  -----
                  Marea
                  240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

                  1. re: j.jessica.lee
                    r
                    RGR RE: j.jessica.lee Sep 8, 2011 12:07 PM

                    To be fair, they are capable of preparing fish exceptionally well as evidenced by the branzino filet Mr. R. had during our first dinner, and the whole branzino we shared during our second (despite the size being too big for us) But -- and it's a huge BUT -- if one has to avoid the mains, i.e., the fish and seafood dishes, in order to be *assured* of an exceptional meal, then imo, Marea is a giant failure.

                    http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                    1. re: RGR
                      n
                      nmprisons RE: RGR Sep 8, 2011 12:21 PM

                      The deal with Marea seems to be uneven talent in the kitchen. It just isn't a place that fires on all cylinders with the "b team." I had refused to eat there for a while when they had marlin on the menu, since that poor fish is basically gone from the seas, but when they removed it I gave it a try. My experience was very similar to RGR's. I just can't justify going back and risking another miss when so many other places in the city do it right.

                      That said, I don't question the reviews of people who have had more positive experiences. I can imagine the place has the potential to be quite good when it is on its game.

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                      Marea
                      240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

              2. i
                Ibrahim.Salha RE: Cheeryvisage Sep 8, 2011 01:41 PM

                Just to echo what everyone else said, great pics and write-up!

                Out of interest, do you remember what was on the lunch tasting menu? Anyone had any experiences with the tasting menu at lunch?

                1 Reply
                1. re: Ibrahim.Salha
                  Cheeryvisage RE: Ibrahim.Salha Sep 8, 2011 02:26 PM

                  The day of my lunch, the tasting menu was 5 courses for $75. One choice from Crudi, one choice from Antipasti, the Spaghetti from Pasta, the Branzino from Pesce e Carne, and one dessert (I don't remember if you were given a choice or if it were pre-determined).

                2. u
                  uwsister RE: Cheeryvisage Sep 8, 2011 10:33 PM

                  Thank you for the review! Reminds me I gotta try this place, if only for the fusilli and the affogato.

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