One Year in Marea
The space was grand—sleek, yet comfortable—so the chefs created a menu to match, a menu founded on flexibility as much as creativity.
The idea was a strong one—that there was an opening for an Italian restaurant featuring the best seafood the world offered, all prepared within the broad confines of what Chef Michael White calls the “big box of Italian cuisine.”
5. Ebbs and Flows
Gradual shifts are happening at Marea as General Manager Rocky Cirino and his team listen to what guests appreciate the most about the restaurant—from the menu and wine list to the décor and layout of the space.
8. Behind the Lines
From the structure of the menu to his relationship with prized purveyors, Chef de Cuisine Jared Gadbaw provides insight into the evolution of the kitchen at Marea.
11. A Real Pearl
Two people, one product: familyowned East Dennis Oyster Farm in Massachusetts concentrates on delivering a superior oyster.
13. The Good Catch
Fish and seafood purveyor River & Glen provides Marea with straight-off-the-boat fresh products while taking the lead on educating chefs and diners about responsible and sustainable fishing methods.
15. The Split Personality of a Wine List
The wine list at Marea has been evolving since its inception, from predominantly lesser-known Italian coastal whites to now including more refined and reserve selections, as wine director Francesco Grosso works hard to build one of the best lists in New York City.
17. Fish Reds
Francesco Grosso helps demystify the cliché about red wines and fish, and offers some lesserknown Italian varietals that are low in alcohol and tannin and higher in acidity—matching exceptionally well with dishes at Marea.
Ebbs and Flows
By Rocky Cirino
General Manager at Marea
There was a vision for Marea, more than just an outline but less than a script. The economy had stumbled. The location had ghosts. Our product demanded too much. It wasn’t just our peers who had doubts, but our clientele as well.
The idea was a strong one—that there was an opening for an Italian restaurant featuring the best seafood the world offered, all prepared within the broad confines of what Chef Michael White calls the “big box of Italian cuisine.” You wouldn’t find avocado with yellowfin tuna at Marea, but you may find burrata cheese with lobster.
The space was grand—sleek, yet comfortable— so the chefs created a menu to match, a menu founded on flexibility as much as creativity. If anything was learned from the restaurants that disappeared during 2008, it was that guests no longer wanted constraints. No longer hidebound to a prix fixe or a certain portion size, diners wanted to mix and match, one guest having two courses while his companion enjoyed four. The pendulum had swung from the kitchen to the dining room, and a more balanced share of power prevailed. The client drives the car and sets the pace.
Chef White understood this better than any of us. When he insisted on having more than 15 types of raw fish, there were mutterings of “too much.” When 12 pastas found their way onto a preliminary menu (not to mention the two to three risottos he had in mind), I shook my head, fearing the difficulty of producing so many items for so many people at the same time would impair not only quality but also the pace and speed of service. Couple that with the nine to twelve antipasti, six entrees, four whole fish, and half a dozen oysters offered by the piece and by the dozen, and it’s a wonder I wasn’t even more concerned. But my doubts were met with a brush of his hand. “Don’t worry,” he said.
Initially, there were 66 items on the menu. That total has grown to 74 or so, given the day and what is available to us. Though Marea is blessed with a brand-new state-of-the-art kitchen, generous in size to all but a few of our counterparts, it still strains under the weight of so many items requiring so much precision and manpower. A constant dialogue is under way regarding how much is too much.
One result of these conversations was altering an initial idea Chef White had to offer different entrée portions of fish with a variety of cooking methods, sauces, vegetable accompaniments, and starches. He was heeding the call of the guest for maximum flexibility to the extreme. We called it the “build-your-own entrée.”
It failed. It was the first in an ongoing series of adjustments dictated by our clientele, and one that we quickly recognized. Not only was it difficult for the kitchen to perform (I would need a calculator to tabulate the million different combinations possible), but it made the guest experience unwieldy. With nearly 70 items on the menu, the guests were already confronted with a smorgasbord of choice—but at least those choices were dishes conceived by the chef. From the feedback received in those first few weeks, it was clear the guests still wanted the chef to create. Once the idea was abandoned, we retained a portion of that approach with our whole fish, but kept composed entrees as an expression of what the kitchen staff feels are seasonally appropriate interpretations. That balance has worked thus far.
