New restaurant Marea, on Central Park South, by Alexandra Forbes

Had lunch at Marea on Wednesday. Was very much looking forward to it, especially after seeing (reading) all the hype on Grub Street.

Boy, what a disappointment.

The non-descript façade already turned me off: how can anything this talked-about seem so un-stylish? As we walked-in, a flashy Egyptian marble bar bid us welcome.

The service was bad beyond words. Can't count how many times I had to wave my hands to try to get someone's attention. I have to cut them some slack - it was, after all, their FIRST day open for lunch. But still, with all those servers you'd think they'd figure out how to communicate with each other! Finished my Ligurian beer and never had anyone ask if I'd like anything else, until I - after trying to flag down 3 guys - finally got one server to come to my table so I could order wine. Geez.

The music really bothered me. Pop-rock. In a formal dining room filled with dressed-up people in their 40s - 60s. The two just didn't go together.

The (tough and cold) bread came with neither oil nor butter. I've seen this done at other places but... come on, how 'bout a little extra-virgin?

Just so this isn't all negative, I did appreciate one nice touch: for now, they're offering 20% off - a "soft opening deal" of sorts. Nice idea.
I figured I should try 2 apps and one main.

As I said before, our bread was only so-so and did not come with oil or butter. I had lunch at The Modern the day before, where both the bread and the butter were exceptional, so I couldn't help feeling let down...

The fluke crudo was nice. Can't think of anything more illuminating to say. I'd add
a pinch of fleur de sel if I had it at the table...

This was delicious. Morels from Oregon stuffed with shrimp and lardo, and a tiny bit of wild watercress.

Then came the main course: seaweed marinated east coast halibut, spring vegetables, manila clams, sopressata


I felt guilty about not enjoying this dish. Was I not attuned to the subtleties going on? After all, I was at a fish restaurant of a famous chef. Which has been written about extensively. Surely this man REALLY knows his fish. And yet.... why did it seem so boring? The broth, too subtle. The seaweed taste of the marinade, nowhere to be found. The carrots, too al dente to be cut with a spoon, too big to fit in the mouth whole. The fish, just ever so slightly overcooked.

Overall, the dish was... oh dear God... BLAND. There. I said it. Something I'd eat at a spa. Nice. Pretty. Bland. And no spoon to scoop up the broth with. Sigh...

Go figure: the best part of the meal was dessert. Or desserts, in the plural. Chef sent out 3 of them.

First up: 3 cubes of cloud-like zuchini cake topped with lemon cream, and a quenelle of frozen yogurt. Tart and sweet, creamy and soft. Delish. Loved the churros-like fried zuchini garnish.

Another great dessert: cocoa nib cream, chocolate and hazelnut tarte, and, on the side, fior di latte ice cream. Perfection. Especially for gianduja lovers like me. :)

And the third one contained that tired coconut-pineaple combo that every single chef seems to feel obliged to use. Still, it was delicious: a fluffyt ricotta cheesecake topped with cooked and diced pineaple and coconut icecream on the side.

Even the mignardises were yummy: lemon curd and meringue in tiny pastry cups that fell apart to the touch, and little chocolate-strawberry cakes that mimicked the Italian flag.

Still, the the excellent desserts were not enough to make the meal feel right. Too many mishaps - especially with service... Overall, I'd say I won't be going back.