Entries in Marea (6)


Sea Urchin and Steak at Marea


I went back to Marea last week to sample two of the dishes mentioned in Sam Sifton’s three-star love letter.

I don’t know how Marea’s menu will evolve, but there is one item that will never come off. Not after this:

The very first item on the menu at Marea is ricci, a piece of warm toast slathered with sea urchin roe, blanketed in a thin sheet of lardo, and dotted with sea salt. It offers exactly the sensation as kissing an extremely attractive person for the first time — a bolt of surprise and pleasure combined. The salt and fat give way to primal sweetness and combine in deeply agreeable ways. The feeling lingers on the tongue and vibrates through the body. Not bad at $14 a throw — and there are two on each plate.

Well…I had it. Yes, it is very good. But no, it isn’t as good as a first kiss. My body did not vibrate in deeply agreeable ways.

Then came the steak, or perhaps I should say, the “Creekstone Farms 50-day dry-aged sirloin,” which according to Sifton, “would do epic battle with the beef at any steakhouse in town.”

Yes, it is an excellent slab of meat, served on the bone for good measure. What Marea lacks is the 2,000 degree ovens the better steakhouses have. So there is no exterior char, just the faint hint of cross-hatching. It’s a decent escape-hatch dish for the non-fish-eater in your party, but for $47 you’ll do better at restaurants that make their living at steak.

I’d thrown my diet to the wind anyway, so I figured one last cheat wouldn’t do much harm. Affogato ($13) doesn’t do much calorie damage—or so I imagined. It’s zabaglione gelato, espresso, and amaro: dessert and coffee combined in one glass.

I dined at the bar, where service is friendly. The bartenders told me they’d had plenty of laughs over Sifton’d description of the sea urchin toast, but everyone at the restaurant was relieved to have their three stars.

At some point I’ll be back to sample more of the pastas and fish. Sifton’s idea of visiting for the steak is just nutty. For now, we stand by the two stars we’ve awarded on two prior visits.

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


Review Recap: Marea

Today, Sam Sifton drops the expected threespot on Marea, the posh Italian Seafooder on Central Park South. Prose this purple hasn’t been seen in the paper before:

The very first item on the menu at Marea is ricci, a piece of warm toast slathered with sea urchin roe, blanketed in a thin sheet of lardo, and dotted with sea salt. It offers exactly the sensation as kissing an extremely attractive person for the first time — a bolt of surprise and pleasure combined. The salt and fat give way to primal sweetness and combine in deeply agreeable ways. The feeling lingers on the tongue and vibrates through the body. Not bad at $14 a throw — and there are two on each plate.

I don’t know yet if that paragraph will be the Best of Sifton or the Worst of Sifton, but it’s sure to be one or the other.

It’s a dark and stormy night by the time Sifton gets to crudi:

There is as well a crudo menu — and a crudo bar along the restaurant’s east side, with seats for 20. It is not part of the prix fixe, but a geoduck clam with fresh chilies and lemon helps explain in one bite why men would dive amid huge swells to retrieve the things from the angry Pacific.

The restaurant gets three stars despite weak main courses. “Better to hit shore for the steak (or a crisp roast guinea hen with asparagus) or upgrade into the whole-fish treatments.”

I cringed when Sifton described it as “unfussy.” I had prayed that with Frank Bruni’s retirement, that word and its derivatives be banished from restaurant criticism.

Both we and Eater predicted a three-star review. We both win $1 at EVEN odds against our hypothetical one-dollar bets.

Eater   NYJ
Bankroll –$1.00   –$1.00
Gain/Loss $1.00   $1.00
Total $0.00   $0.00
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 1–1

Life-to-date, New York Journal is 71–26 (73%).


Review Preview: Marea

Tomorrow, Sam-I-Am Sifton reviews Marea, Chris Cannon & Michael White’s seafood stunner on Central Park South. The Eater oddsline is as follows: Sift Happens: 22-1; Three Stars: EVEN; Four: 20-1.

The Skinny: This was the restaurant that most of us were positive Frank Bruni would review before he left. The Brunz fawned over Italian restaurants in general, and none more so than Cannon & White’s two other places, Alto and Convivio, both of which received three stars. His reasons for taking a pass on Marea were never satisfactorily explained, but we believe he wasn’t quite sold on the place, but couldn’t bring himself to drop the hammer.

