Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dinner at Marea (food, MomVisit09)

For our final big expensive restaurant meal, we went to Marea. I wrote about Marea before, but this time there are pictures! Even though I've only been here twice, this is my favorite New York Times 3 star restaurant. I remember a while back when Bruni was about to retire that there was speculation of Marea being his 4 star swansong (which went to the very deserving Eleven Madison Park). Even though I love the food at Marea, I just don't think it's designed to be a 4 star restaurant. The service is very good, the decor is elegant, the food is wonderful, and the prices are expensive but not ridiculous. So what's wrong? I just don't see it as a real "destination dining" place. The food is wonderful, but more towards simple rather than complex. There is a prix fixe or a la carte option, but no grand tasting menu like at all the other 4 star places. Perhaps with time or dedication it will achieve that aura of a 4 star restaurant, but then again I don't think that that's what they're striving for. As for the meal itself, we both had the four course prix fixe and added a few items.

Amuse. House cured salmon with melon broth. The salmon was tasty and the melon broth was very refreshing. A terrific combination.

An added item to share. Crostini topped with sea urchin, a thin layer of lardo, and sea salt. It was tasty and heavy just like last time. This time, however, I asked for a wedge of lemon and tried squeezing some lemon juice on top. I thought this was even better in bringing out the flavors and gave it a less heavy feel at the same time.

Marlin crudo with caviar and cream chosen as first course of the prix fixe. This tasted better than the last time I had it. I don't know why, but it just all came together really well for me this time.

Added crudo course. Pacific jack mackerel with eggplant caponata and cucumber on the bottom. The fish was wonderful and had less of that strong fish taste that I usually associate with the mackerel family. The flesh had a terrific firm yet melty texture. The eggplant caponata wasn't bad, I just found it unnecessary.

Lobster with creamy burrata (a cheese made from mozarella and cream). Unfortunately, the lobster-filled squid I had last time was no longer on the menu, so I chose this. This was very good, with the well-cooked lobster's sweetness going well with the light creamy cheese.

For the pasta course, this tagliatelle with king crab was just newly put on the menu. It was fresh, sweet, and light, though very simple.

Also for the pasta course, I had the lobster ravioli with mushroom and asparagus. This was still very good, but perhaps because I had a lot more lobster and crab already than last time, it didn't wow me as much. The sauce was also a little oilier than I remember.

Added an extra pasta course of the signature fusilli with red wine braised octopus and bone marrow. The picture above is of a half-portion of the a la carte selection. It's really tasty and hearty. The fusilli is so dense that my mom likened it to cavatelli, a pasta which we both love.

For our main courses, first is the seafood soup that I ordered last time I was here. The large selection of seafood is cooked separately from the soup, and all cooked perfectly. There was more broth this time and it was even better than I remembered it. I could taste many of the different components, from prawns to scallops to clams and more. The only thing I didn't like was the presence of a few little tapioca balls. I don't like that texture and don't really know what its purpose in the soup was.

My main course was the branzino with pancetta and brussel sprouts. The branzino was perfectly cooked and had amazing flavor. A beautiful fish flavor that just pops into your mouth. Unlike any other seabass that I've had before. It didn't really need anything else, and the pancetta and brussel sprouts were ok.

For dessert, my mom had the affogato with zabaglione gelato.

I had the torrone (almond nougat) gelato with cocoa cake and sour cherry compote. I loved the flavors, but didn't like the texture of the thin piece of cocoa cake.

While I repeated many of the same dishes from my last visit, everything was just so good. Most of the dishes I would classify as solid rather than spectacular, but the branzino was truly a revelation. The total for two including t/t was 315 because we added courses and had supplements to the prix fixe.

On our way out the hostess gave us one of these, a dense cupcake with lemon sprinkles that was really good when I took it out of the fridge the next day.

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