The Pinnacle of Seafood
The first time I ate at Marea, I could not stop thinking about when my next meal there would be. I had only been for lunch, but what an impression it made on me. For the next 6 months, I repeatedly dropped hint after hint to all my friends about a possible outing, but to no avail. However, I recently got the chance when a friend visited and seemed just as excited as I was after hearing so much about it. It seemed only logical to follow up one Michael White restaurant (Ai Fiori) with yet another, not to mention both within the same week.
Marea offers an a la carte menu, a four-course prix fixe, and tasting menus of 6 and 8 courses. Of course, we decided to pull out all the stops and go all out on this particular night. If you’re only in NYC once a year, you almost have to get the 8-course chef’s tasting menu WITH wine pairings. There are things in life you look back on and regret doing, and then there are things you look back on and regret not doing. This would be one of those things you’d regret not doing.
We were able to secure a last minute, day-of, reservation at 8:45pm on Sunday evening. I sat in the main dining room on my first visit, but this time we were led to a smaller area just past the end of the bar. The main dining room has a much fancier feel to it, while the separate bar area has a more casual feel to it. I’m actually glad we were seated in the more casual area because I did not want to disturb the other diners with our conversations and laughter, which got increasingly louder as the night progressed and more wine was consumed.
To tickle our appetites, we chose to go with their housemade olive focaccia bread. Sadly, not many places put enough effort into their bread, but it really shows when you do. The focaccia was one of the best that I’ve had; it was soft, chewy, salty, and full of flavor. Our amuse bouche was a piece of fresh crudo and caviar. The presentation was lovely and bursting with vibrant colors. With this one bite, I knew the meal we were about to eat was going to be something special.
The next bite I had almost made me want to cry it was so good. A rich yet immensely tasty sea urchin, lardo, and sea salt combination set atop a lighted toasted piece of bread just melted in my mouth, perfectly complimented with a glass of champagne that wasn’t too dry.
A trio of crudo consisting of mackerel and two others followed as part one of our first course (I believe wahoo was one, but I’m not sure of the last). The mackerel was very fresh and did not have the typical strong fishy taste to it. The second piece was excellent with a slight hint of chili oil, parsley, and fruit notes from the apple. Lastly, the third piece was a bit chewier and was topped with some lemon to give it a citrusy zest.
Part two of our first course was a plate of very refreshing oysters. The dish included 2 sauces, one shallot and one vinegar. The shallot sauce had good shallot flavor, yet was light enough that it did not distract from the true taste of the oysters. This dish was paired well with a dry white wine.
Next was a delicious and generous serving of nova scotia lobster with burrata and basil seeds that paired perfectly with a clean crisp rose. The lobster was fresh, sweet, and well-cooked sitting on top of soft and creamy burrata cheese that was especially tasty. This was a perfect spring dish with all the colors on the plate from the lush green basil seeds to the rich red lobster. (Note: the picture was taken halfway through inhaling the dish…oops)
The course that followed was amberjack atop some fennel with pine nut cream and a side of chanterelles paired with a buttery white wine. The fish was firm and juicy, and with all the vegetables together, the dish as a whole was on the lighter side. Nothing was bad about this dish, but nothing about it was amazing either. It was probably my least memorable dish of the night, and only because everything else was so good…sigh.
The crispy frog leg and slow poached egg dish that greeted us next was something special indeed. I never had an egg so fresh and so poached perfectly that the yolk just oozed out almost in slow motion as I broke its soft casing. It was the best poached egg that I’ve ever had. The frog leg was seasoned well and had just the right amount of coating on it while the inside was still moist and tender. This dish was paired with a sweeter white wine.
Knowing Michael White and his pasta reputation, I was excited to try whatever pastas were placed in front us. And despite my lofty expectations, I was not disappointed. The light and fluffy gnochetti with ruby shrimp had just the right subtle hint of chilies in the sauce. Additionally, the gnochetti still had a bit of chewiness to it that added more to the texture. This was paired with a red wine (sorry, I started losing track of the characteristics of the wine at this dish).
I was excited that our next dish was the famous fusilli with octopus braised in red wine and bone marrow. Just as rich and decadent as it was the first time I had it, this pasta is not some run-of-the-mill creation. Each component can stand alone and hold its own, but together, they form a dish that exemplifies a chef’s creativity and dedication to deliciousness. Of course, the pasta was cooked perfectly, the octopus was tender and flavorful, and who doesn’t like bone marrow? Seriously. Finally, the bread crumbs sprinkled on top were just the ‘icing’ this dish needed. No surprise that this dish was paired with a red wine.
Talking about extremes, we come to the dry aged steak. According to the menu, Marea’s bistecca is dry aged 50 days. It’s worth noting that most of the best steakhouses don’t even age their beef half that long! Each piece of my medium-rare steak was tender and full with flavor. To add onto the ridiculousness, there was even bone marrow on the very same plate. Everything on the plate was so delicious that I stuffed my face even though I was starting to reach my stomach capacity. The only slightly negative comment for this dish was that my friend’s steaks were more on the medium side, while mine were a perfect medium-rare. This dish was paired with an absolutely delicious full-bodied complex red wine with a very nice finish (I remember because it was so good).
To cap off our memorable night, we were presented with a trio of desserts.
Directly facing us was a soft carrot sponge with good carrot flavor. The carrot ginger sorbet on top of the mascapone had a very nice hint of carrot that wasn’t overpowering. But the coolest part of this dessert by far, was the crisp carrot twist, even this had carrot flavor that you could taste, not to mention the incredible crispy texture that it added to the dish.
Another reason Marea holds a special place in my heart is because of their bomboloni. I was never much of the dessert person, but after trying them on my first visit, I could not keep these lightly fried, sugar-coated doughnuts out of my dreams. They have a great crispy texture on the outside with a soft, warm, and moist inside. Because they are not too sweet, they go very well with the dark chocolate and espresso gelato. And to top it off, an espresso crumble adds yet another dimension of texture and flavor to an already amazing dish.
The last dessert was good too, but not nearly as memorable as the others so I won’t go into it.
To wrap it all up, Marea has two Michelin stars for good reason and I was able to experience why on this memorable night. Food is not only impeccable and delicious, but presented creatively in a variety of ways in its dishes. Service is very professional and attentive throughout the meal. Water glasses are never empty even with all the wine, which they don’t skimp on either despite it being a tasting. Portions may seem small, but after all the courses, it is a substantial amount of food for 3 hours. Lastly, as a parting gift, the females get a small gift box with a muffin inside to take home as well (this particular muffin was a citrusy chocolate chip one). I will be back to Marea time and time again, as long as my wallet allows me to. Until next time…