Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Even though ABC Kitchen was where I spent my last Friday night as a New Yorker, I still had about 5 more nights before officially moving out. And after my incredible experience based off of the newest James Beard recognition, I decided there was still enough time to make it to the previous year's winner of that very award. Marea had too been on my list for quite some time, but more for reasons of cost than availability had I not been able to stop by. Well, with just a few nights left as New Yorker, issues of cost and the need to save such restaurants for a special occasion easily go by the wayside. And so, my last Tuesday night in New York with my family was more than enough of a reason to finally dine out at Marea.

Marea is located on Central Park South and the interior certainly lives up to its address. As you walk in, you are greeted by a swanky bar on the left - one that if I had ever worked in midtown, I would have hoped I could have visited for special occasion drinks. To the right you will find the elegant dining room which is certainly more formal than most restaurants I frequent, however, it was still extremely welcoming and warm. Every now and then, I really love that feeling of walking into a place where I know I would never stop by every day - the kind of place where I need to dress up, where an amuse bouche or two are guaranteed, and where chargers are waiting for me on the table. The minute we sat down at our table, I knew I was in great hands for the night ahead.

Marea's Italian menu brings together two of my favorite culinary treats - fresh seafood and homemade pasta. However, be prepared to be slightly overwhelmed by this excellent combination as the options available are nearly endless. We didn't even touch the crudo (sliced raw fish and shellfish) section of the menu which takes up almost a full page - and all of those dishes were extremely enticing. The problem was that the antipasti were just too appealing to pass up as we all opted for those for our starters. The special of the evening was a delicately prepared soft shell crab served over radicchio, immediately capturing the attention of several members of our table who eventually finished every morsel on their plates. My weakness has always been lobster and more recently it has been burrata. I can hardly ever ignore this glorious cheese on a menu (and even now in the supermarkets). So you can imagine how quickly I jumped at the Nova Scotia lobster starter prepared with burrata, eggplant, mushrooms, and basil. What could have been an overwhelmingly rich dish was perfectly prepared so that each and every ingredient had a place on the plate. And while it screamed richness on paper, even upon clearing my plate, I was ready to take on my next course.

We all again opted from the same next section of the menu completely ignoring the meat and fish options. But, with the pasta, we all seemed to get the best of both worlds - some sort of homemade pasta topped with some sort of fresh fish. Every one was so pleased with their own dish that we barely felt the need to share or even try one another's. While I was impartial to my spaghetti with seppia, squid ink, and pecorino, I also highly recommend the orecchiette with ruby red shrimp chilies and rosemary. Had I not already started with incredible lobster, I would have immediately fallen for the tagliatelle with Nova Scotia lobster, tarragon, and coral. A heavier and extremely flavorful dish is the fusilli with red wine braised octopus and bone marrow which was actually perfect on the oddly cold May evening that we were there.

Even though I was visiting Marea for what I had deemed as a special occasion, I cannot imagine dining there and not feeling like it was a special occasion. It's cuisine, setting, and service truly make it a special place. And so it's rare that I see three large desserts end up on my table after a meal. That alone signals something special. We were all so intrigued by so many of the dishes that we decided to go all out - and we had absolutely no regrets. Desserts at Marea are a must - and by desserts I mean multiple ones. We ordered the white chocolate honey mousse served with pine nut, grapefruit gelato topped with basil as well as the hazelnut torte topped with dark chocolate and lemon gelato topped with mint, and finally the fried doughnut holes with lemon cream and prickly pear sorbet. Again, it was nearly impossible to decide which was best. And if that's your biggest problem, trying to decide which dish was best throughout the night, you know you have found a special spot.

