Marea is a bucket list restaurant for me. I have always been a fan of Chef Michael White’s pasta and after multiple visits to Osteria Morini, I was finally given the chance to have dinner at Morini’s sister restaurant, Marea.
Marea, unlike many other Italian restaurants, specializes in the coastal cuisine of Italy, primarily seafood. With Marea, Chef White has been known to create interpretations of traditional Italian dishes using ingredients from the sea rather than land. For dinner, the restaurant offered 3 menus for its diners, a 4-course prix fixe menu, a chef tasting menu, and an a la carte menu. My dining companion and I both opted for the 4-course prix fixe menu for the flexibility in ordering, effectively allowing us to try out 8 different courses of our choice.
The meal started off with an amuse bouche of an eggplant spread on top of crispy rye cracker. The dish was dry and lack any real flavors. A bad start to the meal.
What follows, however, has to be the best octopus dish I have ever had in my life. Smokey grilled octopus was paired exquisitely with a smoked potatoes and acidic pickles. The octopus was braised and then grilled, making it meltingly tender and succulent, deep with meaty flavor and a hint of smoke. The picked onion added a layer of complexity to the dish, balancing the richness of the octopus and the potatoes.
It has always been said that you should never combine seafood and cheese. Chef White did the opposite by combining sweet lobsters with creamy burrata to create one of Marea’s most popular dish.
The much-revered fusilli didn’t really catch my attention. While the fusilli was perfectly firm and the octopus ragu is deep and rich in flavor, I found the dish to be overly salty and lacking in finesse.
The second pasta dish, on the other hand, was mind-blowingly delicious. The sweetness of the crab worked perfectly with a heat of the chili to form a deliciously creamy sauce that topped off amazing cicatelli. The basil added a floral note to the flavor profile while crispy bread crumbs finished the dish with some textural contrast. A truly perfect dish and my favorite pasta dish of all time.
Much to my surprise, Marea did an amazing steak. Aged for twice the usual duration, the 50-day dry aged sirloin was rich with nutty and beefy flavor while being meltingly tender.
The fish entree, however, was a disappointment. Sloppy plating and a lack of flavor made the perfectly cooked halibut lose some of its merits. This was not a Michelin 2 stars dish. Bad to the point of being forgettable.
At this point in the meal, we were absolutely stuffed from our previous course. Who would have thought pasta and steaks were that filling? My dining companion opted to forgo their dessert, leaving me to try this dessert for myself. The lemon tart was a good step away from the fatty and rich dishes from before. Aside from being exactly what I wanted at the time, the tart didn’t have another other special or creative feature, just plain, solid delicious.
The meal ended with a selection of mignardises and coffee. I find it strange that they gave us two different chocolate, basically eliminating out the ability to try them both.
Overall, Marea was a solid restaurant. I could see its appeal to the busy and business-minded New Yorkers. However, as a dedicated food lover, Marea was not up to my expectation. While there were many good dishes, there were a few very low points; the halibut, in particular, was very bad. Maybe I came on a bad day? Maybe I should have ordered the chef’s tasting menu? Maybe the items I ordered was not their best items? Ultimately, I felt that the restaurant didn’t justify its Michelin 2 stars status.