October 2010

10 Courses at Chef Michael White’s Marea, NYC

On the news that Marea was just awarded 2 Michelin stars, I provide this timely post!

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As I occasionally do, I ducked away from the peeps and relished in a lavish multi-course tasting menu (with wine pairings), all by my lonesome – it is my only hobby, after all. I have no problem doing this from time to time – facebook keeps me company as I people watch, and I can indulge with ravenous glee – with only strangers the wiser. I've been looking forward to dinner at Marea, Michael White's Italian influenced seafood restaurant on Central Park South – and two dishes in particular. I chose to enjoy the grander of the tasting menus that are available upon request.

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But first, a cocktail at the handsome and impressively stocked Egyptian onyx bar.

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^ The Milano Torino: Campari, Punt e Mes, Orange, Franciacorta.

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I sat at Table 1, with a full view of the goings on. And now the first of the dishes I covet:

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^ Ricci: sea urchin, lardo, sea salt. Stunning. This sets the stage for the meal to come. Salt, fat, uni… it's a revelation. Having an intimate relationship with sea urchin roe in its many Japanese preparations, I find this dish fascinating, challenging, and remarkable. It continues to evoke meaningful discussion with the chefs that I count among my friends.

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^ Ostriche: east and west coast oysters served with morellino mignonette & cucumber-lemon vinegar; and Crudo al Taglio.

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^ Astice: nova scotia lobster, burrata, eggplant al funghetto, basil seeds. Outstanding; ^ and the Calamari: lobster and shrimp filled squid, slow cooked tomato, basil oil. 

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^ Risotti Mare: shrimp, lobster, scallops, rouget; ^ and the Orecchiette: spot prawns, chilies, rosemary.

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And the other dish – my raison d'être. ^ The Fusilli: red wine braised octopus, bone marrow. The dish is White's play on a Surf & Turf, if you will. It's alchemy. The gelatin from the octopus binds with the liquified marrow, allowing the sauce to emulsify. Brilliant. Decadent. Perfect.

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My server was excellent. When there was a slight mis-pour on the wine pairing for my requested seafood "main" course, I was asked if I'd prefer to keep the red on the table – enjoy my fish course with the appropriate pairing, and accept the meat course on the house… no need to waste that gorgeous Brunello.

Above ^ Dentice: seared atlantic snapper, blood sausage, whole roasted sunchoke, apple, chiodini mushrooms, sunchoke puree. Are you kidding? …killer. ^ and the Bistecca: grilled Creekstone Farms 50 day dry aged sirloin, bone marrow panzanella, braised romaine.

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^ Gianduja: cocoa nib crema, hazelnut chocolate, fior di latte gelato; and dessert truffles.

A wonderful meal, excellent pairings – and equitably priced. Marea did not disappoint. I'll return for a full serving of the Fusilli, and that seductive Ricci to start.

Marea on Urbanspoon

The Black Hole of Restaurant Star Ratings

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Man, do I get frustrated with people debating the "meaning" of restaurant star ratings. Such ratings seem a necessary evil of restaurant criticism, and can be generally helpful – provided the given media outlet has a consistent rating system in place long enough for the important or interesting restaurants in question to have cycled through the process and stand on an even footing.

Locally, the Dallas Morning News is the most visible and noteworthy bestower of such stars. The paper changed their system in 2007 from one that featured 'half-stars' as well. DMN's restaurant critic, Leslie Brenner, is constantly under fire for her choices in performing said task. I'm not here to debate her opinions, but rather look at what the stars are meant to indicate here in Dallas and elsewhere in the dining world.

A typical comment regarding a local star rating goes something like this, "Another 'Good" review… and that only merits 2 stars?!"  Well, yes. Look at what the ratings mean!

Dallas Morning News:  (number of restaurants so rated)

*****    Extraordinary – Defines fine dining in the region.  (2)

 ****    Excellent – One of the finest restaurants in Dallas-Fort Worth.  (Over 50) 

  ***    Very Good – A destination restaurant for this type of dining. (Over 100)

   **    Good  - Commendable effort, but experience can be uneven.

    *    Fair - Experience is generally disappointing.

    0    Poor

Michelin Guide: NYC

  ***    Excellent cuisine and worth the journey.  (5)

   **    Excellent cooking and worth a detour.  (10)

    *    A very good restaurant in its category.  (42)

New York Times:

 ****    Extraordinary.  (7)

  ***    Excellent.  (Approx 32)

   **    Very Good.

    *    Good.

    0    Satisfactory, Fair or Poor.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

*****    Sets the standard for dining in the region.  (4)

 ****    Defines excellence in local dining.  (32)

  ***    Merits a drive if you're looking for this kind of dining.  (99)

   **    A worthy addition to its neighborhood, and the food is consistent.

    *    A worthy addition to its neighborhood, but the food is hit and miss. 

Pretty interesting stuff. First of all, if you live in New York City your favorite little family owned restaurant that consistently pleases may have one star in the NYT, and they'd be happy about it. Meanwhile one Michelin star puts you in the top 0.2% of all restaurants in NYC!

To be sure, the DMN has a daunting task ahead in clearing out the 4 Star (Excellent) and 3 Star (Very Good) categories for a truer picture of the dining scene (as it relates to other major cities). There are very few exceptional restaurants in town and just because you "Really Love" a place doesn't make it 'Excellent'. 

That said, who cares. If you love a place, a review or star rating should have no bearing on your opinion. If you are looking for a recommendation on someplace new, spend 5 minutes on Google – you can get a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Of course – my opinion is always the best.  :^)