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.
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