Maybe I visited too early upon its opening in 2009 before they worked out the kinks, but Marea, Michael White’s Italian seafood restaurant, left me disappointed back then. I am a fan of his previous ventures, Alto and Convivio, but at Marea the dishes were bland or simply not inventive–pasta with calamari and clams? As the months went on, people raved about the crudi (raw fish) and fusilli with octopus and bone marrow. Then, in May 2010, the James Beard Foundation awarded Marea best new restaurant. As far as I’m concerned, anyone with a stove and a sign has a James Beard award by now, but it was enough to make me reconsider (then again, Tom Colicchio won outstanding chef and Keith McNally won outstanding restaurateur).
Located on Central Park South in the former space of San Domenico, a white-gloved Italian restaurant that eventually outdated itself, Marea certainly has its regulars. We arrived on a Monday night to a bustling crowd and waited 10 minutes as they set our table. Fran Lebowitz, the renowned author resembling, well, Woody Allen, was smoking a cigarette outside before being welcomed back by the staff. Linda Evangelista, no longer at supermodel weight but surely much happier, entertained a group of friends at center court.
Once seated and determined to order what had become so acclaimed, I asked for a trio of crudi followed by the fusilli with octopus and bone marrow. My friend ordered the highly-recommended astice, or lobster, with burrata (creamy mozzarella) followed by the roasted sea scallops.
The crudi, from left to right:
- Sparnocchi: Alaskan spot prawns, lemon, black lava sea salt
- Seppia: Cuttlefish tagliatelle, soffritto crudo (raw veggie sauté), bottarga di muggine (grated grey mullet roe)
- Tonno: Big eye tuna, oyster crema, crispy artichokes
The spot prawns were my favorite, followed by the rich tuna, but Marea’s crudi don’t measure up to Esca‘s in my opinion.
My friend’s lobster and burrata (with eggplant and basil) [pictured at top] immediately made me envy her choice. In Italian culture, seafood mixed with cheese is frowned upon, and it didn’t sound that appealing on the page. Wrong! This combination was amazing, and I vowed to order it if I had any appetite after the fusilli.
The fusilli arrived and, I won’t lie, the thought of eating bone marrow makes me slightly queasy. And then I had a bite. I don’t know if it’s because I’m basically eating the equivalent of lard, but mixed in with tomato, red-wine braised octopus, crunchy bread crumbs, and whatever other ingredients I couldn’t pinpoint, this pasta was a dream–a highly caloric dream. I was full until at least 4pm the next day. And no, there was no appetite left for the lobster. Darn!
My friend’s scallops–with favas, pancetta, spring garlic, candied orange, and brown butter sugo–was as it sounds: There’s a lot going on in one plate. It was fine, but not outstanding. I think this is the issue I have with Marea. If you order the wrong things, you’re simply left irritated that you spent that much money on a good-but-not-great meal. Research on what to order is crucial, but should the diner have to take this on when paying such prices?
We ended with a warm caramel carrot cake with crème fraîche and golden beet gelato. Very nice.
In terms of service, our waiter started off being very attentive, but then seemed to lose interest in us. He circled the tables around us, following up on whether they wanted dessert, as we sat blinking our eyes. Eventually a sommelier made his way over to rescue us. At that point, I needed a grappa, both to forget the waiter’s inattentiveness and to dilute my blissful bone marrow gluttony.
In the end, it was worth the visit… as long as you know what to order, of course.
Other NYC restaurant reviews:
Minetta Tavern: I Don’t Get It
Colicchio & Sons: What’s New Is Old
Eleven Madison Park: French Laundry Wanna-Be
Peter Luger v. Strip House: The Steak-Off
Motorino v. Kesté: Neapolitan Pizza Pie-Off
Locanda Verde: Swing and a Miss
Maialino: Danny Meyer Does It Again
Great Jones Cafe: Best Wings In The City
Apiary: Hidden Gem
Seäsonal Restaurant & Weinbar: Who Knew?
Brooklyn’s Fatty ’Cue: Malaysian BBQ
La Esquina: VIP Mexican Food?