Those adjustments, shifts in approach dictated by the preferences of the guests, have extended into the dining room. Catty-corner tables have been created to allow for more romantic dining. We’ve learned that ladies prefer the Moroso club chairs while gentlemen prefer the wider, lighter X chairs, so we’ve alternated them. Table configurations have shifted, corners exploited, and more intimate dining has been encouraged. These may seem minor, but they make a difference. That said, one change we’re now preparing for is not so minor.
During the planning stages, when the focus of the food was just being outlined, crudo, simply garnished slices of raw fish that is Italy’s answer to sashimi, soared to the forefront. With such a focus on crudo, why not build a crudo bar, where its focus is encouraged? An eight-seat bar was created, a special twelve-course crudo and pasta tasting menu was conceived to exploit these two strengths, and we waited to see what would happen.
Clients loved the Marea experience so much that they wanted to stay longer and be part of the atmosphere in the lounge and dining room.
The result? Some loved it, some most certainly did not, and many seemed indifferent. The tasting menu was a hit, but the crudo bar itself was not. Clients loved the Marea experience so much that they wanted to stay longer and be part of the atmosphere in the lounge and dining room. They told us they were not in a hurry to have a quick crudo and run.
The lounge itself has great potential. So, in January, we will remodel it and remove the bar, putting in more banquets and tables and adding some warm light. It will, I believe, add a tremendous dimension to the restaurant, recreating a space that will foster its own specific clientele: those who want a more intimate, casual, and relaxed atmosphere while retaining everything that is great about Marea— ambiance, food, and service.
This scheduled remodeling, as well as the other many adjustments we’ve made thus far, is what I am most proud of. I truly believe we are defined by how we react to situations and developments. By doing so, you create a restaurant that is no longer “yours” but becomes “ours.” Marea does not belong to Michael White but to its patrons, New York City, and, therefore, the world.
We thank all of you for joining us this past year. You had faith in us and, hopefully, we’ll keep delivering by listening and learning from you.
Behind the lines with Jared Gadbaw
Chef de Cuisine at Marea
When I think back to my early days at Marea, I am amazed by how the restaurant has evolved.
Before we stepped foot in the kitchen, Michael White and I traveled and dined around Italy, which inspired the original, broad menu with many à la carte options. As the restaurant became more popular, we focused on composed dishes and whole fish—turbot from Holland and Dover sole, for example—that we thought were special to New Yorkers. Diners in the Big Apple have also come to expect our octopus appetizer, lobster with burrata, and sea urchin crostini.
As important as our customers are, we wouldn’t have them without our purveyors, with whom we’ve established rather privileged relationships. They are our lifeline. We work with a lot of purveyors who supply just one thing—they dive for scallops, say, or dig razor clams. On any given day, 15 or so of them deliver their products to the restaurant. Some of these guys are what we affectionately call “fish geeks.” They are out there finding the best of the best. They know the safest way to bring in their catch, and how to handle it properly once it’s on the boat. As a result, we receive pristine fish and seafood.
What’s so remarkable is how few people actually handle the fish before it reaches our back door. Typically it comes straight from the boat to the delivery guy to us. Take East Dennis Oysters— those guys don’t harvest that many oysters per year; they’re really artisans who believe in quality over quantity. We have an oyster bed there with our name on it, and whatever oysters grow there belong to Marea. It is a pretty exclusive membership!
River & Glen is another of our special suppliers. We get our harpooned tuna and halibut from them. This past summer, they harpooned a bigeye tuna, which we took half of plus the head and bones. We used the carcass to make incredible stocks and prepared the marrow from the bones. It’s a real eye-opener for the cooks to watch us break down a whole tuna—to pull the face meat out, using every part of the fish. It’s really important to me that I speak the language of the fishermen, so that I can converse with them directly about it. When I tell them I want to know more about what they do, they take the time to explain things to me. I feel a tremendous responsibility to our small purveyors, and they reciprocate by delivering the best products they can get their hands on.
