The rain, intermittent all day, had
turned into a cold, relentless downpour by nightfall accompanied by a
wind strong enough to turn umbrellas into missiles. No way could we
follow our plan of walking uptown to 59th and then west along Central
Park South, crossing over (if traffic allowed) when we were directly
across from the plate-glass facade of Marea. Now all we could hope for
was a taxi, a rarity on such a night. And then, miraculously, out of the
mist, one appeared and swiftly deposited us before the restaurant’s
entry. We opened the door and stepped into the light. It was like coming
out of a storm into a welcoming port.
A port in a storm -- an apt metaphor
for yet another of the Michael White restaurants that have landed like
meteors on the New York dining scene. From deep, comfortable chairs
before a circular table, we took in the scene: a full house, a lively
and attractive crowd, smart modern décor, rosewood-paneled walls, and
behind the bar in the cocktail lounge, a stunning marble wall.
“It’s actually honey-onyx from
Egypt,” said maître d’ George Barber who approached our table noticing
how transfixed we were by the great streaked surface. “I have a theory
about that wall,” he added, his speech reflecting an unmistakable
Scottish brogue. “I believe it has a mineral transcendental effect.” We
weren’t sure what a “mineral transcendental effect” meant, but we were
beginning to feel utterly relaxed.
George went on to point out two
additional features of the dining room: diffused lighting – soothing but
with enough brightness to enable the reading of a menu, and an insulated
ceiling that absorbs enough sound to allow for conversation in the
high-powered setting -- “You have the energy and the buzz, but you can
still hear the person next to you,” he said. No small accomplishment in
a New York restaurant nowadays.
At that moment, an amuse bouche made
with smoked trout was placed before us by our server, Troyan. A native
of Albania, he is tall, patient, and fully informed about the multiple
and detailed offerings of a kitchen that focuses on foods of the sea
prepared in an Italian state of mind.
“The chef suggests you select one
dish from one of the four areas on the menu,” Troyan told us: “1-- crudo
(sliced raw fish), shellfish, oysters or appetizers; 2-- pastas; 3--
entrees of fish, meat or poultry; and 4-- dessert.”
There followed an intense
discussion; the number and variety of selections being manifold.
Finally, with Troyan’s able assistance, we made our decisions, albeit it
with a bit of adjustment.
One of us was perfectly satisfied
with her selection of “Passera,” that being Long Island fluke with lemon
thyme and ligurian olive oil (an association from a recent re-viewing of
Woody Allen’s “Radio Days”), followed by “Fusilli” (one of the fourteen
varieties of hand-made pasta) in a red wine-sauce with braised octopus
and bone marrow – spicy, incredibly delicious, “Spada” – grilled
swordfish with winter vegetables, and “Crostata di Mela” – a little
bruleed apple tart, the fruit resting on a bed of custard and crème
fraiche over a pastry crust fragile as an eggshell, with cider sorbet.
All of it, a banquet to relish and remember.
But the other had his eye on the “Ostriche,”
(his all-time favorite food). He asked for (and got) an extra three
oysters, following them with a second selection from the first category:
“Uovo” – a slow poached egg with fondant potato, black truffles,
taleggio and spinach, moving on to “Brodetto di Pesce,” an Adriatic
seafood soup of clams, langoustine, scallops, prawns and bass – the
Italian take on bouillabaisse, and finishing up with “Nocciola
Pralinato,” an irresistible deep dark chocolate cake with bits of
This is one serious menu for those
who enjoy Italian food. (Find someone who doesn’t.)
And then there is the wine. We fully
expected to order a bottle of something Italian; Sommelier Alex Clifford
had told us they comprise 75% of Marea’s wines list. Yet somehow the
discussion drifted to Austrian wines and their limited presence in the
U.S. He has a few, Alex said, some from vineyards within the city limits
of Vienna. But then he suggested we taste a Riesling from the
countryside: “Tradition/Kamptal Reserve” 2008 from the Schloss
It was wonderful! Full-bodied,
mineral-driven with great acidity, spice and aroma. “It has all the
things you like in an Italian wine,” Alexander said. We ended up
finishing the bottle. It seemed the most perfect wine we’d ever had.
Rieslings have more connection to
their terroir, their sense of place, than any other,” he told us. “That
is what makes it one of the great grapes.”
Some of the folks who make things happen at
Troyan is second from left,
center, George Barber second from right.
are many things that make Marea one of the great restaurants. Executive
Chef Jared Gadbaw attempted to enumerate a few. “We’ve been doing it
for three years,” he told us. “We know how to get the ball rolling
with our large and talented staff. All of us work together to make
things happen. Also, we try to provide a lot of alternatives. You can
have an entire meal, or you can come in just for crudo and a small
“But throughout, the Italian
influence is prevalent. Michael and I went to Italy for two weeks before
we opened. Ate our way through Sicily. I had to train my palate somewhat
as my background is French.”
He sighed, then, looking around at
the crowd, added: “It’s like this every day – never an empty table.”
240 Central Park South
New York 10019.
Photographs by Harvey Frommer
# # #
About the Authors: Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband
team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional
scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories
It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in
America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in
Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.
They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining
as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United
States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
about these authors.
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This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer. All rights