The next day you might want to stay above 14th Street. If that’s the case, I’d suggest, breakfast at Maialino (porchetta and fried egg sandwich), then a wander through Eataly. I’d stare at the gorgeous display of meat at the butcher, appreciate the produce, and perhaps have a tiny bite at Il Pesce, the wonderful fish bar. For lunch I’d opt for the prix fixe lunch at either Nougatine at Jean Georges or Del Posto; they’re the two best deals in New York. Fabulous food in fantastic settings – for under $40. Finally, I’d have a farewell drink at Michael Lomonaco’s Center Bar, look out at the view and toast the city. –Forty Hours in Manhattan
Address: 2 quai du Port, 13002 Marseille
Telephone: 04 91 90 63 53
In the midst of my winter European tour, I stopped over in Marseille, capital of Provence and the 2nd largest city in France. It was immediately apparent how much more diverse the population was (we had just come from Lyon) – many African migrants make Marseille their first port of call on the road to French naturalisation.
The restaurant: When I went in December 2012, I tried the cuisine of Lionel Levy. The reins have now been handed over to another chef, Ludovic Turac, in March 2013. Naturally, this review may be a bit dated. What remains constant: The restaurant has one of the best views of the Old Port in Marseille, and I had learnt about it through browsing a few reviews by locals of places to eat at in Marseille, where I spent a few days.
Milkshake de bouille baisse (3.5/5)
Marseille is famous for its bouillabaisse, a traditional dish. Personally, I am of the realist school regarding “traditional dishes” in Europe (i.e. ‘I know the words “traditional” “local” and “delicacy” are often code for “what we ate while under siege when we ran out of cats.” ‘ – Ex Urbe). I ate two different versions of Bouillabaisse, here and at l’Epuisette (both Michelin-starred), both somewhat disappointing.
Here, bouillabaisse is re-interpreted as a milkshake. The heavy garlic flavouring in the stew forms the bottom of the milkshake, followed by a layer of seabass, and then a layer of marscapone, and a bouillabaisse soup foam on top. A pastry straw gives the conceit of being able to drink the milkshake a la Americain, but is not functional.
The resulting dish was very heavy, and not particularly cohesive. This dish is considered a signature of the restaurant, carrying over even to the Ludovic Turac era, so I expect that a taste might be acquired for this heavy concoction.
Noix de Saint Jacques, legumes d’hiver. (5/5)
A truly spectacular dish, a complex edible canvas. A bold decision was made to serve a raw root vegetable (the shaved rose-pink slices of tuber you see in the picture), along with a savory pumpkin-y sauce, and starchy sweet potato. A braised soft asparagus-like stalk looked liked the sweet potato, but had a different texture. Perfectly seared scallops finished off this dish. Each vegetable’s texture and flavor rang clear, and harmoniously together. It looks like a “winter vegetable riot”.
To me, this is a reference dish. When I think about winter vegetable compositions or a scallop dish, I still recall this dish very fondly.
Clementine glacee (4.5/5)
A riotous celebration of clementines. An inner frozen clementine sorbet within a flan pudding (on the left), under the cover of sweet-sour clementine sauce, and a sweet(er) clementine soft sorbet on the right.
I was very glad to have come here: it was very bold of the kitchen to put a raw root vegetable in a winter vegetable composition, and it turned out to be very memorable.
Overall Rating: 15/20
Memory: Noix de Saint Jacques, legumes d’hiver.
Address: 240 Central Park S, New York, NY 10019
Telephone: (212) 582-5100
“Hunger is the occupational hazard of the food blogger.”
Marea was a restaurant that I had been planning on trying for a while, but never quite made it to the top of my to do list. Over the summer, I had been on the prowl for restaurants with ideas (RyuGin, TMB, Jaan, Andre, atera, birch), and Marea offered a very hearty style of food, a refined dining experience that has been polished over thousands of customers and regulars. When I did end up there earlier in September, I had a very enjoyable experience.
First off, Marea is about seafood and pasta, which it does exceedingly well. (Don’t expect N-Zorbit sorcery or other things from the Modernist Cookbook!) Second, a key drawing point of Marea is the dining room. It is warm, relaxed, and an easy buzz of conversation can be heard at all times. From a recessed half floor down, diners can watch horses with blinders clop through Central Park, couples strolling to Columbus Circle, and the general hubbub outside without much of the noise. It is an elegant dining room, built for people-watching. Get the seats next to the window if you can.
Five Course Seafood Tasting Menu (Lunch)
1) Assagio De Tre: Crudi (Sliced Raw Fish)
Passera: Long Island Fluke, Watermelon (3.5/5)
Sgombro: Pacific Jack Mackerel, Cucumber, Horseradish, Almond (4.5/5)
Dentice: Pacific Snapper, Mandarin Orange, Pistachio, Carrot Vinaigrette (3.5/5)
A decent start to the meal. Fish was fresh, but the fluke and the snapper gained nothing from their combinations. One of them was cured slightly (I think it might have been the horse mackerel) – that was the best.
Astice: Nova Scoita Lobster, Burrata (4/5)
A hearty combination. Very fresh burrata, and tasty lobster. The combinations of these two rich ingredients however didn’t seem to add synergies on top of their individual tastes.
