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
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):