Entries in Michael White (16)


Ristorante Morini

How much Michael White is too much Michael White? At Ristorante Morini, his seventh New York restaurant in as many years, the chef is betting that we still don’t have enough.

There’ve been some stumbles along the way. Nicoletta, his pizzeria, is limping along after horrible reviews. How do you screw up pizza? Somehow, he did. The Butterfly, his take on a 1950s Wisconsin supper club, quickly fell off the radar after a much publicized opening. A recent re-visit to Costata, his Italian steakhouse in Soho, was disappointing. But at modern haute Italian fine dining, his judgment has never failed him. That’s the genre he tackles once again at Ristorante Morini.

White may be repeating himself, but have you tried to book a table at Marea lately? After five years in business, it is still solidly booked at prime times. Opening Ai Fiori, a second restaurant in the same mold, did nothing to tamp down demand, so why not build a third?

He chose the right location, the Upper East Side, the city’s only remaining residential neighborhood where guests aren’t offended by white tablecloths and don’t require a special occasion for fine dining. The Met is a block away, and if you’d rather avoid museum food, there is now a far better option.

I’m not sure why he chose the name Morini, which this new restaurant shares with Osteria Morini in Soho, where you find haute trattoria fare served on wooden tables with orange paper placemats. This Morini is nothing like that Morini, but I’m sure some tourists will show up at the wrong one.

To run the kitchen, White has installed Gordon Finn, who worked for him at Alto when it had two Michelin stars. Finn executes the White playbook flawlessly. Close your eyes, and you could be at Marea or Ai Fiori.

The prices are punishingly high. You are paying for luxury, or at least the perception of it. Crudi and antipasti are $19–26, pastas $22–29 (not counting gnocchi with black truffles, $42), entrées mostly $36–52 (but Dover Sole will set you back $69).

There is also a four-course option for $84, which allows you to select almost any starter, pasta, entrée and dessert (some items carry supplements). The tariff will probably go up over time, as Ai Fiori’s prix fixe is $94, Marea’s $99, and the restaurants are quite similar. Indeed, when the chef came to our table to say hello, he did not disagree when I described it as “Marea with a meat option.”

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In his heyday, the tenor Luciano Pavarotti could probably have recited the telephone directory in a monotone, and people would have paid to hear it. The chef Michael White is in a similar enviable position: anything he opens is instantly popular, for no other reason than his association with it.

White’s New York career began at Fiamma, where over a decade ago he earned three stars, working for Stephen Hanson of all people. His career really took off when he left in 2007, taking over two upscale Italian places (both now closed) in partnership with Chris Cannon. After an intervening soap opera, he finally wound up with an empire called Altamarea Group, which includes ten restaurants in two U.S. states and on three continents, including five in New York City alone.

That track record guarantees attention, but not acclaim. His pizza place, Nicoletta, got terrible reviews; it’s still open, but gets almost no press. There are no such worries at Costata, his Italian steakhouse in the former Fiamma space. Most of the pro critics haven’t filed yet, but I believe they’ll agree: it’s a hit.

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The Butterfly

Note: The Butterfly closed in summer 2015, after two years in business, as a summer hiatus for renovations became permanent, as such temporary closures so often do. The unfocused faux Wisconsin theme never caught on.


When you google The Butterfly, this is what comes back:

The Butterfly NYC | Classic Cocktails Tribeca | Best New Bar NYC

The Butterfly features cocktails by renowned mixologist Eben Freeman and cuisine by Michelin-starred Chef Michael White in a cozy, mid-century style space

The distinct impression gained, is that this is mainly a cocktail spot, and by the way, you can nosh there too.

White and Freeman have gradually pivoted away from the original concept, an Olde Wisconsin supper club, and an homage to White’s home state. There actually is a “Butterfly Club” in Beloit, Wisconsin, where White once worked. Perhaps he remembers it fondly, but I doubt anyone else around here does.

The décor offers a re-imagining of “retro Wisconsin,” though you quickly forget about it. Waitresses wear old-school black dresses with blue lace trim. Bartenders (including Freeman himself) wear short-sleeve white shirts with thin plaid ties, tie clips, and pocket protectors. They probably decided all of this before the decision to dial down the Wisconsin theme.

