24 September 2017
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Una Marea of Compliments

  • Astice burrata.
  • Octopus and bone marrow fusilli.
  • Grilled cuttlefish.

Sitting outside at a Café Metro on the corner of 51st and Lex, wiping the blasts of city dust from my eye and inhaling the occasion smell of public restrooms, I think back on my late Saturday night meal. A pleasant stroll from the Plaza, Marea at Central Park South is deservedly honoured my first NYC restaurant review. Washington, DC, is a city some people refer to as New York City “light,” but for me, and the purpose of this critique, it would be considered New York City “late,” as Marea opened in 2009. The restaurant is the lovechild of recently divorced chef Michael White and restaurateur Chris Cannon, born to descend upon the East side clientele with a “big box of Italian cuisine.”

While most Latinate studiers will tell you marea means the sea (and they are right,), more importantly, to me, “una marea” has always meant: a lot, a sh*t load, a smorgasbord in Italian. Marea’s menu features 74 separately sold treasures, leaving behind the forced pre-fixe menu. Though you may opt for the four-course “prix fixe” for $91, which includes a choice of a crudo, oyster sampling or an antipasto, pasta, pesce o carne and, of course, a sweet.

Don’t bring sand to the beach if you fancy a splash session of prosecco for happy hour. From what I saw there were a few pretty things to catch seated on the low-back caged stools at the razor clam bar. I, on the other hand, was seated across only the finest of dinner dates inside the gastropodic-littered dining room. The tables were adorned with orchids, and the plates were shell-shaped and engraved with “Marea:” In case you had forgotten where you were, I suppose.

At Marea, the service is impeccable. It’s interesting how accustomed we’ve become to terrible service that, when things run so smoothly, it is actually distracting. Upper management was effortlessly circling the 33 tables, like sharks in pink ties patrolling an old, sunken cruise ship. Should a table suddenly become open, a frenzy of bus boys in pin-striped aprons attack the reminisce of the departed. When service works this well and in unison, you thank New Yorkers for their high expectations.

First to arrive and compliments of the chef was a three-tiered cold soup in a shot glass. It consisted of a surprisingly refreshing endive soup, lightly salted and drizzled in olive oil. The green purée floated above a rhubarb pulp and was sandwiched by a layer of granny-smith apple. I would have much preferred a shot of tequila with a tomato-juice chaser, but this was just as well accepted.

Raised on the beaches of Sardegna, we avoided i ricci (sea urchins) like the plague. I recall the frustration they caused by their mere presence on the rocks and how the mediterraneo current seemed to always push you in their direction. Tonight was my ultimate revenge. At the top of the menu, and the top of my list to sample, was the Ricci Crostino, two on a plate for 15$: an Echino-voluptuous bag o’ sea urchin delicately placed on toasted bread and hatted by a thin layer of melting lardo. My immediate reaction of hand to mouth was unmistakably the incorrect manner in which to consume this luxury crostino. The silkiness of the fat complimented the lukewarm explosion of what one could only describe as sea snot with a crunch. Believe me, this was surely unforgettable.

I am always attracted by a dish involving a poached egg to break on top and even more excited by the idea of having something poured onto my plate at the table. So, I decided to try the Uovo antipasto. In addition to finely chopped baby eel, spring garlic, slices of bone marrow, and a small handful of passatelli (small noodles made from seasoned breadcrumbs), the waiter poured a steaming barley broth reminiscent of morning coffee over the entire pastiche and into the loveliest bowl I had ever seen. At $19, this is the choicest of hangover cures. Too bad Marea doesn’t offer breakfast.

What could be more delicious than perfectly tender lobster bits buoyant over a creamy burrata? Well, nothing. A must try or die at Marea is the Astice antipasto. For $24 I assure you, you’ll never enjoy a mozzarella combo the same in your life. Claws down.

Still ordering: We eagerly pointed to the dish on the menu we came 228 miles to savor, shaking our heads like school children as the waiter smiled with a look of “yah, I figured you’d order that” slapped on his face. Marea is especially known for this culinary creation of hand-rolled fusilli pasta tossed on high heat with tomato passata, red wine braised octopus and nuggets of melting bone marrow. At $31, it is a small price to pay for the holy grail of pasta dishes. Not only was my heart stolen by each intricately rolled and flawlessly boiled aldente fusillo, but it was ripped to shreds by the generous hunks of soft-purple octopus limbs flipped within. After a few mouthfuls of this cephalopodic murder before me, I was completely disinterested in my impulsive choice of secondo. Also, because what I had ordered literally, well, sucked.

I chose a grilled Mediterranean seppie (cuttlefish), which was served above an over-salted tumbleweed of wild oregano, taggia olives and what seemed like an entire jar of capers. Apparently the tomato was sautéed with braised escarole, yet neither my date nor I could find a piece of it anywhere. From the cuttlefish to its disastrous Livornese companion, I would say you could find the sister of this dish on the menu at Mario’s on the Jersey shore under “Fish” and for certainly less than $38 a plate.

The sommelier, Francesco Grosso, lays out a nice blanket of Italian vini, pushing the clientele to try more reds with fish. News update: It is still not kosher to drink red wine with fish unless your red is low in tannin and with a higher acidity. Killing the taste of a delicate fish with a bad choice of red is just as distasteful as ordering a filet well done. Grosso suggests a Frappato from Sicily to pair with crudo, a Rossese from Liguria with seafood pasta, and an uncommonly known Verduno Pelaverga from the most northern tip of the Barolo region to wash down a meatier fish such as swordfish or cuttlefish. Now, don’t you feel schooled?

If you didn’t eat the bread, you may have room for a Marea-made mint gelato. It will lock in the taste of one of the best meals you’ve had in a long time. Or, if you prefer to do the same thing with something steamy, go for the perfectly cremoso espresso. The pastry chef offers an assortment of mini chocolates so you won’t really miss the dessert, anyway.

Now only if when you exited Marea, you found yourself facing the moon over the sea, rather than neon lights attached to a horse pulling a carriage.

Neighborhood: Midtown West
Address: 240 Central Park South (Broadway) New York, NY 10019
Phone: 212-582-5100
Web site: www.marea-nyc.com
Parking: Public Lot
Metro: Columbus Circle
Serves: Brunch (Saturday and Sunday); Lunch (Monday-Friday); Dinner (Daily)
Specials: N/A
Go for: Ricci crostino; uovo antipasto; octopus and bone marrow fusilli
Price: *****
Rating: *****
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  1. […] all the time. I can work and play at the same time. So that became part of our beverage concept.Chef Michael Whitein New York is doing something similar with wine on tap, so I thought, how can I take the next step? […]