The Boyfriend and I have a tradition of trying to out-do each other in picking restaurants for each other’s birthday meals. Last year, he took me to Gotham Bar and Grill. I, in response, took him to Ai Fiori. This year, he decided to up the game and treat me to the pinnacle of the Altamarea Group – Marea.
I have been looking forward to this meal since the reservations were made. This would be my first Michelin two-star restaurant! We’ve been following the Altamarea Group for a little around two years now – ever since the Boyfriend had Marea for his graduation dinner. He didn’t do the prix fixe though, so this would be a first-time for the both of us.
We arrived on time for our 6pm reservation. We checked our coats and were led to a two-seater near the windows. Our waiter came by with menus and the wine list, which was quite extensive. Over thirty pages long! While we perused the menu, a secondary server dropped off the amuse bouche – fish and eggplant paste on top of a wheat cracker. You know you’re in for a treat when even the amuse bouche is delicious!
We both decided to do the prix fixe at $99.00 for four courses. You get your choice of a crudo, ostriche (oysters), or antipasto. Then you choose a half-portion of any of their pasta dishes, which is followed up a pesce (fish) or carne (meat) entree. The prix fixe is completed with a dessert off their dessert menu.
After stalking Yelp photos for a few days, I insisted we order the Ricci ($18.00) to split. It’s not part of the prix fixe options, but it’s a definite must try. Each order comes with two pieces of crostini with sea urchin. The sea urchin is topped with a slice of lardo and then toasted for no more than 15 seconds to melt the lardo. Although it is pricey, these babies are a tiny piece of heaven. The sea urchin is so creamy and the lardo is so fatty!
I opted for the Astice, or Nova Scotia lobster with burrata, eggplant al funghetto and basil. There’s a $7.00 supplement to the prix fixe and it is indeed worth it. The burrata is so creamy and mixes so well with the lobster. Burrata is usually pretty bland in taste, which is why it brought out the saltiness and sweetness of the lobster. They complimented each other so well!
The Boyfriend went with the Polipo, or grilled octopus with smoked potatoes, radish, pickled red onions, chilies and tonnato. The octopus was so good! It was flavorful and chewy without being stringy. If you’re looking for more flavor, than the octopus is the one for you!
For my pasta, I opted for their famous Fusilli with red wine braised octopus and bone marrow. I watched Andrew Zimmern cook this dish on Bizarre Foods and was so impressed. First, the braised octopus is slightly grilled. Then it’s cooked in red wine and tomato sauce. Seconds later, the fusilli, which is hand-rolled everyday, is added in. The bone marrow is added in as close to finish as possible so that it’s slightly melty, but not completely so. Finally, they top the dish off with spicy bread crumbs. This is all done in less than two minutes! I can’t even begin to describe how good this pasta is – there was so much flavor and the slightly melted bone marrow was so creamy. Every bite was like a tickle to the tastebuds.
The Boyfriend went with the also quite famous, Strozzapreti with lump jumbo crab, sea urchin and basil. I quite liked his pasta because it was on the lighter side and tasted like summer. It was just so fragrant and light!
For his entree, he decided on the Branzino, which is wild stripped bass with garbanzo, prosciutto, spring onion and fennel bagna cauda. I loved it. It went along very well with his pasta choice because this dish was equally as light! Everything was super fresh and easy on the palate.
My entree choice was the Capesante, or seared sea scallops with crispy potato, spinach and mushroom cream. I’m a sucker for mushroom cream so this was a no brainer for me. The scallops were pretty darn big – and this was post-cooking! The portion size was very generous. I had four very big scallops on my plate, along with all the sides. The scallops were perfectly seared and tasted very good with a dip of the mushroom cream. Don’t underestimate this dish – it’s actually very filling!
After our dishes were cleared away, our waiter came by with the dessert menus. This was an adventure all on it’s own – neither of us could decide on what to order! I finally decided on the Crostata di Cioccolato, which is dark chocolate ganache with marsala and hazelnut gelato. First off, the gelato is delish! Second, this dessert tasted like a dark chocolate Ferrero Rocher. There was a crunch on the bottom that’s reminiscent of the shell of a Ferrero Rocher chocolate.
The Boyfriend went with the Budino al Limone, which is lemon pudding torta with honey and blackberry fennel sorbetto. I actually ended up like his dessert more because I felt like I was eating frozen lemon pudding, which I absolutely love. I also liked the crunchy bit on the top – really helped make it feel like a tart.
A few moments after our desserts came, our waiter stopped by with an complimentary order of their Bombolini, or espresso doughnuts with lemon ricotta dip and plum sauce, with a candle and a chocolate plate saying “Happy Birthday”. I had mentioned in my OpenTable reservation that it was a birthday celebration but didn’t think they remembered. But our waiter did! The espresso doughnuts were so good!! They were warm and soft on the inside and tasted amazing with dipping sauces.
The service was great – our water glasses were consistently filled once it hit the half-empty mark. It was iced water too – nothing bothers me more than cold water without ice! Our waiter and the busboys would stop by to pick up dishes and present new cutlery but we weren’t consistently hounded. I felt like we were able to have a nice and quiet dinner together without people hovering over us. This is the perfect amount of service – plus our waiter remembered it was my birthday! Extra points! Another plus point? Free muffins for the ladies compliments of the pastry chef! I ended up getting two since both the hostess and the coat check attendant gave me one.
All-in-all, I had a truly lovely meal at Marea. The food was great and the service was on point. The cocktails were good too – nice and strong. I recommend doing the prix fixe if it’s your first time, because you really do get to try a little bit of each part of the menu. Next time though, I’d forgo the prix fixe and just get a full portion of the Fusilli instead of an entree. It’s just THAT good!