Fusilli: Durum Wheat Pasta, Red Wine Braised Octopus, Bone Marrow (4.5/5)
[Uni Cream] (5/5)
My dining companion F and I decided to ask for custom pasta choices on the tasting menu. We had heard about the kitchen’s specialty pastas. I tried the signature octopus-marrow fusilli: which was indeed rich and complex, but a little undersalted for me. The standout dish of this round was F’s, which was an uni cream pasta. I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) Googling the name of the pasta, but most references point to an uni-crab spaghetti at Marea, which this is most definitely not. It had a very fresh flavour from the uni, the taste of spring. My theory is that this uni-combination was a little experiment from the kitchen, on that September lunch. Whatever it was, both of them were very good pasta dishes.
Capesante: Seared Sea Scallops, Potato Puree, Fried Chickpeas, Crispy Shallots, Brussel Sprouts, Golden Raisin Mostarda (3.75/5)
A very competently seared scallop, but a dish that was exactly the sum of its parts. Again, this is probably not due to the kitchen’s cooking – which highlights the freshness of seafood, but embodies a type of restaurant cooking that I don’t particularly care for – unadorned fine food. I know how to sear a scallop, I can do it in my own kitchen. When I go to restaurants, I want food I can’t make myself. I like my food labour-intensive, and with some hard thinking about flavour thrown in. This dish had very little of that.
Strati di Cioccolato: Dark Chocolate Crema, Salted Caramel, Pistachio Gelato (5/5)
A deliciously decadent end to the meal. Classic caramel with a very well-executed pistachio gelato that tasted like the nut, and a decadent chocolate cake.
Sidenote: Here’s an article by Renaissance Studies Professor and blogger, Ex Urbe on gelato:
It is in the fruits and the nuts that this difference is most extreme. A top quality chocolate gelato is quite similar to a top quality chocolate ice-cream, but a pistachio gelato is like eating a real pistachio, and a raspberry gelato will sometimes leave you with seeds between your teeth, which ice-cream never would. Gelato, real gelato, doesn’t taste like it’s flavored with the thing, it tastes like it’s made of the thing.
To my mind, Marea is only half about the seafood and pasta – well-executed though they are. The other half is a dining room that embodies the best of New York restaurants: classy, relaxed and warm – a change from the hushed tones in many 3* Michelin temples of gastronomy. In spite of my carping over the food (more a reflection of my dining philosophy than any real faults in the food), I would readily return to Marea if I want to eat at one of the warmest dining rooms in New York.
Memory: People watching, the steady buzz of good chatter and good food in the gorgeous dining room.
Other Notable Write-ups:
Address: 3 Luongo Memorial Sq, Providence, RI 02909
Telephone: (401) 421-1100
north has quite an inconvenient name, since searching in Google Maps for “north, Providence” always gives me “North Providence” instead. So I’ve committed their address to memory. My October visit was my second, the other being 5 months ago in May. The restaurant is one of two restaurants pushing the envelope of food experimentation in Providence (both incidentally run by Johnson & Wales alum) – the other is birch, which I have raved about here and here. In particular, many of the dishes in north have fermented products in them.
In the words of the cooks:
“The state of Providence’s dining scene is a complicated question. It is better than it has ever been. The major change is the product quality. Five years ago no one except maybe Matt Gennuso [Chez Pascal] was breaking down pigs on a regular basis; now Nicks on Broadway and others are breaking down whole pigs every two weeks! There were no serious farmer’s markets five years ago; now we have the Farm Fresh system, which freakin’ delivers to your door! The connections that have been forged between restaurants and farmers/fishermen are amazing.
There have been some really exciting places cropping up – Flan y Ajo and the Dorrance kill it. I had an awesome sandwich at Dok’s Deli the other day. (Plus, they have a Roadhouse sandwich –“Pain don’t hurt.”) It’s exciting to see young dudes coming up, and I’m hoping that they and the more established restaurants in the city keep pushing themselves to find our own distinctive voices. We certainly will be at north.”
The Area: Located in a corner of Federal Hill between Broadway and Atwells, north is one of two restaurants in Providence which is trying to do something interesting with food. On the Friday night I was there, north was completely packed with its share of Federal Hill regulars, which was quite different from the College Hill crowd. For those who do not own a car (yours truly), it can take a lot of time to get from one hill to the other, which is why I visit Federal Hill a bit less than I like.
The Food: north errs on the side of experimentation. In my two experiences there, I’ve had a hit-and-miss experience. One can often expect Asian influences to come up prominently – James Mark having worked with David Chang at Momofuku Ko.
Interesting ingredients are the key to their cuisine. From fish sauce and fermented crab to cherry vinegar and miso, there are fermented products in almost every dish. It’s against health department codes for restaurants to create their own fermented concoctions, so north must purchase regulated products. Even Momofuku enlists a culinary laboratory for safety reasons. “Fermented products are around us all the time: beer, wine, bread, soy sauce, vinegars,” says Mark. “The ingredients are not meant to be obvious, but they add a complexity to the dish. You can’t necessarily pick it out when you’re eating it, but it makes it craveable.” – RImonthly
NB: north does not take reservations!