Most of the emphasis now is on the cocktails. A couple of weeks ago, White told The Times, “Butterfly isn’t really a Wisconsin restaurant. It’s a New York place to have great cocktails — and something nice to eat.”

Ahmass Fakahany, the main investor in Michael White’s restaurants, added, “Michael and I wanted to showcase the talent of Eben Freeman.”

Freeman built a reputation for avant-garde cocktails at WD~50 and Tailor. The list here is fairly tame by comparison: most of the ten house cocktails have recognizable names, although Freeman tweaks them a bit.

For instance, his Highball ($14; above left) isn’t just any bourbon and soda, but Michter’s Rye and Coca-Cola smoked with alder and cherry woods. His Boiler Maker ($16; below right) is not just any beer and whiskey, but a house-made raisin shandy and Dewar’s infused with pumpernickel raisin bread and carraway seeds.

Freeman told The Times that the cocktail offerings will expand as the restaurant gets its sea legs. The bar certainly has all of Freeman’s toys: we’re not in Wisconsin any more. If you’d prefer to drink wine, then I wouldn’t bother: the list is perfunctory.

About half the menu features comfort-food classics that may well have been popular in 1950s Wisconsin, like a fish sandwich, a patty melt, and shrimp cocktail. Others are just generically popular items that you could find anywhere: a strip steak, fried chicken, a caesar salad.

White elevates these classics above their usual mundane selves. That patty melt is not just any patty: it’s dry-aged beef. That chicken isn’t just any chicken: it’s organic chicken from Bell & Evans.

Most of the menu is inexpensive, by Michael White standards. Hors d’oeuvres are $8–16, salads $11–14, sandwiches $15–17, entrées $19–27, side dishes $5–8, desserts $9–10. The whole menu fits on one page, and the smaller plates dominate: a dozen hors d’oeuvres and salads, against just six sandwiches and entrées.

A $17 patty melt may seem dear, but early reports are rapturous, and it’s in line with many of the city’s high-end burgers. If you believe that no one should ever pay $17 for a burger, you shouldn’t eat here.

I was sorely tempted to try it, but an aged prime patty melt is not so much cooked as curated. I wanted to try the more unusual items, so I ordered four of the hors d’oeuvres.


You might start with the Reuben Croquettes ($9; above left), little fried balls of corned beef (not enough of it) and sauerkraut with thousand island dipping sauce. Zucchini Pancakes ($13; above right) are a terrific snack—little bursts of flavor, with crème fraîche, shallots, dill, and trout roe. I don’t think there’s much of Wisconsin in this dish.


Pork Rinds ($8; above left) are flecked with rosemary and pepper, one of the better renditions of this dish that I’ve encountered, but for a solo diner they’re too much of a good thing. The Bratwurst Sliders ($13; above right) offer plump little house-made sausages, slit lengthwise, with spicy mustard and sweet peppers on potato rolls.

Service was friendly and polished, as it has been at all the White places I’ve visited: silverware was replaced after every course, plates delivered and cleared promptly. I dropped in quite early in the evening, with customers only just beginning to wander in, but I suspect they’ll be able to cope with the volume when the place is full.

Any restaurant from these gentlemen is going to attract a crowd, at first. I do think they’ll have to expand the menu pretty soon, if they want to attract repeat customers. I work near here, so I could easily imagine dropping by the Butterfly from time to time. The food isn’t destination material; the cocktails could be, once Freeman brings out more of his repertoire.

The Butterfly (225 W. Broadway at White Street, TriBeCa)

Food: Retro Wisconsin comfort food, liberally interpreted
Service: First-rate for such a casual place
Ambiance: Retro Wisconsin too, but you’re not really going to notice



Ai Fiori

The career of chef Michael White is at an inflection point. He reached heights that few chefs even dream of, with a trio of haute Italian restaurants carrying nine New York Times stars and five Michelin stars between them.

But his partnership with the restaurateur Chris Cannon hit the skids late last year and dissolved in January, with Cannon taking the two restaurants that pre-dated his association with White (Alto and Convivio), while White and his investor Ahmass Fakahany took the others.

