Write about a restaurant within one month of opening and it’s too soon, full of kinks, unfair. Wait more than a year and it’s irrelevant. All the initial wows will either be forgotten or discovered to be not quite as amazing as originally thought. Who knows whether the food has actually gone downhill or if everyone has simply lost interest and moved onto newer thrills.
(And then there are the true jaded cynics. I’ve joked about finally going to San Sebastian now that Scandinavia is the culinary hotness, but it’s still a big deal for me. Last night I was reading a message board where a poster basically posited that all of the Michelin-starry Basque restaurants are now crap, empty during the week and subsist on drooling camera-wielding late-to-the-game food bloggers and that yes, those who think they’re tastemakers are being shepherded to Denmark and environs. Even a total naysayer, dream-crusher like myself felt bummed, after that. I may as well stick to Dallas BBQ.)
Early last year the chatter was all “crab and uni spaghetti,” “octopus and bone marrow.” This year, everyone is taken by nuovo red sauce (no matter how many times I hear raves about Torrisi and Rubirosa, I remain thick-headed and unconvinced) so obviously it was time to try Marea, my idea of a birthday dinner treat for a boyfriend. La Grenouille almost won out for untrendy as possible pick, but that will have to wait until another occasion.
My concern about choosing a wine (Italian styles aren’t my strength) was allayed when a bottle of champagne was sent to our table by my company’s COO, who happened to be dining nearby the same evening. Fortuitous, though not unlike running into your teacher at the grocery store when you're a kid.
Choosing one crudo was impossible so I upped the prix fixe ante $6 for a selection of three. Left to right are razor clams with fennel and peperoncino, geoduck draped with mini rings of hearts of palm and also spiced up with a touch of chiles and Spanish mackerel—my favorite because the slices were substantial enough to really experience the fish’s texture—hit with tangerine, almonds and tarragon.
The tangled ropes of fusilli changed my usual indifference to pasta. Chewy in the best substantial way and similar to the curled octopus legs, they hid nuggets of bone marrow that added unctuousness to the already concentrated tomato sauce. Toasted breadcrumbs mixed with garlic and parsley lent crunch. The portion was just right with the other courses, though I would’ve been happy with an Olive Garden-sized serving and a square of focaccia.
Maybe I was influenced by what I’d read, but I came in thinking the secondi di pesce would be lackluster and true enough, I wasn’t jumping to order any of my choices. Neither fish nor scallops were what I wanted and James was ordering the seafood soup ($8 supplement). Ok, why not the cuttlefish? How would they handle the potentially tough little bodies?
When I asked for the seppia, our server remarked, “You know that’s squid?” Er, generally I read the menu before ordering an item…so yeah. I wasn’t questioned on the geoduck, which would seem like the more unfamiliar sea dweller.
Two plump chargrilled creatures, resembling cartoon ghosts (Japanese, not American) rested atop escarole and a brothy livornese sauce of crushed tomatoes, petite olives and more prominent oregano than basil. A blast of summer in March. I almost wanted to eat a few bites, freak out and then ask my server why I’d been brought cuttlefish.
Even though rationally, I knew the green gelee sitting inside of the nocciola pralinato, a firm ring of chocolate mousse, was going to be minty, I kept waiting to taste bell pepper on my tongue. Though I can’t remember where, I’m certain I have experienced a green pepper dessert even though the greeness wasn't overt. Oh, at Sergi Arola Gastro.
Mignardises. I don’t even remember which ones I ate—it must’ve been that dessert glass of manzanilla.
Marea * 240 Central Park S., New York, NY