That responsibility spills over into the kitchen. It is as much my responsibility to learn and see as it is for my staff, and I give them as many opportunities to learn about fish as possible. I am here to teach them techniques, to be sure, but it is equally important that they understand the value of excellent sources. Every chef knows that the food is only as good as the raw ingredients. What’s more, if my staff is excited about what’s coming into the kitchen on any given day, they’ll never have to fight what every chef works hard to prevent: the unrelenting pace of a busy restaurant kitchen, and the monotony that it can bring. We’ve been very fortunate with the accolades and reviews, but that is all forgotten when we’re in the weeds in the kitchen for six hours serving 360 dinners nightly. The highlights really come from forging special relationships with our unique suppliers, seeking out new ones who share our philosophy, and sharing what we learn with the entire staff. This is what makes being a chef so exciting.
with Smoked Potatoes , Pickled Onions, Chilies, Tonnato Sauce
For the Octopus
1 onion, quartered
1 small carrot, peeled and quartered
3 celery stalks, quartered
1/2 head garlic, cut through the center
2 cups red wine
1 3-lb octopus
1/2 bunch thyme
1 bay leaf
In a large pan, sweat the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic until lightly colored. Deglaze the pan with red wine. Add the octopus and herbs, cover the pan, and place in a 350°F oven. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until tender.
2 heads frisée, washed and dried
5 breakfast radishes, washed and shaved into thin discs
2 lbs olive oil-poached tuna belly
(or 5 tins imported)
15 caper berries
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
5 egg yolks
32 oz (1 quart) canola oil
1 pint olive oil
1 cup water
Tabasco to taste
salt to taste
pinch of cayenne
lemon juice to taste
Place the tuna, caper berries, anchovies, garlic cloves, and egg yolks in a food processor and turn on high. Blend together and slowly add the oils until they create an emulsion. Adjust with water if mixture becomes too thick. Season with Tabasco, salt, cayenne, and lemon juice. Pass through a chinoise or fine-mesh strainer.
Yields 3 pints.
Black Olive Oil
black olives, pitted
Blanch the olives in water to remove any excess oil. Dry and dehydrate the olives in a dehydrator or low-temperature oven. Place dried olives in a blender and turn on high. Slowly add olive oil until the mixture is smooth. Reserve and chill.
Pickled Red Onions
2 cups water
2 cups red wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp salt
2 medium red onions, julienned
Add water, vinegar, sugar, and salt to a medium sauce pot and bring to boil. Pour over onions and chill overnight.
Smoked Fingerling Potatoes
1 lb mixed fingerling potatoes
Cook the potatoes in water until tender. Allow to cool in the cooking water. Once cool, remove and smoke for 15 minutes covered with cherry (or your favorite) wood chips.
1 medium jalapeño pepper, seeded and brunoise
1 medium serrano pepper, seeded and brunoise
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
Brunoise chilies, and season with vinegars. Add salt and olive oil to cover.
Grill or char the octopus tentacles along with frisée. Heat up potatoes with pickled onion in a pan. Finish with radish and chili vinaigrette. Add parsley.
Cucumber Mignonete for Oysters
2 cups rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoons salt
1 cup cucumber, small dice
1/3 cup cucumber vinegar (optional)
2 tablespoons colatura di alici (Italian fish sauce)
Bring the water, rice vinegar, salt, and sugar to a boil. Pour over the cucumbers and allow to cool. Add cucumber vinegar and colatura. Chill completely and serve with your favorite oyster.
A Real Pearl
East Denis Oyster Farm
“If you didn’t like oyster farming, it would be the world’s worst job,” says John Lowell, founder of the East Dennis Oyster Farm. “Either you love it or you don’t.”
Once a commercial shell fisherman and owner of a landscaping company (because he “had a mortgage to pay”), John Lowell wanted to strike out on his own. “I was never really connected to those jobs. Oyster farming is something that comes naturally to me. I just love everything about it—the farming, working with my wife, and being able to deliver to people who care about a quality product.” Founded in 2003, immediately after Lowell received an aquaculture grant, East Dennis Oyster sits in the tidal flats off Quivet Neck in Massachusetts’s Cape Cod Bay.