White now lacks the solid front-of-house organization that Cannon supplied, while he plans new restaurants at a frenetic pace. We liked Osteria Morini, the final restaurant that White opened with Cannon’s assistance, but some critics have complained of inconsistency there.

In November, just two months after Morini, came Ai Fiori (“Among the Flowers”) in the Setai Fifth Avenue hotel. It’s another in the haute Italian genre shared by all of his restaurants except the casual Morini. The food is impressive, but to maintain it as a three-star establishment may require more attention than he is now capable of.

It’s a lovely, elegant, romantic space, although some critics will complain that it’s a generic hotel dining room that could be anywhere—as they did at the other Setai restaurant in New York, SHO Shaun Hergatt. Don’t listen to them! Ai Fiori is the most beautiful new restaurant built since the Great Recession.

You can order à la carte or, the better bet, four courses for $79. This turns out to be a remarkable deal: individually, the starters range from $14–27, pastas $18–25 (not counting a $55 truffle-studded outlier), mains $32–49, and desserts $13–14. Nearly all are orderable on the prix fixe without supplements.

The cuisine purports to be that of the Italian and French riviera, but you wouldn’t guess that by looking at the menu, or for that matter the room. The connection to the riviera is so tenuous as to be practically non-existent.

The amuse bouche, a warm sunchoke soup (above left), was an excellent start. My friend loved the fluke crudo (above right) with sea urchin, lemon oil, and sturgeon caviar.

Mare e Monte (below left) is one of the more original dishes, an alternating stack of diver scallops, celery root, and black truffles, with bone marrow and thyme, served inside of a hollowed-out bone. It’s an instant classic.

Oddly for a Michael White menu, the pasta and risotto section of the menu lists just six items. Risotto (above right) with escargots, parsley, parmigiano, garlic chips, and cotecchino was good but unmemorable. My friend thought the Trofie Nero (below left), squid-ink pasta tossed with shellfish, was the better choice.

The butter-poached lobster (above right) deserves the praise heaped upon it in just about every Ai Fiori review that I’ve read. Normally $37 if ordered on its own, it’s available on the prix fixe without a supplment: remarkable.

White hired pastry chef Robert Truitt away from Corton. His work here is less impressive. Baba al Rhum (above left) tasted stale not very rummy. However, my friend loved the chocolate sformato cake (above right) with its molten core. The kitchen sent out an extra dessert (below left), the description of which I didn’t note, and the meal ended with a plate of petits fours (below right).

The wine list runs to 43 pages, and you can do some serious wallet damage, but there are also plenty of reasonable choices in the $40s and $50s. We took the sommelier’s recommendation for an $82 Gewurtztreminer and weren’t disappointed.

The bar is one of the more comfortable, civilized places for a drink in midtown, and well worth a visit in its own right. Eben Freeman (formerly of the now-departed Tailor) is responsible for the cocktails, which are expertly made, as you’d expect, but lack the whimsy that he’s capable of.

On a Friday evening, the space appeared to be around 2/3rds full. Reservations at Ai Fiori have generally been available at just about any time: it is not the immediate hit that Marea was. I suspect that’s a product of too many high-end Italian places opening in a short time span, and perhaps some Michael White fatigue. The location, at Fifth Avenue and 36th Street, is something of a dead zone, and the restaurant’s presence is not obvious from the street. (You enter the hotel and then up a spiral staircase to reach it.)

My meal here was probably the best I’ve had at any of White’s restaurants. To produce at this level consistently, White will need competent deputies who can operate it on his behalf.

Ai Fiori (400 Fifth Avenue at 36th Street, in the Setai Hotel, East Midtown)

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


Osteria Morini

What a wild rocket-ride Michael White has had. Four years ago, he was the relatively unheralded chef at Stephen Hanson’s Fiamma. The restaurant was a solid three-star, but the chef’s name didn’t roll off the tongue.

