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I have a perverse fascination with Marea. Our first visit was not exactly impressive. I went back with a colleague and had a meal that, if not stellar, was at least solid. Cooking the food without significant errors is progress.

But I have not yet seen anything that would justify the rapturous reviews given by critics I respect, like Alan Richman and Ryan Sutton. I keep wondering, “What have I missed?”

The other night, I was in the area and stopped in again for an appetizer, a couple of cocktails, and dessert. The cocktails were very well made; I particularly loved The Diplomat, an Italian re-interpretation of a Manhattan. A couple more of those, and they would have had to carry me home.

Getting a bartender’s attention was a consistently a challenge, except towards the end of the evening when the crowds had cleared out. They serve a full menu at the bar, but it doesn’t occur to them to offer the menu. A cocktail list is dropped off, and before you can blink the bartender has disappeared again.

Baccala ($18; above left) is a house-made salt cod, impeccably prepared in itself, but given little help by the heirloom tomatoes and watercress purée. I mean, why those vegetables with that fish? But I adored the Zuchine ($12; above right), a zucchini tort with lemon crema frozen yogurt, with which the bartender comped a glass of dessert wine. That’s what you want from a three-star restaurant—food you can’t get out of your head, even days after you’ve eaten it.

The à la carte menu structure at least means that one can dip into Marea periodically without committing to a four-course meal. And I suppose I will keep looking for the magic. Sam Sifton’s verdict for the Times awaits.

Marea (240 Central Park West between Seventh Avenue & Broadway, West Midtown)

Food: **
Service: **
Ambiance: ***
Overall: **

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