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Monday, July 21, 2014

NYC: Fine Italian @ Marea, Midtown West

Heralding 2 stars since its opening day in 2010, Marea redefines Italian dining with a touch of class and excellent cooking. This felt a little contradictory to me as my perception of Italian dining has always felt more homely rather than classy unlike the French. It is usually rustic in appearance, filled with classic flavours and typically come in larger portions. Then again, that is just my mindset which was proven wrong by this unparalleled Italian restaurant. 

Walking in to the restaurant, the service was instantaneous. I was made comfortable in no time with the maitre’d coming to my table to offer his service every now and then. One thing I’d realise is the attentiveness of the waitstaff at Marea. I generally have a “lost look” and every time I looked up, the waitstaff would notice me, walk to me and asked if I needed help with anything. Lost Asian kid in New York? lol. 

After settling in, I decided to go with the Marea tasting course. A course that will bring out the finest that Marea’s chefs has to offer in a 5 course meal. Needless to stay, I was looking forward to the meal. First up were the three slices of raw fish. While they were fresh, the merits were in the combination of each pairing . The tuna was the highlight for me over the fluke and snapper. Whatever that green puree the tuna sat on only god knows, but it was simply sublime together.  The plating was sensational and the attention to detail was every bit clear in its presentation. Thinking back, I should have cut them into halves! Their small size means the joy was a little short-lived. Worth it though!
 ASSAGGIO DI TRE, a tasting of three crudo. 

My next course was a popular crustacean. On the plate were perfectly arranged lobster portions on a pressed burrata with the herbs, eggplants, tomatoes and basil seed. I will be honest here. The combination of the cheese, and lobster with a slight drizzling of olive oil was all I needed on this plate. Never have I had the cheese served this way before.  In fact there seemed to be a whimsical sense of creativity where everything just fell in place and worked. Basil seeds did not quite play a big impact but the fresh tomatoes added a sour-sweet note that mellowed very well with the lobster and the fresh creamy cheese. 
ASTICE, nova scotia lobster, burrata, eggplant al funghetto, basil seeds. 

A classic Italian staple, the pasta was my next course. But this by no means was any ordinary pasta feat. The combinations of flavours here can be compared to how an expert talks about a perfume. Different notes/flavours coming in at different time. It all seemed very planned.  The first bite always had a burst of tomato with a strong crab taste. Something like a bisque. Just as the flavours pass on, you get the sweet-briny flavours of the sea urchin. Decadent! I now wonder whether the sea urchin gave this pasta sauce a cream like silkiness too! Great sauce for sure! Its accompany pasta was called strozzapreti, something like a coarsely rolled spiral with less swirls through. Cooked al dente, the pasta was spot on ( I would be disappointed if it was not)! To finish, the chefs were smart to ensure the dish did not appear one-dimensional and added the garlicky crumbs which not only had texture, but a fragrance to match the well loved seafood used. 
STROZZAPRETI, crab, sea urchin, basil.

I was expecting a little beef dish to pop up at my table after having three courses of seafood. But least did I expect the showpiece of this meal to be another seafood course. This time a stunning dish of scallops, and root vegetables. Before I go further, if any of you watch cooking shows you will understand how important prep work is when cooking scallops. Chefs always say “hot pan”. This was where the magic happened. A really burning hot pan which was probably glowing red in colour. Scallops here were only cooked on one side with butter added at the end and gently scooped many times to cook it at the top. The result was a phenomenal crusty scallop with a melt through flesh. Intense sweetness of the scallop paired sautéed mushrooms, pickled shallots and slow-grilled endives set atop a smooth onion puree resulted in an instant foodgasm! This was clear why Marea has been one of the best if not the best Italian restaurants in town. Sensational. *respect* 

CAPESANTE seared sea scallops, oyster mushrooms, grilled endive, pickled shallots. 

To end, the Marea put together a strawberry dessert. I am not quite sure what it was but I tasted notes of pistachio, coconut. There was probably almond in there haha. Ok, I did not know what I was eating. My brain was still stuck in the previous course. One thing for sure, it was good but nowhere near as memorable as the lobster, pasta or scallop course. 
 TORTA DI FRAGOLE strawberries, ricotta crema, rhubarb, perilla

Boom boom pow! What a lovely meal I had that day. The artsy plating, sophisticated creations of Marea definitely had me think twice before generalising Italian finesse. Their marque automobile is after all the Ferrari. It has been said that always treat your subject with respect and your subject will reward for you.  Marea has shown the world what it does with the produce of the sea.  The ability of the chefs at Marea in retaining the flavours of the seafood was clear from start to end with each protein prepared with respect and garnished only with seasonal ingredients that bring out nothing but the best out of its seafood. There were not heavy lashings of cream, tomato sugo, vinegar or cheese. Most if not all ingredients were subtle and filled the undertones of each course. Very well done to Marea.  I am terribly impressed with this Manhattan establishment. 

Last but not least was the great service I received through out the day. Despite being dressed in chinos and oxford shirt whilst the businessman and woman in this trendy town were set in their black coats and formal wear, I was never neglected . Instead, the waitstaff were still every bit courteous with their greetings and I felt indifferent from the rest of the people. Definitely deserves the rating it holds. 

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