Today, White is as close to culinary royalty as any chef in this town who doesn’t have four New York Times stars. His three established places (Alto, Convivio, and Marea) have nine NYT stars, and also five Michelin stars. No other NYC chef has more than two Michelin-starred restaurants, nor more than four stars in total.

Mario Batali is a better known Italian chef than White, but Batali hasn’t actually cooked in years, except on television. White really works in his restaurants.

This fall brings a dual test, as Osteria Morini, his latest place, has just opened; another, Ai Fiori, is forthcoming in the new Setai Fifth Avenue.

The obvious questions are: 1) Is there such a thing as too much Michael White? And 2) Can his restaurants remain as good, when his time is split among five of them? To answer the second question, we’ll have to wait a while. For now, we can answer the first: when they’re as good as Morini, White can open as many restaurants as he wants.

The focus here is on the cuisine of the Emilia-Romagna region, known for hearty, uncomplicated fare. The word Osteria signals a more informal approach to Italian food: no tablecloths, no expensive prix fixe.

This was clearly meant to be the casual cousin to the chef’s earlier restaurants. As Frank Bruni noted in a blog post:

Its unvarnished sensibility will be reflected in its décor, which uses antiques and other materials plucked or salvaged from flea markets and farmhouses throughout Italy.

Still, with pastas priced at $17–19 and entrées $24–42, these aren’t cheap eats. It’s quite a bit more than White and his partner, Chris Cannon, told the Times just six months ago. At these prices, they could afford to ditch the paper napkins and the garish orange paper placemats. The loud rock sound track is probably the restaurant’s least authentic amenity; it ought to go, too.

But that is about all we would change at Osteria Morini, which is already a great restaurant after only a month in business.

Musseto ($13; above left) was a hearty stew of braised cockscombs, sweetbreads, calves feet, garlic croutons, and salsa verde. Nine out of ten diners would probably reject it for the “ick” factor alone, but I couldn’t actually distinguish the specific taste of any ingredient except the croutons.

Mozzarella ($11; above right) paired happily with figs and rosemary oil.

The pasta section of the menu is loaded with shapes and flavor combinations I have never seen before, all made in house. While Tortellini ($18; above right) may be common, the duck liver cream sauce it came with was not. It was an excellent dish, but it needed to be just a shade warmer.

White roasts Porchetta ($29; above right) with sage and rosemary on a spit for three hours, wrapped in thick, crackling skin. The pork was beautifully cooked, as tender as butter.

Petroniana ($27; above left), a crispy veal cutlet, is so rich that it could be dessert, putting the old classic to shame, with layers of prosciutto, parmigiano, and truffle cream, served on a bed of buttered spinach. We debated whether this dish was too heavy for its own good—it was certainly impossible to finish—but I would order it again.

Cavoletti Bruxelles & Pancetta ($9; above right), or Brussels Sprouts, were an excellent side dish, but honestly there was no need to order them, as the rest of the meal was already far too filling.

The wine list is excellent for this type of restaurant, with many unfamiliar wines (Talia Baiocchi published an overview last week). I checked in on foursquare, and within minutes a stranger directed my attention to a white wine fermented in its skin, in a section of the menu captioned “Vini Bianchi da Contemplazione.” These wines have a slightly orange hue and an arch, crisp flavor that pairs well with the cuisine. We had the Notte di Luna, which at $69 seemed to us a very good deal for something so unusual.

A restaurant in such high demand—and Morini is about as hot as any right now—could quickly become full of itself. There is none of that here. The staff volunteered without prompting to transfer our bar tab to the table (Ahem! Paging Jeffrey Chodorow). And when we stopped Chef White to ask how a dish was prepared (the Porchetta), he insisted on finding a piece of paper so that he could draw a diagram, and then took us into the kitchen to show us how it worked. (We are reasonably certain he did not recognize us as bloggers, because it was the end of the meal, and he had paid no attention to us before that point.)

Chef White is juggling four high-profile restaurants, soon to become five. To maintain quality at all of them will be a challenge. We can’t forecast how he’ll manage that. Right now, while Osteria Morini has his full attention, it’s everything we hoped it would be.