When the tide is out, Lowell and his wife, Stephanie, are at work tending their crop of Crassostrea virginica, or Eastern oysters— as many as 200,000 in various stages of development that are contained in hundreds of trays suspended on poles. The oysters stay above the sand but are bathed by nutrient-rich, crystal-clear saltwater when the tide is in.
“Oysters, like wine, take on the characteristics of the conditions they’re grown in,” says Lowell. “A pinot noir grape is a pinot noir grape—but if you grow it in different soils, you are going to get
a different flavor profile.” He goes on to explain that setting one oyster seed in East Dennis and another, identical seed further down the coast will result in oysters with two distinct flavors. “Seeds set in different spots in the same town will taste different.”
“Oysters, like wine, take on the characteristics of the conditions they’re grown in,” says Lowell. “A pinot noir grape is a pinot noir grape— but if you grow it in different soils, you are going to get a different flavor profile.”
Like oysters, restaurateurs also differ based on their surroundings. Though East Dennis is closer to Boston than it is to New York City, Lowell finds that New Yorkers have a greater appreciation for the quality of his products. “We love the Big Apple, because the buyers there are focused on quality over price,” he admits. Though Lowell works with many local restaurants, nothing compares to the vibe he got when he first visited Marea. “It was like a symphony, where the executive chef is the conductor leading his orchestra. And the chef knows every note. We actually have a specific cage for Marea with its own sign on it. We cull the oysters specifically for them.”
Indeed, the East Dennis Oyster Farm has gained a reputation for putting quality first. “It sounds corny, but we’re not in this just to sell oysters for the highest possible price,” says Lowell. “It goes well beyond that, to our relationships with restaurants like Marea. They are the most rewarding to us.”
Fishing the Right Way
River & Glen is Steering the Way to Sustainability
James MacKnight has been selling fish the old-fashioned way since he was eight years old. Living in a small fishing village on Scotland’s west coast, he would catch salmon from the local river and then tote his take into town on his bike to sell it to hotel chefs. “The fish was wild, gorgeous,” he says. “That’s where it all started. I had a true appreciation for these beautiful beasts.”
Almost 20 years later, MacKnight moved to the United States to start a smoked-salmon business. But after a little more than a decade, having became disillusioned by the industrialization of the fish industry, he sold it. “Everyone was talking about ‘boutique’ this and ‘gourmet’ that, but they were using these terms just to sell more products,” he explains. “Small fishermen were being trampled by industrial companies using huge trawlers, not really caring what they were pulling up. The goal was to move product for the cheapest possible price.”
MacKnight knew he needed to find another way, so he opened River & Glen four years ago. Created for the sole purpose of working directly with small fishermen, the company prides itself on sourcing and selling the highest quality fish caught using sustainable methods, making it available to such restaurants as Marea.
“My favorite part of this process is finding the passionate guys who pull the fish directly out of the water, but who don’t have a market for it. It’s almost like treasure hunting,” says MacKnight. He works with small boats from all over the world, from the Quinault tribe in Washington State, to the small fishermen up and down the Eastern Seaboard and beyond, to France, Scotland, and England. “We’re in touch with our fishing partners while they’re on their boats, and know exactly when they’ve made their catch,” he adds.
To find new suppliers, MacKnight follows the guidelines for acceptable fishing methods developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program. He does not, for example, source swordfish caught by long-lining, a method by which fishermen put out hundreds of baited hooks along a length of line to be pulled up 48 hours later. The method is controversial due to its resulting bycatch—seabirds, sea turtles, and other marine life incidentally caught by the line. Oftentimes, the swordfish themselves are dead by the time the lines come up. MacKnight favors harpooning, a humane, sustainable, and timehonored approach in which a fisherman targets a specific fish, catches it with a harpoon and dart, and brings it back to the harbor that same day, enabling MacKnight to get the fish into chefs’ hands the following afternoon.
“Chefs are the first to jump on board because they are really passionate about sustainability,” says MacKnight. And he’s betting that diners are too. MacKnight has founded Local Abundance, an education project designed to instruct restaurant staff on sustainable seafood so they, in turn, can teach their customers. “Part of our goal is just to make people aware of destructive fishing methods, and have the information they need to ask the right questions—to ask if their fish is harpooned or long-line caught,” he says. In the end, MacKnight concludes, “I want to leave a legacy about what we do—and make a difference.”
