Marea - Save Your Money
First-time visit to Marea, Thanksgiving weekend. We had been cautioned by other posts on this board to expect possibly bad service ... but still, disappointed overall compared to our experience of other top-tier restaurants. For $1000 for four people, we expect great food or a beautiful room, or at least good food and impeccable service. Instead, it's a corporate room with uncomfortable chairs, with none of the perfection of cooking that saves Le Bernadin from its decor. We did manage to do a lot of "greatest hits" (crudo-polipo-fusili) but frankly at this price point, the non-greatest-hits should have been better, or the service should have been more ass-kissy. If you want great food, head to Bouley. If you want overall experience, head to Jean-Georges instead.
Has Marea suffered from over expansion of the group? I hope that's not the case. I've always had great food and service at Marea and Ai Fiori.
Yes, Marea is indeed expensive. The portions are on the small side; when it first opened they were miniscule and White responded some. The check at Marea can add up incredibly fast. I find all of his restaurants expensive, even Osteria Morini (for example their wine list and cocktails are way over priced). Yet, we have found the food at Marea consistently excellent, service terrific and the room comfortable and always abuzz. Sorry you did not find similar.
OP here: I'm not trying to say it was a terrible experience, because it wasn't, it's just that Marea often seems to be referred to as one of the Top 15 restaurants in New York, and it was nowhere near in that weight class.
It seemed very directionless as far as the service staff's interface with us -- as one example, I ordered the cauliflower bagna cauda, which I had never had before, and it came in a ramekin, without anything on the side. I said "isn't there a dipping sauce?" (because I had read that's traditionally what bagna cauda is, a dip) and they said, "no, that's it." For the experience, I would have preferred a "the chef has already poured the sauce into the ramekin because he finds that's the optimum temperature" ... or something. At Gramercy Tavern, that would have automatically come out of the server's mouth... and of course at Del Posto we would have heard a story about how one of Lidia's relatives probably originated the dish.
And then there were serious pacing mistakes I haven't mentioned yet, like our starters getting lost and coming out very very late.
To Marea's credit, the wine (which is what ran up the bill; no caviar) was good and the staff was attentive about that.
But two Michelin stars? It's North End Grill midtown, nothing more, and that experience is one star at best.