Osteria Morini (218 Lafayette Street between Broome & Spring Streets, Soho)

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



Note: Convivio closed in March 2011, along with its sister restaurant Alto on the same day, due to unspecified “business circumstances.”


Michael White is obviously not the only chef in this town with multiple restaurants. But the three he has are probably the most similar.

Alto, Convivio, and Marea are all upscale Italian New York Times three-star restaurants. There are slight differences in focus—northern Italian, southern Italian, and seafood respectively—but the menus share a strong stylistic similarity.

There is nothing like, for instance, the huge difference between Daniel and Café Boulud, or between Jean Georges and Perry St.

On the bill, however, there is a huge difference, with four-course prix fixes of $89, $79, and $59 at Marea, Alto, and Convivio respectively. Location has something to do with it—Central Park South for Marea, midtown for Alto, Tudor City for Convivio. The expensive seafood ingredients imported for Marea are clearly a factor.

But after four visits to Marea, I am not yet quite persuaded that you get your money’s worth for $89. It is clearly a very good restaurant, or I wouldn’t have returned. But for $40 less per person, we had a terrific meal at Convivio last week that was better than any one of my meals at Marea. The only drawback is that you have to traipse to Tudor City, which is a moderate inconvenience.

Convivio is in the space that had been L’Impero. Eric Asimov awarded three stars (when Scott Conant was the chef), but Frank Bruni demoted it to two, finding the food inconsistent, and complaining about “lugubrious” décor “evoking the upholstered interior of a very large coffin.” Ouch!

White and owner Chris Cannon took the critique to heart. If ever there were a makeover tailor-made to Bruni’s specifications, this was it. They brightened up the space, lowered the cost of the prix fixe, and added inexpensive tapas-like starters called sfizi.

Voila! Convivio was a three-star restaurant.

Convivio was never very high on our to-do list, mainly because we no longer trusted Bruni to evaulate Italian restaurants correctly. This time, perhaps he got it right.

You can order à la carte here, as at all of the Cannon–White restaurants. The sfizi are $4–7, antipasti $10–16, primi $23–25, secondi $26–35, desserts $11–15. But at $59 the prix fixe is a much better deal. There is only one dish that carries a supplement: the steak, which at $35 is the most expensive entrée. On the prix fixe, you’re basically getting the antipasto at half price and the dessert for free.

What can I say? We loved almost everything. Testa (above left), a deep-fried pork terrine, was complemented beautifully by a fried egg. Polipo (above right), or grilled octopus, was tender and smoky.

Garganelli (above left) came with a seppia & shrimp sausage, zucchini leeks, and peccorino; Gramigna (above right) with duck sausage, broccoli rabe, sage, and marsala.

Maiale (above left), or a pork chop, was large enough to feed all of Tudor City. As good as it was, I had no intention of sharing.

Grilled lamb chops (above right) were delightful, but they were undermined by salsa verde, escarole, tomato and beans, which were far too overbearing and unsubtle.

Heather Bertinetti, the young pastry chef at all three of the Cannon–White restaurants, is a real find. She hasn’t disappointed me yet. Crostata di Mela (above left) was an irresistible crumble of spiced apples, walnuts, and caramel gelato. Brasato d’Ananas (above right) made a hit out of vanilla braised pineapple, coconut custard, and mango sorbet.

Service was polished and professional. I especially appreciated the sommelier, who, when I asked for a recommendation at $60 or less, went all the way down to $45. It was a terrific choice too (the 2001 Majara), and on top of that he decanted it and offered us a copy of the label.

The restaurant wasn’t quite full, but business was certainly brisk. (When I called to confirm, a recording warned that our table would be forfeit if we were more than fifteen minutes late: ugh!) We may have lucked into one of the better tables, a two-top on the restaurant’s upper level, with no one nearby. Some of the tables are a bit more cramped than that.

No one doubts that Michael White is an elite chef. I’ve had my ups and downs at Marea, but I will likely return there somewhat regularly, as it is much more conveniently located, and I still have a lot of confidence in Chef White. But if you can get to Tudor City, Convivio may be the best way to experience his cuisine.

Convivio (45 Tudor City Place at 42nd Street, Tudor City)

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


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: **