River & Glen’s “fleet”
Greg Thomson’s family has been fishing for three generations. He owns two 30-foot day boats that are geared to line-catch halibut, wild king and sockeye salmon, wild black cod, and wild lingcod in the fishing village of Yakutat, Alaska, which is accessible only by air and sea. River & Glen supplies Marea with Thomson’s halibut.
John Dempsey dives for our scallops from his 25-foot boat off the coast of Stonington, Maine. Marea features his scallops.
Marea likes the striped bass that Kenny Wolfe catches from his 35-foot boat in Montauk, New York.
Graham Sinclair owns a 55-foot boat that is geared for harpoon fishing. He harvests swordfish and line-caught yellowfin tuna in the waters off Cape Cod. Marea features both his tuna and swordfish.
A FLOWING WINELIST
By Francesco Groso Wine Director at Marea
Thomas Matthews of Wine Spectator said it best about the wine list at Marea, remarking that it has a “split personality.” There are the odd, indigenous, lesser-known (and, some suggest, cool) wines of Italy alongside reserves—wines for the serious collector. I am always trying to build the reserve list, despite the fact that Marea will always be an approachable restaurant. I’m trying to create something special, and it’s my goal that our list rivals the best in the city.
Blame it on my baptism by fire as a wine director, but I am a workingman’s sommelier. In my first job out of ICE, at ‘Inoteca, I fell in love with its wine list and style of service. In my third week, the managers let the wine director go and never replaced him. Before I knew it, I was running a 700-plus-bottle Italian wine program. What’s more, ‘Inoteca is a destination for restaurateurs with some of the best wine programs in the city—and they looked to me for assistance! Apart from one formal class, almost everything I know about wine I’ve learned on the job. I read and taste all of the time, of course, and I am lucky enough to have access to some of the best wines in the world.
The menu’s fish secondi feature richer ingredients in the winter, which allows me to play more with pairing reds and fish. For example, when we serve bass with blood sausage, I happily take the opportunity to suggest a red.
When I started at Marea in 2009, the focus was providing customers with a luxury experience in lean economic times. The wine list was filled with affordable choices—many of the bottles were between $30 and $40. The wines were chosen to complement the food—indigenous coastal Italian selections—but guests began to ask for more refined, pricier wines. We opened with only about four Barolos of varying ages, and now we have about 25. We bumped up the number of Brunello di Montalcinos, one of the most sought after wines in Italy, the same way. That said, we have not forsaken our original focus on regional wines, which complement our food best. It’s not all vermentino and degato or Greco di Tufo, though. We are getting into some of the finest expressions of nebbiolo in the world. We’re also somewhat heavily focused on red burgundy too. They are the non-Italian wines that best work with our cuisine.
Going into the cooler months, we serve fewer whites, but they still make up about 60 percent of all the wine we pour. The menu’s fish secondi feature richer ingredients in the winter, which allows me to play more with pairing reds and fish. For example, when we serve bass with blood sausage, I happily take the opportunity to suggest a red. I would never encourage anything tannic or rich with fish, but lighter reds that express minerality are great with those types of dishes.
Every season brings new opportunities for me to fiddle with wine pairings. It’s one of the best parts of my job.
RED AND SEAFOOD?
“I am going to eat fish, but only drink red wine” is a statement often heard at Marea—and thanks to great wines from the very regions of Italy that inspire our innovative dishes, it is one that we wholeheartedly welcome. Italian reds that are low in alcohol and tannin with higher acidity complement our menu from start to finish on a daily basis. Over the past year, we have grown very fond of three obscure varietals: Frappato from Sicily, Rossese from Liguria, and verduno pelaverga from Piemonte. From these grapes come a variety of fantastic wines that are always available at Marea.
I was once asked by a regular guest to recommend a red wine that would pair well with a variety of crudo. While red is never my first choice with raw fish, it was without hesitation that I presented the 2008 Il Frappato from Occhipinti. In addition to being virtually free of tannin, and at only 12.5 percent alcohol, the wine has a minerality that is similar to that of a white wine one would first think of with crudo. The wine’s bright red fruit and cleansing acidity best complement fatty fish but don’t overpower more lean and delicate selections either. The pairing was a success and has been repeated on a number of occasions.
