New York, New York
Marea is sleek and sexy and fits in quite well with its tony Central Park South address. But I can also imagine Marea working equally well in Italy because the kitchen does a great job of cooking real Italian food. This may come as a surprise to some readers but the fact is there are very few so-called “Italian” restaurants in the United States that really are up to date with what’s going on over on the other side of the pond. In addition to capturing the essence of Italy on the menu, Marea just has an Italian “look” to it. The room is modern with highly glossed wood paneling adorning the floor and walls in addition to well-placed tables with comfortable chairs.
When we arrived at 5:45 p.m. for an early Saturday night dinner (since that was the only reservation slot we could get), the dining room was already crowded but not one single table had anything on their plates to eat. Seated near the entrance, we looked around and saw quite a few servers, a couple of guys in suits, but only two waitstaff. This astounded me.
Marea has a great four-course prix fix menu for $89 with ample choices. There are items to be shared at the beginning for the entire table (not included in the prix fixe) plus crudo (sliced raw fish), oysters, or antipasti to choose from. Then you have a choice of handmade pasta, fish or meat and dessert.
As I looked at the wine list, water and three different kinds of bread were offered — a terrific olive focaccia, a rustic Italian white and a whole grain. Our waitress didn’t seem particularly interested in asking us if we wanted cocktails. We live in New York, we always want cocktails. When she finally came around to take our order and I mentioned we needed liquor first, she seemed genuinely embarrassed that she hadn’t thought to ask us. My only explanation for this had to be that she was from someplace else.
That annoyance out of the way, we proceeded to order and noticed that around us everyone else was slowly being served. Utlimately, we thought this would be a really decent primarily seafood-focused meal.
Lynn and I split an order of the house marinated sardines which for $12, I thought might have contained more than the three short sardines that were beached on a plate in front of us. We ate them and they were good but as I nibbled I was a bit annoyed that each of these sardines was costing me four bucks. (Maybe I hadn’t had enough to drink yet.)
As an appetizer, I ordered beautifully poached medallions of nova scotia lobster with some slivers of funghi and eggplant all the while hiding a glistening white mound of melt in your mouth burrata. The lobster tasted like it had been poached in a butter bath (a wonderful visual in my mind) coupled with a slight taste of the sea. It’s a rare occasion when I don’t offer to share my first course with Lynn, but in reality this dish was so good I only gave him a small bite. He, on the other hand, ordered the smoked yellowtail with some lovely white asparagus, tiny pieces of grapefruit and lovely chanterelles. So far so good.
We were supposed to do an all-fish extravaganza but Lynn was intrigued by the veal agnolotti (basically a crescent-shaped ravioli) and sweetbreads on the menu so that’s what he ordered. Handmade and stuffed with a creamy veal mixture swimming in a pool of butter it was delicious. Although I’m not a big fusilli fan, I ordered just that because I was intrigued by the sauce. Red wine braised octopus with bone marrow to boot? I couldn’t resist and even though the sauce was a tad on the heavy side I think it worked and the bone marrow gave it an earthiness I hadn’t expected.
In between these courses something strange happened. The servers started to fill up black dresser drawers that were positioned around the room with silverware. What? I didn’t envy the one couple I saw in particular who were right next to this drawer since even from my table a number of feet away I was bothered by the clang of silverware being dropped into a bin. I had to blink for a moment and wonder if Marea had become a diner but I looked around and no, it was still the same elegant restaurant that I had walked into, albeit with a poor management decision regarding cutlery storage.
We kept eating. For our second courses, Lynn ordered the black bass which I thought looked a tad overcooked and plated with some charred cauliflower and a few other veggies that I frankly couldn’t quite identify from my side of the table. I ordered the halibut with a lovely pea sauce with some cippolinis, morels and a smattering of parmesan. It was exquistely cooked and moreover, I loved the taste of this dish.
We had already finished our wine and took only a slight break before dessert because here’s the thing: Lynn hates dessert, specifically ice cream. (How anyone can dislike ice cream is beyond me but he reminds me again and again that he doesn’t like dessert.) Ok, but dessert was included in the prix fixe so we were having dessert.
I ordered the pistachio cake with a home made pistachio ice cream. What did he order? Ice cream. Yep, Lynn got a few scoops of vanilla with a dark chocolate sauce followed by a glass of coffee that was poured on top tableside. To me it looked like an upscale mocha sundae and he even managed a bite or two before he knocked the glass all over the table. Surely if he didn’t want to eat it we could have handled it another way?
All in all, I thought Marea was a real treat. I loved the food and the ambience. The service I thought was a bit uneven but then life isn’t perfect and the bottom line was that the meal was pretty damn good.