Hands down, my favorite meal of 2011 was at Marea. In this prime location on Central Park South, Michael White creates a menu giving a nod to Italian seafood. White has developed a mouth-watering menu of crudo, oysters, fresh pastas, and whole fish. You know you have a good meal when you think about the dishes you ate and you plan on returning for the same exact experience.
I arrived before Dan and Suzanne so after checking in with the maitre d' I walked two steps to the left to grab a drink. I was thinking of starting with a cocktail but nothing seemed to grab me, so I started with a glass of fiano. Unfortunately, the bar seats were all accounted for so I stood in the background a bit uncomfortable. If you're not sitting at the bar, you really have nowhere to go. To make matters more uncomfortable, my party was almost a half hour late--I felt the maitre d's anger. Fortunately, they didn't pressure me. As soon as Dan arrived, we sat at our table in some very comfortable chairs. The decor of Marea needed some help; but the food more than made up for it. The service was good, although I might expect better in comparison to the product. Our server didn't seem like much of a people person. He was decently knowledgeable, but seemed to be more suited as an "order taker" than a server. We had one of the captains or managers come over to the table to try and ready our decision for food. Being a half hour late, they needed to turn that table!
We started with a bottle of Prosecco in celebration: to achievements and to life. We continued to look over the menu and were rushed into a decision. Shortly after placing our order, we were greeted with an amuse bouche of sunchoke panna cotta-- an interesting, but tasty palate energizer. A man walking around with a box full of bread offered a choice of 3 different kinds. The hardest part was over, now all we had to do was sit back and enjoy our meal--and that we did.
For starters, Suzanne and I got the ASTICE: Nova Scotia lobster with cooked down eggplant and burrata topped with basil. I was going to get something different, but Suzanne told me she might cut off my hand if I come close to her dish. I'm glad I listened because having only a bite of this antipasti would have been so sad. All components of the dish were delicious alone, but the combination of all ingredients in one fork-full was just magical. Dan's scallop antipasti also proved to be an excellent starter. I was a bit worried that the pancetta would overpower the scallop, but it only added depth of flavor to the dish.
Our next course was Primi also known as the pasta course. While Suzy's Ferratini (manila clams/calamari/hot chilies) and Dan's Spaghetti (crab/santa barbara sea urchin/basil) were awesome, my fusilli shined. The fusilli is a pasta they are known for and now I know why. Red wine braised octopus and bone marrow made this a dish to remember...and crave! Few times do I have a dish and say, I need to go back to eat that. This pasta dish has had me thinking of when my next visit to Marea will be. The other pastas were banging as well and proved that Marea can turn out some extraordinary pastas.
Our final savory course was the entree course or the secondi. Sue and Dan split the salted baked branzino while I got the BRODETTO DI PESCE: a seafood soup of clams langoustine, scallops, prawns, and bass. I was a bit iffy on getting the Brodetto because I don't always love seafood soups. The server told me it was a popular item and that all the seafood is cooked separately. This all made sense when the food runner poured in a delicious broth table-side. Dan and Suzanne's branzino could have been a bit larger, but it did come with two side items. The fish itself was delicate, fresh, and delicious.
For dessert, I think Suzanne had the best choice with her affogato; zabaglione gelato, espresso, and a float of myers dark rum. Dan went with the nocciola pralinato which was a ground up hazelnut and dark chocolate with lemon and mint. Dan loved it, but me and Sue weren't the biggest fans. I got the fried donuts, which were a little too dense to be my favorite dessert; but were still pretty good! We finished our wine and moved on to a variety of amaro. Try an amaro on the rocks with a twist (lemon or orange) after a big meal.
The food is what Marea; but the staff and ambiance could use some work. That captain or manager that kept coming to the table was the biggest turn off. Not only did he rush us, but he didn't seem to knowledgeable. He gave short answers and didn't disclose much detail on his answers. How do these Verdicchios differ. Well of course he pointed to the most expensive one and said "this one has more complexity". He also told Suzanne that Kale is out of season when she asked about a side dish that her friend recommended. Last time I checked, kale was a winter green. But the food saved the experience. I would go back there and order the same exact menu, although my adventurous side might not agree. The food was incredible. Marea is a bit pricey, so I'd suggest saving it for a special night unless you got some good friends who treat ya! Thanks Dan and Sue!