Marea, NYC

August 3, 2009

Marea opened in May with some hoopla. It had taken over and renovated the expensive location at Columbus Circle formerly occupied by San Domenico. Its chef-proprietor, Michael White, already has two well-rated restaurants, Alto, Northern Italian, and Convivio, Southern Italian. So Linda and I were expecting a lot when we went for dinner on July 18, 2009. Marea is an Italian seafood restaurant. The menu offers a wide, too wide, variety of offerings, but the core is the options for the four-course $89 prix-fixe menu, our choice. We started with glasses of Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. A little glass of chilled honey dew melon soup with a prosciutto crackle on top arrived.

I ordered a bottle of 2006 Albithia Vermentino di Sardegna.

Linda’s antipasto was
slow poached egg, monkfish cheeks, mushroom ragu, garlic chips

The monkfish was good, as was the mushroom ragu, but it did not go with the bed of cabbage under the egg.

My antipasto was
warm mackerel tartaletta, shallot marmellata, salsa cruda

This was nice. Chunks of mild, barely cooked, fresh mackerel had been stacked on top of the thick shallot jam on a round crisp wafer. The fresh tomatoes were in season. One could use as much of the balsamic vinegar sauce in the line across the top as one wanted.

Linda’s pasta was
crab, santa barbara sea urchin, basil

Red pepper flakes and cherry tomatoes were not in the menu description. Linda would not have ordered this pasta if they were. The red pepper flakes negatively affected the taste of the crab, rendered the sea urchin unperceptable and clashed with the wine. The announced basil was almost non-existent.

My pasta was
red wine braised octopus, bone marrow

This dish has received a lot of favorable comment, but I was very disappointed. The somewhat acidic tomato base overwhelmed the other ingredients. It was sort of like an Amatriciana sauce with bone marrow instead of the guanciale. The fresh, hand-rolled fusilli were excellent, but, like the octopus, were just in the background.

Linda’s Secondo was
seared rhode island sea scallops, zucchini, confit shallots, frico, basil

The scallops were properly done, but the dish was not exciting.

Mine was
seaweed marinated east coast halibut, spring vegetables, manila clams, lardo, chili oil

This was okay. The halibut was a bit overcooked and dry. The sweetness of the corn kernels didn’t go very well with it.

Linda’s dessert was

The roasted apricot sorbetto was excellent. The vanilla and sabayon ice creams were very good. 

My dessert was

crispy polenta, strawberry compote, mascarpone gelato.

Okay. With this I had a nice glass of 2005 Maculan Torcolato, a sweet wine from the Veneto.

Four little chocolates finished off the meal.

I am not sure what Michael White’s objectives are for Marea. In view of the expensive lease and renovations, initial comments supposed that he would be trying for four NYT stars, like Le Bernardin. This does not seem to be the case despite the pretentious menu. I think that he is targeting the upscale comfort food market: San Domenico regulars, expense accounts, tourists, birthdays, ladies who lunch etc. There are plenty of people who want an upscale image without getting into unfamiliar territory. While Le Bernardin requires a jacket, Marea says that it is “elegant casual.” Some early customers looked like they had noticed the restaurant after a walk in the park in shorts and sweatshirts and had dropped in with their water bottle in hand. Others were barely casually dressed. It is not our kind of restaurant.

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