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Maremma


jimk
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Had dinner at Maremma last night ... it's just opened up in the old Tangerine space on West 10th (just west of Bleeker) ... this is Cesare Casella's new place. He's the chef/owner at Beppe which I've never tried for the embarrassing reason that I always got Beppe confused with Becco so every time someone suggested Beppe I remembered my underwhelming meal at Becco and took at pass ... oh well.

Anyway, Maremma is less than a block from our apartment and the Cowboy Tuscan sounded like one of those concepts that could a) never work anywhere outside New York and b) be disasterous in the wrong hands.

We ordered conservatively - wanting to test out the kitchen before our next visit when we'll be a bit more adventurous ... maybe next time, we'll try the Granelli ... fried "rocky mountain oysters" that look good ...

Anyway, on the whole it was a solid B+ for the evening.

We started with the tuscan chili and an order of the fries ... very nice - the chili was outstanding though not of course authentically italian or mexican. Lots of nice pepper and no tomato that I could tell ... the meat was beef short rib meat I think - a really outstanding dish. The fries were very good too - great flavour and great colour, but they could have been a touch crispier. My guess is that the oil wasn't quite hot enough or they were crowding the fryer. It came with some tasty fried herbs tossed in as as well, along the lines of what they sometimes serve at Red Cat. Reminded me of that recipe for fried sage leaves in the Times mag a couple of weeks ago - have to try that.

For mains, my wife had the seafood stew which was absolutely the star of the show. Gorgeous broth - with a bit of pepper heat - with octopus, clams, mussels, cuttlefish and grouper, topped with a big crusty piece of tuscan garlic bread. An outstanding dish - the seafood was beautifully tender and the broth was incredibly flavourful. We'll be having this again.

My main was less appealing. Actually, mostly was just inadequately described and not to my taste. It was a "pork fried steak" which translates to a pork cutlet on the bone, pounded thin, coated in breadcrumbs and fried. It was described as being served with mushrooms and shaved parm but I was surprised with what I got. The cutlet was absolutely covered in a massive amount of sliced button mushrooms which were raw and cold and had been tossed in a vinegrette. Then on top of the mushrooms were a few shavings of slightly melted parm - not the most flavorful parm I've had. If I'd known there was vinegrette involved I would have ordered something else (I have an irrational antipathy towards vinegar in almost every form - doesn't everybody have one weird food issue?) so I suppose my quarrel is more with the description than the dish. The "steak" came by itself on the plate - probably should have ordered a side of veg.

There was no dessert menu - waiter recited a few choices ... if memory serves there was a mint panna cotta with rhubarb, some sort of flourless chocolate cake (when is that fad going to end?), a mascarpone cheesecake, and what our waiter described as a lemon soufle with blueberries. We ordered the souffle to share, thinking it would give us time to finish our wine, but moments later the "souflee" arrived on our table. Don't get me wrong, it was fabulous - it just wasn't a souflee by even the broadest definition. It was essentially a round of light sponge cake topped with some beautifully tart lemon curd and sprinkled with beautiful fresh blueberries. Would absolutely have this again.

On the whole - the menu is great - jam packed with stuff I'd like to try, and all entrees in the high teens or low twenties. Small but well considered wine list with lots of budget items. We had a $50 bottle of Toscana Morreno which was gorgeous and even worked with the fish stew. Service was on the whole very good with just a few minor missteps that you'd expect from a restaurant in its first week in operation.

One criticism - and I'd be interested in hearing others' thoughts on this, as it's a big pet peeve of mine. Casella was there - wearing civilian clothes rather than his whites, but still with the rosemary in the pocket so everybody knew who he was. He occasionally went back to the kitchen, but he seemed mostly focussed on front of house. Here's my problem - if you're a chef/owner/restauranteur type and you're working the room, work the whole room. For an hour and a half we watched this guy look around the room sizing up which tables that he was going to go say hello to - which customers were worthy of a smile and nod, which were worthy of a hello how's your meal and which were worthy of no attention. He must have walked by our table 30 times without a smile or a nod while he fell over himself for the others. (Actually at one point he nearly gave fell over and gave himself whiplash while checking out a young and pulcritudinous bar patron fron every angle) and At one point we watched him look down to see what wine we were drinking and then without looking at us walked away. I didn't like it when I saw Sirrio so obviously play favorites and I didn't like it last night. Compare this to Danny Meyer when he's at any of his restaurants, or Jean-Claude Vrinat at Taillevent ... they certainly don't have time to chat with every table but they know how to direct eye contact, smiles, waves, or whatever to make sure that every customer feels like an important guest.

Anyway, on the whole it's very promising indeed. Interested in hearing others' perspectives ...

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  • 2 weeks later...
The "pony express," which pairs spaghetti with tomatoes, tuna, mushrooms and pancetta, could find a home in many Italian restaurants, none of which would call it what Maremma does. Ditto for the "wild Bill Cody," which pairs pappardelle with a sauce that includes chocolate and wild boar.

On the flip side, there's nothing intrinsically or even tangentially Tuscan about the "rustler," meatloaf seasoned with chipotle and served with a corn, okra and tomato succotash. Wrest the cannellini beans from the side of trout rubbed down with chili peppers, and you've erased Italy from the equation.

Maremma (Frank Bruni)

Related discussion regarding Mr. Bruni's reviewing style and the star system can be found here.

Soba

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I read in the Best of New York issue that Maremma was one of the top new restaurants and also had the best macaroni and cheese so I went in for that and the gnocchi - all the pastas are more than reasonable for the portions you get for $16 - and while I favored the gnocchi which was light as air the standout dish was the bordatino di mare, five pieces of seafood polenta served with a tuscan ketchup which was spicy with fresh chunks of tomato but more dense than a salsa. I can't remember the last time I had fish sticks, but they were frozen and I was unimpressed at a single digit age, but these blew me away as an incredible comfort food I'll be coming back craving. Lightly breaded and so moist all the way through and a perfect portion for an unhealthy snack. It's only a shame they're not offered as a side instead to go with a pasta or as part of a pasta dish.

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