Frappato thrives at the southern tip of Sicily, around the town of Vittoria in the province of Ragusa. Most frappato are aged only in stainless steel or glasslined cement vats to maintain the freshness of the wine. The wines are wonderfully aromatic and fruit driven, yet are quite balanced with minerality and acidity.
In addition to monovarietal wines, frappato is blended with nero d’Avola to make Sicily’s only DOCG-designated wine, Cerasuolo di Vittoria.
Our favorite at Marea is Azienda Agricola Cos’s Pithos, which is aged in terra-cotta. The wine is lean yet more structured and complex, and is a perfect complement to our popular brodetto di pesce, a seafood stew.
Other producers whose frappato and Cerasuolo di Vittoria are often found at Marea are Fia Nobile and Valle dell’Acate.
If I were to choose only one red wine to pair with seafood pasta, it would be rossese. Coming from vineyards that often overlook the Ligurian Sea, rossese produces herbaceous yet well-fruited reds that have the same charming salinity as the whites of the area. To pair a rossese with a bowl of spaghetti with sea urchin and crab is like sprinkling over the dish a dash of coastal herbs and sea salt. Not only does the wine let the flavors of the dish shine, it enhances them.
Rossese grows best in Italy’s Liguria region of La Spezia, between the towns of Albenga and Dolceacqua, on the French border. It is sometimes blended with other weightier varietals, yet on its own creates one of Italy’s best seafood-friendly red wines. Rossese rarely rises above 13 percent alcohol and is never over oaked. In fact, those aged only in stainless steel are the wines we prefer.
The Azienda Agricola Bio Vio Rossese di Albenga is a favorite at Marea, and the Altavia Rossese di Dolceaqua is a wine that makes its way to many tables as well.
Piemonte, and more specifically the northernmost commune of Barolo, is not an area that one might look to for a seafood-friendly red. But then again, verduno pelaverga is one of Italy’s smallest DOCs and not exactly a household name, even among the most wine savvy.
Verduno pelaverga is a varietal responsible for producing intriguingly aromatic and spiced red wines that can enhance simply prepared seafood with subtle floral notes and white pepper– dominated spice. Fratelli Alessandria’s 2009 verduno pelaverga is a current favorite pairing with meatier fish like swordfish or even sepia. While pelaverga, like other aromatic red varietals from the region (ruche and grignolino), can reach higher alcohol levels, they are at their best when kept at 13.5 percent or lower. In addition to Fratelli Alessandria, Azienda Agricola G.B. Burlotto is a favorite of ours as well.
From the publisher, Haute Notes is about the discovery of all things innovative and exciting in food and wine, art and design, and style and travel. Visit hautenotes.com.
Located in Alto Adige’s Dolomite mountains, at the foothills of the Alps, Terlano’s distinctive terroir is the key to the development of their exceptional wines. Situated on an extinct volcano, Terlano benefits from an ideal south-facing exposure. The vineyards, ranging from 820 to 3,000 feet above sea level, are composed of red porphyric rock that is naturally high in silicates, which lend a minerality to the wines that is both unique and enticing. It’s no wonder the reserve wines from Terlano can age for 50 years. They have every vintage in their library of wines, dating back to 1955. The proof is in the bottle. Terlano is renowned for the longevity and quality of their wines.
“To say that an Italian cooperative winery (cantina sociale) produces some of the best white wines in its region, if not the whole of the country, may raise an eyebrow or two. But having recently blind-tasted the white wines of Cantina Terlano, from the Alto Adige region in Italy’s northeast, I have no doubt that this is the case.”
— James Suckling, Wine Spectator
2 oz Leblon Cachaça
1 orange slice
1 lemon slice
1 lime slice
dash of simple syrup
Champagne to top off
Cut one-quarter inch slices each of orange, lemon, and lime. Muddle the slices and simple syrup in a shaker. Fill the shaker with ice and add cachaça. Shake vigorously.
Serve in a rocks glass. Top with Champagne. Garnish with a mint leaf.
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