This is the tale of a meal I had last week which completely bowled me over in terms of surprise, sheer decadence and far exceeded my expectations. I was lured to Marea, Michael White's (Alto, Convivio) latest restaurant endeavor by reviews of the intriguing fusilli with red wine braised octopus and bone marrow and by rave reviews from a friend about the food at Convivio. I have no words to convey how glad I am that we stopped by Marea before a Fall for Dance performance - this is definitely on my list of top 3 dining experiences since I became obsessed with food. There's usually a magic formula to a great meal - good company, an interesting/daring menu selection, ordering the right dishes, perfect execution and a relaxed ambiance + good service. My meal at Marea had all these attributes in spades and I don't think we hit a bad note all evening.
The Decor: (8.5/10)
Image courtesy of Eater.com
Comfortable, expensive looking with a surprisingly casual ambiance for it's location on Central Park South. The noise level was just about perfect with enough of a hum and buzz for there to be good energy throughout the room and seats quickly filled up. There were tons of waitstaff in the dining room but they were incredibly gracious and attentive without being intrusive and anticipated our every need - truly great service is a great perk of dining here.
We were seated near the windows and at the beginning of our meal, we were treated to the sight of Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski and costume designer extraordinaire Ann Roth pulling up chairs in the table right behind us. Meryl is astonishingly elegant and beautiful in real life - I'm not really one to get excited about celebrity sightings but this one was definitely special.
The lovely Meryl Streep
The Food: (9.5/10)
Amuse-bouche (salmon, some sort of melon consomme)
Fresh, fresh, fresh salmon and a beautifully fragrant melon consomme
Ricci (sea urchin, lardo, sea salt crostini), $14
The height of decadence - sea urchin is enough of a treat with its myriad of flavors and the spirit of the sea but the lardo slightly melted over the top enveloped the sea urchin and completely changed the texture of it. The combo of the crisp, olive-oil soaked bread, the bright and creamy sea urchin and the sinful lardo basically exploded all over my tongue and lingered in the best way possible. A must try.
Uovo (slow poached egg, monkfish cheeks, mushroom ragu, garlic chips), $18
A relatively uncomplicated dish but beautifully prepared - the crisp garlic chips and creaminess of the poached egg made this dish perfect for me.
Fusilli with red wine braised octopus and bone marrow, $25
Incredibly bright with ripe tomato flavor, shining with the essence of bone marrow and accompanied by a healthy sprinkling of baby octopus throughout. Michael White is renowned for his pastas and apparently, the restaurant has a whole separate section where all the pastas are made fresh daily. It's easy to see why he's considered such a master - the depth of flavor in his pasta dishes is truly remarkable and the flavor combinations are novel and extremely pleasing to the palate. An explanation on how this dish is painstakingly constructed can be found here.
Garganelli with sausage ragu and parmigiano, $25
I've ordered this dish in too many restaurants to count and made a version of this dish at home and NEVER has it ever tasted this way. This is comfort food at its best - rustic, hearty sausage ragu, just enough tomato flavor to coat and chewy, delicate garganelli with a healthy sprinkling of parmigiano.
Dark chocolate cake, nougat gelato, black cherry compote, $14
A grown-up versino of an ice cream sandwich - very strong almond/cherry flavors throughout the gelato and the chocolate cake was deliciously dark and had just the right hint of bitter. The nougat gelato was really wonderfully done - perfect creamy texture but just a tad too sweet for me.
Olive focaccia, Tray of chocolates (peanut butter, passion fruit-white chocolate, salted caramel and one that I don't remember)
I just had to show the olive focaccia because I think the olive peeking out is really cute. By the time they brought out the chocolates, we were stuffed beyond belief and then as we turned to leave the restaurant, they stuffed a ribbon-tied crumb cake into our hands as a farewell gift from the chef.
Summary and More info:
All in all, a truly inspired meal and I'd jump at the opportunity to visit again soon. We spent about $60 each on dinner which I think is completely reasonable for the quality of the food and pasta portions are definitely enough for 2 to share. As a great wallet-friendlier alternative to dinner, Marea also has a fantastic lunch deal - $34 for 2 courses.