Sunday, January 6, 2013

Another meal to remember

In 2011, I dined at Marea as an end of the year celebration with Dan and Suzanne and posted that it was my best meal of the year. Since that time, I've only been there once for lunch. Marea isn't an everyday restaurant but rather a special occasion place. Located on some of the most expensive real estate in the world, this restaurant on Central Park South attracts a wealthy clientele. Marea is chef Michael White's ode to Italian seafood. The menu is a tribute to the sea with an extensive selection of crudo, oysters, caviar, seasonal fish dishes, and whole fish. Not to mention a primi section dominated with house made pastas showcasing "frutti di mare". But for those who don't like seafood, there are some great options for the carnivore.

Upon entrance you walk up to the host stand as they stand firm at attention. I was the first to arrive, so I checked my coat and headed to the bar. Getting a drink at the Marea bar proves to be difficult All the seats were taken and the bartenders don't look at you unless you are seated. I stood around for a good 10 minutes trying to make eye contact; but had no luck. The rest of my party showed up so we headed to the table.

Our dinner was set up by Liz, our wine director, as a fun and educational dinner. She is friends with the  wine director at Marea so they set up an amazing lineup of some truly awesome wines. Blake, Chase, Pete, and myself started with our cocktails as we waited for Liz. A negroni seemed like a great apertivo for a big meal. Liz arrived and we popped some bubbly. We started with a 98 Billecart-Salmon, a blend of Grand Cru vineyards in the Cote des Blancs. I was impressive with the perlage and its persistence given the age. It was a great balance of persistence and weight. This champagne was showcasing beautiful aromas of white flowers, citrus, and subtle brioche while giving off a richness that kept me going back for more.

As we sipped our champagne and looked over the menu, the staff brought us our some starters. Sea urchin with lardo/sea salt, housemade sea salt montecato (baccala), and shishito peppers were great bites to start this epic meal. We ended up doing the pre-fixe and sharing everything.

For our second course we had two Fiorano's, a 88' semillion and and 93' Malvasia. If the history of the Fioranos weren't interested enough, the wines were marvelous. I sipped the rare white wines and found myself extremely happy especially because our antipasta course had just touched down. Crudo like bigeye tuna (oyster crema/crispy sunchoke), seared pacific wahoo (wild mushroom/lobster roe), and pacific snapper (herbs/grapefruit/chevril) were all delicate and showcased White's ability to add subtle flavors without overpowering the main component. Mermaid Cove oysters and seasonal appetizers like grilled octopus and nantucket bay scallops were also part of our first course. The grilled octopus was paired with smoked potatoes, pickled red onions, radishes, chilies, and a tastey tonnato sauce. The scallops were also quite wonderful as they were pan roasted and paired with grapefruit, polenta, fennel, and salsify.

Next was our pasta course and Terrance (the sommelier) brought over a 2005 Morey Saint Denis Domaine Dujac which I was super excited for. Fusilli with red wine braised octopus and bone marrow is probably my favorite pasta dish in NYC so we got two for the table. We also got ferrantini with a duck ragu, short rib ravioli, a mushroom risotto, and baccala ravioli  (with black trumpet mushrooms, baby leeks, black truffle jus, & shaved black truffle). All the pastas were very good although my favorite remains the fusilli.

An 89' Barolo from Aldo Conterno was up next and had been decanting for a few hours at this point. Pairing this wine with 50 day dry-aged creekstone beef seemed liked a match made in heaven. The steak was served with bone marrow panzanella and braised romaine. The guinea hen was another table favorite which only speaks to White's skill in both land and sea creatures. The guinea hen was served with porcini mushrooms, sunchokes, brussel sprouts,pearl onion, and apple. More scallops appeared but this time they were served with roasted cauliflowers, endive, currants, and capers. A seafood stew known as a brodetto was another great entree that mixed together prawns, scallops, bass, and mussels in a super flavorful broth. Grilled cuttlefish also made it onto the table, but didn't leave a lasting impression. I think I enjoyed the meat dishes so much that the seafood dishes seemed an afterthought. I remember them being delicious, but I also remember looking around the table hoping the steak and guinea hen would make it back around.

By the time dessert came around, we decided we needed more wine so Terrance blind tasted us on something he thought we'd like. He threw us a curve ball with a wine from Corsica--a French island west of Italy and southeast of the French mainland. The wine was bright and fruit forward which was a nice pairing for dessert. After dessert, we indulged in some espresso and amaro. Another amazing meal at Marea. Big thanks for Liz for organizing!

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