Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Eating the Buzz - Marea, NYC

 About a year ago, the new chef on the street was Michael White and his baby was an Italian spot in the posh Columbus Circle/Central Park corner. It's name: Marea.

We'd had reservations to eat there the last time we went to the City, but, feeling more sustainable and Greenwich Village, forfeited our reservation to eat at Dan Barber's Blue Hill instead. This time, we made it a point to go for it and save up for the $91, four-course prix fixe fare. What a meal. No wonder it's a James Beard finalist this year.

The dining room at Marea.
The four-course menu includes one of the three starter selections (either crudo (sashimi-style sliced fish with accoutrements), antipasto, or a selection of delicate oysters with garnish). The diner then chooses either a pasta or risotto for the second course, a fish dish or meat for third course and a dessert or cheese.

For the prime location and the fine dining experience, $91 is a fair price for an above-average dinner.

I started with an antipasto of poached yellowtail with yogurt, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, dried bell peppers and hamachi roe. I'd never considered fish with yogurt before, but the marriage was sweet and successful, matching the buttery fish with the tang of the yogurt and earthy mushrooms.

Poached yellowtail with cucumber, yogurt, mushrooms and red pepper.
Cliff ordered the grilled octopus antipasti, a hearty cut of the cephalopod, cooked perfectly at the thicker ends, but charred slightly at the tips. I don't fault them - this is a hard piece of meat to cook, especially to grill.

Grilled octopus antipasto.
I like to order things at restaurants like Marea that I've either seen used but never eaten or that I would never ordinarily order anywhere else. The smoked oyster risotto I requested as my second course typified this approach. Though I'd never eaten smoked oysters before, they'll soon become a staple in the pantry. Their brine met the smoke ideally and the risotto had the perfect amount of bite to be considered al dente.

Shaved with a perfect dusting of bottarga all over, this risotto was some of the best I've ever had. I wish I could taste it again...maybe that's a good project for this week. But where to find bottarga in this town?

Smoked oyster risotto with guanciale and bottarga.
My Cliff ordered a tagliatelle with tarragon-laden sauce and lobster coral, dressed with chunks of lobster tail and claw meat. It was a memorable way to serve the crustacean, which is too-often dunked in butter or other indelicate dressings. The tarragon and roe accentuated the sweetness of the meat with a wonderful hand-made pasta as its vehicle.

Tagliatelle with lobster, tarragon and coral.
The entree was a salt-baked branzino (sea bass), tender, meaty and flaky, with ramps and fava beans. It really was spring on a plate, all at once fragrant and verdant, a beautiful composition. Also, I'd never had ramps before, a member of the onion family similar to the scallion, native to the South. Ironic that, though I live in the South, I had to go to New York to taste these little beauties.

Branzino with ramps, eggplant, fava beans and apricot mostarda.
Cliff ordered grilled cuttlefish (he was really feeling the grilled cephalopods that night) with braised escarole (a bitter green similar to a cross between romaine and frisee), wonderfully balanced with livorno sauce (similar to puttanesca), studded with caperberries and olives.

Grilled cuttlefish with livornese sauce, braised escarole.
We finished, as we are wont to do, with dessert. My white chocolate mousse was topped with grapefruit sorbetto and basil gelee. I love the balance between the sweetness of the chocolate and the bitterness of the grapefruit matched with the herbaceousness of the basil. It was an inspired and very beautiful creation.
White chocolate honey mousse, basil gelee, grapefruit sorbetto.

I can't wait to eat at Marea again. I'd actually not mind naming my first-born daughter after the restuarant. Maybe that would be an appropriate honor to this approachable and highly-regarded Central Park East restaurant.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Corn Fritters from Keller's BBQ are So Sweet

The great thing about starting a new job is that there's a TON of new restaurants to try. Well, hello, East Orlando. I'd almost forgotten how delicious you are.

Welcome to my new favorite crave. The sweet corn fritters at Keller's BBQ on University and Goldenrod Road in Orlando are oh, so sweet.
These little fritters just scream, "EAT ME! EAT ME NOW!"
And then you do. And it's magical.

The nuggets are crispy fried and creamy corn on the inside, dipped in honey and dusted with powdered sugar - the love child of NOLA beignets and New England hush puppies with a Bible belt twist. I'm loving them so hard right now.

The place was packed for lunch, so it's got a great following already. Show's how much I get out to East Orlando these days.

Oh, and the sliced pork sandwich I had was stellar. You should go. Like, right now.

Keller's BBQ, 7756 University Blvd., St. 104, Winter Park, Florida 32792. 407-388-1222 

Monday, April 04, 2011

Cake Pops Gone Corporate

I'm not sure when this happened, but Starbucks has finally jumped on the mini-dessert wagon, leaving their 490 calorie Iced Lemon Pound Cake crying in its 23 grams of fat.

Now, Starbucks has three varieties of cake pops (the dessert that took the food world by storm in 2009) in (from left to right) Rocky Road, Tiramisu, and Birthday Cake, as well as red velvet whoopie pies (the state dessert of Maine, filled with marshmallow/lard fluff), some mini cupcakes and salted caramel "sweet bars."

Not sure what that means.

I have to admit, I'm pretty stoked about the idea of ordering an additional something sweet with my sugar-sopped Triple Iced Skim No-Whip Raspberry Mocha that won't cost me my lunch's worth of calories. Way to get with it, Sbux.

Jimmy Hula's Fish Tacos: Not Yet Well Seasoned

Don't eat these. Seriously.
The gas money to Cocoa is worth it.
They've only been open three weeks, but Jimmy Hula's Fish Tacos, Burgers and Beer had enough buzz around it that I thought it would a be a remedy for my fish taco hankering.

My Cliff and I usually head out to Cocoa Beach at times like these when the breeze blows at a few knots and all we really want is a Landshark Lager. The Sand Bar has our favorite versions of the San Diego Treat - all at once crispy, creamy with a jacked-up flavor.

I, at least, was disappointed. For $30, I expected much more from the four different mahi tacos offered. The Epic taco is a complete misnomer, crowded with over-mayonaissed coleslaw. The crispy fish on the Malibu taco sagged with sogginess (as any fried thing would when topped with watery pico de gallo and sour cream). The only bright spot in the meal was the Big Island taco with baby spinach, mandarin oranges (canned) and fresh mango salsa.

Don't expect redemption from the chips, either. They smelled and tasted like they'd been fried in the same oil the place used when it opened three weeks ago. No salsa to dip with either - Jimmy Hula's charges $1.99 for a 2-oz. cup of bland guac (I'm not sure how they pulled that one off) or the same for a microscopic portion of that same pico de gallo that soddened their "crispy" mahi.

The most glaring error, the most unfortunate, was that EVERYTHING (I meant to use the CAPS) was completely undersalted from the off-putting coleslaw to the fish itself. Kitchen at Jimmy Hula's: there is a salt shaker on the table. I used it. I shouldn't have had to.

$30 was a heavy price for three lackluster tacos, some stale chips and not a beer to be seen. I hope Jimmy Hula's gets their act together soon, or Winter Park peoples will be wishing for the Saikyo Sushi back.