Crispy Dumplings & Fall Squash (3.75/5)
Buttermilk Dressing, Charred Squash Jam
An interesting dish. The dish did not come together, the dumplings being a crisp whole, that did not interact with the squash nor the squash jam underneath. The fried dumpling (akin to a spring roll in texture) was essentially complete in itself.
Roasted Sea Robin (4/5)
Brown Butter Carrots, Mustards, Glazed Radicchio
I found the carrot sauce very appetising. I have heard that sea robin is a hard fish to cook. It has a taste and texture like a cross between the texture and meat geometry of cod, and the taste of snakehead (Toman fish, for Singaporean readers). It was a good combination with some fermented cabbage underneath.
Dan Dan Noodles (3.5/5)
Goat, Squid, Fermented Chile, Black Pepper
I enjoyed the sour Szechuan-inspired sauce very much on this hybrid land-sea dish, but I felt disappointed by the very chewy dan dan noodles, which made it a chore to move my jaw just to finish a bite. I remembered this dish being less chewy and better in May. Dining there with a companion from New York, he mentioned that this is a very similar dish to one at the Momofuku Ssam Bar, except that the rice pellets here aren’t covered in pork fat and deep fried.
north falls very much on the Asian-side of the fence in cooking. On the positive side, I enjoyed the experimentation and the uncertainty that comes with each meal. (I had a very good Tsukemen-style ramen in May, with charred jalapenos and pork broth, and Mapo Tofu with peanut brittle). With restaurants that are trying to accomplish something new, one expects a certain number of misses. The hit-miss ratio at north was a bit low for me during my October visit though. A bit more quality control may be needed: how exactly are shaved slices of squash and a squash semi-solid going to interact with large chunks of self-contained dumpling? The dan dan noodles also needed a bit more time in the pot. Judging from the packed restaurant though, I think James Mark, Tim Shulga, and John Chester have found themselves a well of demand for their kind of food.
Other Notable Write-ups:
- RImonthly’s initial write-up of north’s opening.
- A write-up in the Providence monthly
- James Mark talks about his life leading up to north.
Historical reference Pictures: May visit!
Address: 200 Washington St, Providence, RI 02903
Telephone: (401) 272-3105
This is an update post (September’s main review here).
birch is currently at the top of my list of restaurants in Providence, there is no other restaurant in Providence I would rather eat my weekend meals at. I’ve eaten there a couple more times and tried a few more dishes. By way of a short write-up, here’s an update on what the kitchen has created in recent weeks.
Birch beer, from Pennsylvania.
What the restaurant is named after! It tastes like a zestier root beer, somewhat like the Southeast Asian drink Sarsi.
Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac, Heirloom Apples, Cointreau and Peychaud’s Bitters
Roasted Carrots (5/5)
Grilled Quahog Clam, Toasted Seeds, Yarrow and Almond
Better than I remembered it. The carrot had a deep rich smell, akin to caramelised baked sweet potato. Grilled clam was salted perfectly, with an interesting bed of seeds in the space between the two roast carrots. The clam sauce added to a little taste of the sea – I asked for a spoon to scoop up the remainder.
Roasted Cauliflower (4.75/5)
Heirloom Apple, Crispy Rye, Tarragon, and Rose Hips
Charred cauliflower (AKA Romanesco broccoli) with a bed of something like mashed potato, and a sauce made from rose hips, the fruit of the rose plant. Delicious and a bright idea to highlight the interesting spiral/fractal geometric nature of the cauliflower by crisping it – just as making kale chips highlights the frills of kale leaves.
Rhode Island Suckling Pork (5/5)
Roasted Sunchokes, Bosc Pear and Lemon Verbena
This fantastic new dish was finalised only earlier today, and consists of the chopped parts of a young pig (excluding the loin) braised and pressed together into 3 strips. The sauce from braising is saved and combined with a lemon-verbena oil, which gives the interesting green oil visual effect on the “ripple” plate. Small roasted jerusalem artichokes had the look and texture of slightly mashed fingerling potatoes (which was what I mistook them for initially). A savory soil made this dish a hearty one.
Sweet Grain Cereal (5/5)
Apple Butter, Johnny Cake, and Toasted Grain Milk
birch’s tribute to breakfast consists of whipped grain milk, on top of apple sauce and a cornmeal johnnycake, mixed with the kitchen sink: honeycomb, puffed rice, oat snaps, and a few other things that are delicious. Eating this is like eating the best bowl of breakfast cereal ever. The mix of textures is complex, with at least four different kinds of crunchiness: thin, oaty crunchiness from the oat snaps, hollow crunchiness from the rice, and sweet dense crunchiness from the honeycomb, and what I think are airy cylinders of dried apple. One of the best desserts I have ever tried anywhere.
I think the cooking at birch, already being some of the best in Providence when I first ate there in early September, has only gotten stronger since. What is impressive is the sheer number of ideas coming out of this small kitchen team (not more than 4(?), including Ben and Alec). If you’re in Providence, make an appointment to eat at birch: you will not regret it.