Marea (meaning “Tide”) opened in May 2009 and looks out across the road to the south west corner of Central Park, just yards to the east of Columbus Circle. Michael White is the executive chef of what is now a small group of restaurants currently comprising Marea itself along with Ai Fiori, Vaucluse, Nicoletta, The Butterfly, Costata and Osteria Morini. It gained two Michelin stars soon after opening, which it has retained ever since.
The wine list had good coverage of the regions of Italy, plus a very good selection from elsewhere, with for example a few excellent German Rieslings, and even Slovenia and Greece got a look in. Examples were Cieck Erbaluce di Caruso 2015 at $55 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for $16, Bochino Nebbiolo d’Alba La Perucca 2012 at $95 compared to its retail price of $37, and the lovely Jermann Dreams 2014 at $155 for a wine that will set you back $60 in a shop. At the posh end of the list relative markups do not slacken off, with Antinori Tignanello 2013 at $285 compared to its retail price of $106 and Gaja Barbaresco 2005 at $750 for a wine with a current market value of $240.
Focaccia was made in the kitchen and was very good indeed, with soft texture avoiding the dryness that can so often occur (16/20); there were also a couple of bought-in breads. Sardines were grilled and served with artichokes, pine nuts, pecorino and parsley, with pistachio sauce and rocket with shavings of Melba toast. The sardines were carefully cooked and the combination of textures worked very well together (15/20). A starter of jumbo lump crab with basil and chilli was served on strozzapreti pasta. The pasta itself, a Leung version of cavatelli pasta, had excellent texture, the crab was good and there was just enough gentle chilli heat to lift the dish without overwhelming it (16/20).
Even better was tagliolini with beans, tomato, oregano and pine nuts, The beans were particularly good, precisely cooked, and the pasta was genuinely classy, having gorgeous texture (17/20). Wild mushroom risotto had rice that had thoroughly absorbed the stock, and had lovely texture, mixed in with carefully cooked mushrooms (16/20). We also had a selection of Italian cheese, which were in reasonable condition.
Pine nut panna cotta came with figs, brioche, rosemary and fig sorbet. The panna cotta was suitably wobbly, and although I would have preferred it without the rosemary, the flavours certainly came through strongly (15/20). Ice creams and sorbets were unusually good. Coffee ice cream was intensely flavoured, and the cherry sorbet also had deep fruit flavour; the texture of both was silky. It is usually hard to get overly excited about ice cream and sorbet but these were genuinely impressive (17/20).
Service was fine, and the bill came to $213 (£165) per person before tip, though that was with a cheese course and plenty of nice wine. If you ordered three courses and shared a modest bottle then a realistic price per person would be around £110. This is hardly a bargain, but the pasta dishes are genuinely good and the menu is appealing. This meal was slightly better than the one I recall from seven years ago, and Marea is certainly prospering. We went on a Tuesday night and the place was completely packed, with tables being turned all around us. It was a very enjoyable experience, and better than my first vist some years ago.
Further reviews: 01st Nov 2009