If Bruni was ambivalent, we can certainly understand his reasons. We were not impressed when we visited in June. In New York, Adam Platt was unhappy, but awarded three stars anyway, prompting an angry outburst from Michael White’s BFF, Josh Ozersky. Ryan Sutton in Bloomberg awarded four stars. Alan Richman in GQ doesn’t do stars, but if he did, said he’d award four, as well.

Notwithstanding our doubts, there seems to be a clear consensus for at least three stars. Besides, if DBGB is a two-star restaurant (as Sifton claimed it was a week ago), how could Marea get the same? Although Ozersky lobbied hard for a four-star review, we are assuming that Sifton isn’t that crazy.

The Bet: We agree with Eater’s Ben Leventhal that Sam Sifton will award three stars to Marea.



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: **


Review Previews: DBGB, Marea, Eleven Madison Park

Record to date: 8–3

We’ll be away for the next two weeks, and most likely will not be able to post our Review Previews in real time, so we’re posting them now.

Bruni has three reviews remaining. What will they be?

  1. Marea is a definite: there’s no way Bruni would pass up an upscale Italian place that opened on his watch.
  2. Eater.com reported that Bruni has been spoted three times recently at Eleven Madison Park. He wouldn’t be there so often in the twilight of his tenure unless he’s working up a re-review.
  3. The last one’s something of a wild card, but among places that must be reviewed (and a Boulud restaurant clearly fits this description), we are fairly certain that DBGB is the oldest outstanding.

Bruni has already reviewed Eleven Madison Park twice (two stars; 2/23/2005 and three stars; 1/10/2007). A promotion to four is the only conceivable reason to review it again. He has not named a new four-star restaurant since Masa in December 2004. The 4½-year gap is the longest in Times history, a record he set in the middle of last year. We and others believe that he’s itching to crown one more.

Unfortunately, that will leave poor Marea with three stars, as Bruni isn’t going to canonize two restaurants in under a month, when in almost five years he found none at all. We don’t think Marea is a four-star restaurant in any event, but given Bruni’s love-affair with Italian cuisine we thought he just might pull the trigger until we heard he was taking another hard look at Eleven Madison. (If the 11MP review doesn’t come through, then Mike White and Chris Cannon could still have a chance.)

Finally, DBGB: Most reviews we’ve seen (including our own) have been slightly less enthusiastic about this place than Bar Boulud at Lincoln Center, where Bruni awarded two stars. We therefore believe that DBGB will be rated a notch lower, at one star.

In summary, our predictions are: one star for DBGB, three stars for Marea, and four stars for Eleven Madison Park. Obviously, it’s possible that Bruni’s final reviews will include one or two other places, but we’re positive that Marea will be among the three.




Chris Cannon and Micheal White, owner & chef respectively of the new restaurant Marea, are too smart to actually announce that they are gunning for four stars. That hasn’t stopped others (Ben Leventhal, Mister Cutlets) from making ambitious predictions on their behalf, but Messrs. Cannon and White have been wisely silent.

You just know it’s true, though. White has earned three NYT stars on a trio of occasions—at Fiamma Osteria, where he no longer works, and at Alto & Convivio, where he still does. You just know he wouldn’t have signed up for $700,000 in annual rent and a luxurious make-over of the old San Domenico space, if all he wanted was another three-star restaurant.

When I saw the opening menu, my heart sank: it featured over 85 items in almost a dozen categories. No three- or four-star restaurant tries to serve so many things, especially in the early days. It is often a recipe for disaster; it is seldom a prescription for excellence.

When we visited on Saturday evening, we found a menu slightly simplified, but it still offered over 70 items, or about double what it should, even allowing that some of them are crudi or raw bar selections that require minimal preparation. The unfortunate result was predictable: rubbery squid; cold pasta; over-cooked sturgeon.

The restaurant also has the same problem that plagued San Domenico: it is a large space, and it is difficult for a kitchen to keep up, especially when so many of the dishes are as overwrought as they are here. We know that Michael White can cook, but predictions that he would get four stars out of the gate seem to us premature—that is, assuming Frank Bruni doesn’t have a lobotomy between now and August.

