Marea: Cucina del Mare

by Shellycious

I remember after we finished our dinner at Marea for more than five hours, I was still stuffed from “sampling” three pasta dishes. I also remember that I tried so hard to get this post out right after the dinner with the hope that by verbally exporting my meal, the food in my stomach could be digested faster somehow. But it was after midnight when my brain started to shut down, so I put off the post till now. Was that a good excuse for procrastination?

Anyhow, I shall pause on recounting my pasta coma and rewind the tape back to the beginning of our meal. It was 6pm when we arrived, and the room was scattered with three groups of diners or four. It was raining out, but once we stepped inside, the decor warmed up our spirit. Before the appetitzers were served, we ordered several toasts to share.

From the research I’ve done on the NYT and yelp reviews, Ricci seems to be the must-have, and it didn’t let me down. Acutally that was an understatement, I was completely blown away by  the sensational mouthfeel. A crunchy bite into the toast brought out a harmonius sequence of favors; a sharp saltiness from the grained seasalt followed by the fatty sweetness of paper-thin lardo, and eventually culminating with the almost overwhelming umami flavor from the fresh pieces of sea urchin. Three small bites, and my toast was gone, but the taste of seashore lingered in my mouth for long.

Appetizers continued to be a delight. Astice was a lobster salad with some inviting, vibrant look and an ingenuous construction. Some mellow stewed eggplants and sweet grape tomatos were decked with crystal-looking basil seeds that varied the texture. What really made the dish shine was the burrata cheese at the bottom, which perfectly bridged the grassy vegetable with the mild seafood with its round, creamy profile along with some proper saltines.

Althoug Uovo seemed to be the expection on the app menu as there was not a shred of seafood in it,  the dish was however a great addition to the seafood-centered meal. The perfectly poached yolk jiggled slightly in the center and was simply paired with some shoots of beautiful spinache and the creamy fondant potato (see how to make fondant potato in this wonderful article from NYTIMES). Some shaved Taleggio cheese and a few flecks of coarse black pepper were meant to keep down the overall taste so that it didn’t run conflicting with the star, the rich-flavored black truffles. I enjoyed the dish in an inexplicable mood of meeting a celebrity with low profile and down-to-earth personality.

I decided to blame on myself for not being able to appreciate Granchino , the blue crab salad since it was supposed to be another brilliant dish that would have made me woo.  Just take a look at the ingredients: lemon, date puree, yogurt, with some bacon bits and nuts, how bad can it be? It was not bad for sure, but definitely didn’t not take my breathe away either. The flavor combination just seemed detached from one another and didn’t rouse too much excitement in my mouth.

Oh wow, that was a lot of pasta. Staring down my plate, I was a bit taken back by the mere portion of it. Well I guess it’s good news for some people, but personally I need . Anyhow, the legendary bone morrow fusilli came with an agressive look with an oily puddle at the bottom and a generous porition of braided knots glowing with oil, or bone marrow let’s word it in another way. I knew it would be a very rich dish, and a bite or two was enough for me. Still too rich for me, Spaghetti was a one-step-down version of the fusilli. Although I didn’t detect the presence of crab meat described in the menu, I could certianly taste the wonderful umami flavor of sea urchin that infused every single noodle. Again, it got heavy after several bites, and that’s when a sip of wine was much appreciated.

Agnolleti compared to the other two pasta was the perfect size and taste for me. A dozen or so of small pockets were neatly packed with ground veal burst with complex flavor. The  sauce from the wine reduction enhanced the earthiness of the mushrooms. It was a shame though several hunks of bland and slightly overcooked sweetbreads cut the level down from perfection. I love sweetbreads but those did not justify my passion for the exquisite offal part.

We were so full, but you know I never miss dessert. Instead of getting one for each of us, we decided to share two, fair enough. A careful selection process went on and finally I chose to go for one conventional and the other more creative. The classic Italian dessert Affogato was a great way to end the meal at Marea I shall say. A moderate scoop of brown butter gelato was drown in a cup of hot mixture of fine espresso and dark rum, topped with a dollop of fresh cream. As my tastebuds constantly experienced the extreme of icy and hot delight, the bitter and mellow flavors harmoniously blend without overpowering one another.

I would end my dinner here with this unforgettable Affogato, but my mission was yet finished so I scooped up some bits from the beautifully presented plate with Semifredo di Noce.  Pear, Fig, Anise, Walnut. Throw everything in, and you get a delicate, mild, fruity dessert that required careful savoring or else the subtlties would be missed.

So as I said, next time when I return to Marea, I will be on the mission of a different chapter of meat and fish.

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