Thursday, January 26, 2012

Marea (New York)

January 2012

240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019, USA
Tel: +1 212 582 5100

Located along Central Park South and a few doors from the Jumeirah Essex Hotel is the two Michelin star Italian restaurant of Chef Michael White (who also recently opened the one Michelin star Ai Fiori). Perched on the ground floor overlooking Central Park, diners, especially those fortunate enough to get a table by the window facing the road, can enjoy views of Time Warner Centre, Columbus Circle and the horse carriages which go along Central Park.

The interior of the restaurant was very luxe with its dark wood panelling. However, the tables were quite close to each other and it did feel quite cramped. I was unfortunate this time as my seat happened to be at the choke point of all traffic from the entrance of the restaurant to the kitchen, hence for half the tables in the restaurant, the waiters had to walk directly behind me in order to get the food to those tables. And because the tables were not widely spaced, sometimes the waiters would brush against the chair and I lived in fear that they may drop a plate on my head while going past. That said, the service here was very good and the waiter was very helpful in food and wine selections (we had wines by the glass, with very good recommendations from the sommelier). As Marea specializes in Italian seafood cuisine, it's wine list was quite slanted towards Italian wines. As for the food, there was a three course prix fixe lunch menu (where you pick an appetizer, main course and dessert from the prix fixe menu) which we opted for, although to enhance the dining experience there, we ended up ordering 2 additional courses from the menu.

Totten Inlet (Washington) oysters: very creamy and fresh, as it turned out, they were good enough with a bit of lemon squeezed over them and did not require the vinaigrette which accompanied the dish.

Granchio - blue crab, date puree, yogurt, lemon, speck, marcona almonds: an excellent dish, the crab meat was sweet and the slight tanginess of the yogurt and the savoury crispy bacon strip added a level of complexity to this course.

Polipo - grilled octopus, smoked potatoes, pickled red onion, radish, chilies, tonnato: a very large portion of octopus which was perfectly grilled. This was a house special and was as good as advertised.

Fusilli - durum wheat pasta, red wine braised octopus, bone marrow: another house special, this was one of the extra courses we ordered from the a la carte menu (as it wasn't in the prix fixe menu). The pasta was cooked al dente and the rich sauce from the bone marrow was delicious.

Spigola Nera - local black bass, beluga lentils, cipollini onion, trumpet royale mushrooms, red wine jus: the fish was perfectly cooked with the skin seared to crispiness. The accompanying sauce was excellent as well.

San Pietro -  pan roasted john dory, sunchokes, pomegranate, brussels sprouts, hazelnuts: the fish was nicely done but what stood out was the memorable pomegranate sauce which lifted what would otherwise be an uninteresting fish.

Nocciola Pralinato - hazelnut, dark chocolate, lemon, mint: brilliant dessert which we really enjoyed.

Final Thoughts: Marea lives up to its reputation and the food here was top class. The service levels were high and the interior was classy, but at lunch it felt quite crowded and some tables were quite cramped. That said, the ground level views of Columbus Circle and Central Park (where occasionally you can see the horse carriages go by) make the window-side booth seats highly desirable.

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