Celebrating a special occasion with a special oyster review in New York City.
If Marea means tide in Spanish, then tonight it is Marea alta.
The entire restaurant is brimming with smartly dressed patrons enjoying vibrant conversations and wine, from the front entrance bar to the back corner booth. My gut feeling tells me that this is the usual scene at Marea, as they had won the Best New Restaurant title at the James Beard Awards last May and was also appointed two Michelin stars in October. For some, that is why they are here. For others, they are keen to discover more elusive treasures.
Marea is a seafood lover’s candy store and there’s something to delight everyone. 18 Crudo al Taglio (sliced raw fish and shellfish) options, 6 oyster varieties, 4 types of caviar, 6 seafood appetizers, 15 pasta/risotto choices, 5 seasonal fish dishes, 4 whole fish mix-and-match entrees, and a couple traditional meat options (for picky eaters). Making a decision becomes infinitely more difficult and my brain begins to reel as I examine the crudo list up and down, “Ooh, the geoduck looks great… but, ohhh the fluke looks amazing too…and maybe the razor clams would be better?? I wonder what flying fish tastes like…”
The only certainty can be found within the Ostriche box, where Marea offers up Island Creek (MA), Wellfleet (MA), Dennis (MA), Beausoleil (New Brunswick), Kumamoto (WA), and Kusshi (British Columbia) oysters. I request one of every kind along with a trio of crudo (marinated razor clams, pacific langoustines, and bigeye tuna), lobster ravioli, and seared sea scallops.
The oysters arrive at our table lined in a neat row on a bed of crushed ice accessorized with a few strands of seaweed, lemon wedges, and mignonette sauces. Pretty standard at first glance–this is the typical presentation at restaurants from all over the world–but upon further examination of Marea’s oysters, I notice that a lot of TLC has been given to the finer details. Each oyster is impeccably shucked, leaving zero adductor muscle stuck to the shell. The oyster’s flesh is also clean of grit, which allows the slurping, chewing and swallowing ritual to flow blissfully uninterrupted. I spend a lingering moment to soak in the appearance, sea scent and briny taste of the oyster. Then I flip the cupped side down to revere in its intricately layered design, which has been diligently scrubbed to a pristine condition.
To the value-seeker, these details may hardly be worth the $3.50 per piece price tag, which is fair since these oysters generally retail at around $2.75 per piece. After experiencing it, however, I understand the premium. Countless oyster experiences have taught me to never take a perfect plate for granted, as the subtle luxury of having immaculate oysters isn’t an everyday occurrence… just like how one’s birthday is not like any other day. (And yes, I am at Marea for my 2Xth birthday).
The two oysters that stand out the most in my mind are the Island Creek and Dennis and here’s why:
Island Creek from Duxbury, Massachusetts: This is my fourth time I’ve have Island Creek oysters and the surprising sweetness within the adductor muscle challenges my current impression of them. I must have caught it at a good time of year, as it was the sweetest East Coast oyster that I’ve had in a long time.
Dennis from Cape Cod, Massachusetts: The spritz of citrusy aroma and tangerine flavors in the finish makes this oyster particularly special. The tender meat almost covered the entirety of the shell, which is a sign of a premium grade product.
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240 Central Park South
Nearest subway: 1, 2, A, B, C, D Columbus Circle