Magical Marea and the classification of cuisine

Please excuse the phrase, but “let’s call a spade a spade”. Marea isn’t the best Italian restaurant as Zagat and so many other sources hale it. For the record, may I kindly ask that we stop categorizing restaurants with an Italian flare or Italian fusion in our top 5 or top 10 lists?

Here is my list from 2012, to understand exactly what I mean

Nevertheless, my inspiration for writing today is that, due to my outstanding meal at Marea last week, I must declare it one of the best fine dining experiences of my life.

Essentially, we are discussing a restaurant whose menu is extremely seafood heavy, and where the $99 four-course prefix seems almost worth the credit card bill after considering value vs. quality. Three of my dishes were absolutely transporting, while the fourth, ironically the pasta, represented a mere 4 star effort (sarcasm intended). In a city where so many fine dining prefix menus can set you back over $100, a special occasion at Marea seems well suited compared to its competition. After reading my review, I hope you will be knowledgeable of all the facts before you commence your next dining quest; you won’t regret it!

Restaurant Details:

240 Central Park South
New York, NY
5 stars out of 5 stars

Four courses of heaven:

There is a wide variety of options to select for each course at Marea, therefore allow me to describe the cuisine upon which I feasted. I started with “gamberi calamari”: sautéed shrimp and squid with spring onion and roasted pepper sugo. The flavors of this dish were amazing: there was a festival of colors and textures on the bottom with variously cooked vegetables, while the large succulent shrimp and fresh calamari were gloriously perched on top. This was definitely the best choice, considering that I really don’t like raw seafood, and the plate of food was simply transporting.
For my second dish, I chose tagliolini with manila clams, calamari, and peperoncino. After my first bite, I discovered a thin spaghetti cooked al dente along with minced seafood in a wine sauce with something crunchy sprinkled on top, similar to breadcrumbs. My theory is that there wasn’t enough calamari, and the clams were just about nonexistent. However, the ingredients worked well together, and I was happy with this delicious selection.

Deciding on an entree was more difficult, but I selected capesante: seared sea scallops served with crispy potato, morels, spinach, with a mushroom cream. Another transporting creation from the mind of Marea, these scallops might have been the best and most tender and sweet that I have ever tried. I can’t express how the vegetables accented and heightened the scallops, but trust me: they did! Also of note were the potatoes: my best description is that they were slivered, stuck back together again, and cooked in this fashion.
Finally, I suffered through yet another decision process, and requested budino al limone: lemon pudding torta with honey and blackberry fennel sorbetto. I expected great things after such an amazing meal, but Marea exceeded my preconceived notion and went even higher; this was no average lemon tart. On my plate, I found four layers: a moist lemon cake, then a refreshing lemon and honey pudding, and on top there was a magnificent scoop of sorbet. (Of course, I changed the sorbet flavor, but who could blame me? Strawberry prosecco!) What was the mysterious third layer that forever set this dessert apart? Have you ever been to a Chinese restaurant and dined on a “bird’s nest”, or ordered pan fried noodles to go? For those of you who have not, imagine light crispy noodles formed in a criss-cross pattern. This is what I encountered while deconstructing my masterpiece of a dessert, and the crunch factor sealed a 5 star review for the lemon torta in my mind.

Final thoughts:

Before writing each review, my head is absolutely crammed with notes, so here are a few more of them. The bread at Marea is fantastic and keeps flowing; the sourdough and focaccia were both excellent. Equally outstanding was the service; always informative but never pressuring or over-the-top. Other dishes which I sampled include the fantastic lobster appetizer and rich mushroom risotto, (and the white asparagus option sounds very intriguing for next time). Finally, honestly I asked for no peperoncino on top of my pasta and no spinach in the scallops dish. (I am what people in Spain call tiquismiquis or what my family and friends would call “picky”) Therefore, if someone like me finds the menu at Marea to be transcending, then all lovers of food, from novice to expert and vegetarian to carnivore, can enjoy this amazing restaurant!

Daniel the Blind Food Critic

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