240 Central Park South
New York, New York 10019
(212) 582-5100
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

ABC Kitchen

As much as I love restaurant ratings and awards, I should admit that they make me more nervous than anything else. They actually legitimize the fear that some of my favorite spots will soon become too discovered or that those places I have been itching to try will quickly become untouchable. ABC Kitchen had been on my list for quite some time. And for no other reason than too much travel and other plans, I had yet to stop by. In fact, I had actually scored a reservation several times earlier in the year, but because of other conflicts, had to cancel. So in the spring when this year's James Beard Awards came out naming ABC Kitchen as New York City's best new restaurant of the year, I knew I was in trouble. Sure enough upon my immediate call for a reservation, I was relegated to the 5 pm or 10 pm slots which I couldn't quite bring myself to accept.

However, unlike most award winning restaurants, ABC Kitchen has an option for the everyday diner - setting aside four or five tables every night in the front of the restaurant for first come first serve. And on my last Friday as a New Yorker, it was truly an honor to be one of the first to arrive and be served. In all honesty, we were still seated with the early birds by 6 pm, but somehow it felt much better than succumbing to the offensive 5 pm table. I was immediately nervous that our great fortune would run out if they attempted to rush us through the meal only to free up the seats for other lucky diners. Much to my delight, this could not have been any further from our experience. On my last Friday in New York, I enjoyed one of the most delicious meals I can remember AND it lasted nearly three hours. We were never rushed and we were never waiting as we kept the waitstaff plenty busy in ordering from all parts of the menu.

Not only does ABC Kitchen excel in its cuisine, but it is right on in catering to one of the most popular culinary trends of the moment. Nearly everything on the menu is both local and organic and the decor falls right in line with the food. The dinnerware and unique decorations are mostly handmade and more often than not, in support of local artisans. While the food shines above all, the setting is an experience of its own. As with any restaurant at this high caliber and with so many options, I urge you to go with as many people as possible so that you can sample as much of the menu as possible.

The toasts are a great way to start off the evening and to sample some of the freshest seasonal ingredients. We loved every bit of the crab toast with lemon aioli. An excellent dish to share is the pretzel dusted calamari served with both a marinara and a mustard aioli. The squid are nice and light, not overly fried and we couldn't decide which sauce we liked better as both were excellent. Another must order is the roast carrot and avocado salad with crunchy seeds, sour cream, and citrus. All I can say is fresh, fresh, fresh! And no matter the season, I hope this is always on the menu.

We were so wowed by our starters that I was sure the entrees wouldn't quite be able to keep up which I really would have been ok with. However, each and every main course that arrived at our table took the meal to the next level. Each dish was so excellent that none of us could decide which was the best. And if I were to return soon, I would order them all over again. The fried chicken was some of the best I have ever had and that is coming from a southerner. It was served with baby bok choy, ginger and spicy gravy. The Asian flavors along with perfectly crisp skin and amazingly moist meat turned an everyday dish into a unique delicacy. The next dish that is a must is the wild king salmon with creamed fava beans and crispy sourdough. I am often hesitant to order a salmon dish as I have rarely been blown away by them. But this dish gave the fish a new name in my books as it was perfectly cooked and paired with two very complimentary items. And just when I thought fish couldn't get any better, the steamed halibut with grilled fennel. blood oranges, and chiles arrived on the table. This was an extremely light dish but prepared with outstanding ingredients to create a unique flavor combination.

With a meal this spot on, dessert was an absolute must although we could sadly only stomach one after such a feast. We fell straight for the sundae - salted caramel ice cream topped with candied peanuts and popcorn, whipped cream, and homemade chocolate sauce. Don't let the popcorn scare you off as with every other ingredient offered on the menu, it is there for a reason - and an excellent one at that. With a meal starting off, continuing, and ending with such high standards, I can guarantee that ABC Kitchen's wait list isn't going to free up any time soon. But if you happen to be a lucky New Yorker with this new spot in your backyard, I encourage you to settle for the early bird special whether it's through an actual reservation or as a walk-in. So there you have it - New York at it's finest. I told you I'm still thinking about New Yorkers!

ABC Kitchen
35 East 18th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 475-5829
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):