Marea means tide in Italian, and the cuisine is all seafood, aside from a couple of bail-out dishes for landlubbers. The menu is hedged for the economy, as it naturally would be. It suggests, in small print, the four-course prix fixe at $89. You can still order à la carte and get out for less money, although by no means cheaply.

Just to list all of the menu categories is exhausting: snacks to share ($9–14); crudi ($11–17, or $23 for three); six kinds of oysters ($3.50 ea.; $35 per dozen); caviar; antipasti ($17–24); primi and risotti ($24–36), secondi ($35–47), whole fish & shellfish ($39–49 per pound). The whole fish offer a choice from among four sauces and six sides; there seems to be no way to order the sides separately.

It took us quite a while to absorb all of this. The $89 prix fixe precludes the whole fish; you can choose one antipasto or crudo, one pasta or risotto, and one secondo, though a number of them carry supplements. We finally decoded the whole menu and were ready to order.

Polipo, or grilled octopus (above left) was a rubbery disaster, rendering irrelevant the bed of rice, fava beans, and yellow tomatoes on which it lay.

Tartare of Hawaiian blue prawns, chanterelles, and almonds (above right) was fine, but a bit flat. The almonds were draped casually over the top of the tartare, but not really integrated in the dish. We had similar misgivings about most of the things we tried.

Gramigna (above left) caught my eye because it wedded smoked cod and speck, along with leeks and gremolata. It was the more successful of our two pastas, but for the life of us we couldn’t detect any smoked cod. “I wonder if they forgot it,” my girlfriend remarked.

Ferratini (above right) arrived not warm enough, and it also suffered from poorly calibrated ingredients. It allegedly contained manila clams, calamari, and hot chilies, but the latter ingredient was singular. We counted just one chili, and it contributed nothing to the flavor of the dish.

A long wait ensued for the secondi. We were in no hurry, but the delay foretold another culinary misfire. Storione, or Columbia river sturgeon (above left) arrived tasting like dry sponge, along with another miscellaneous mixture of ingredients—chanterelles, spring garlic, and citrus.

Seppia, or grilled Mediterranean cuttlefish (above right) seemed to have been correctly prepared, and it was somewhat more intriguing, as one is seldom served the whole animal. But again, it had little to do with its dance partners: braised escarole, livornese sauce, and wild oregano.

Dessert was the only fully successful course: a pineapple cheesecake with coconut sorbet (above left); a panna cotta with blueberries (above right). [This is the only course for which I do not have a printed menu, so these descriptions might not be quite right.]

There were no amuse courses, as one normally expects at a restaurant serving an $89 prix fixe. The breads were excellent, especially a focaccia; at the end, a meager quartet of chocolate petits-fours was yet another reminder of the amenities Marea still lacks, in light of its price range.

When the kitchen is under control, Marea will be a lovely place to dine. The multi-million dollar rehab of the dowdy old San Domenico space is stunning, without being ostentatious. You can’t avoid noticing how lovely it is, but it doesn’t get in your way. The serving pieces are lovely too, including a gorgeous charger plate I’d love to take home.

The staff render polished service. The lengthy wine list has plenty for the $50-and-under crowd (like us). A sommelier visited our table unbidden and immediately directed us to a happy choice in our price range. When we got home, I realized I hadn’t taken a copy of the menu and would have no hope of remembering all of the Italian names and ingredients. I called the restaurant back, and they emailed it to me that same evening. At 12:15 a.m.

We do not doubt that Marea is capable of turning out multi-star food. On some days, and for some guests, it may be doing so now. But nothing we tried, even had it been executed properly, approached the potential of the city’s gold standard for seafood, Le Bernardin. Perhaps it is a disservice to Michael White that anyone suggested Marea was in the same league.

Sadly, Chef White now cannot take the one obvious step that would improve Marea tremendously, which is to cut the menu in half. That would smell of desperation—admitting defeat just as the critics are starting to take their measure of the place. So he will continue to tinker around the edges and hope that he can send out winners when he has to.

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

Food: *
Service: **½
Ambiance: ***
Overall: **

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