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From Sweet Heat to heaven, an evening of complete decadence!

January 16, 2010

I believe that food is about the daily joy of eating and living. Simple, tasty, and clean. It shouldn’t have to be too fancy or too expensive. When I opened my first restaurant in San Francisco called Sweet Heat my goal was to apply gourmet cooking principals to food that tasted of the world but in an easy to enjoy format. It was inexpensive and straight forward which allowed me to see my customers several times a week. No matter what was going on in their lives when I had them they were in heaven for 40 minutes. They spent less than $15 and had a blast. That is what the restaurant business is all about for me.
With that said there are times when I want to be transformed to another place via food. When the food comes together properly that place is what heaven must be like! I feel an outer body experience as I taste food that consumes all of my attention. Food that fills my mouth with such perfectly balanced flavor and texture that I find it hard to open my eyes as I eat. Too many times I decide to spend that chunk of money for that experience and it falls short. My visit to Marea in Manhattan this week was one of those times when I got my moneys worth and then some! Five course tasting menu with wines to match. Here we go!
First Course – Sea Urchin, lardo and sea salt crostini. It was like sea custard with melted lardo that almost vanished under the heat. Just when I thought it could not get any better the bits of sea salt melted on my tongue and re-ignited the entire flavor profile all over again. A glass of yeasty sparkling Italian chardonnay was the perfect balance. The yeastiness of the bubbly played nicely with the rich flavor of the sea. The acid in the bubbly provided the perfect cleansing balance to the richness of the lardo. The “finish” would not end! I felt guilty finally extinguishing the never-ending finish with a bite of oil rich house made focaccia.
Second course – Three raw bites – bay scallops with mandarin orange and wild baby arugula. Skate with lemon thyme, and a beautiful gem of big-eye tuna with an herbed oyster cream and crispy slice of sunchoke. I was able to fully taste the flavor of each ingredient yet they all came together to be something more than their individual parts. A glass of Verdicchio was the perfect balance. The wine accelerated the mandarin orange flavor brilliantly.
Third course – Lobster, burrata cheese, basil seed, eggplant and tomato salad. Whoever said seafood and cheese don’t go together has never had this dish!! One of my favorites of the night. Tender, perfectly cooked morsels of lobster tucked into a fresh mozzarella “comforter” were the pinnacle of decadence. The basil seeds with the tiny chunks of fresh, sweet tomatoes cut the richness and brought that perfume that make you say “ah, yes, I recognize that caprese flavor profile”. The tiny cubes of slightly firm eggplant provided a firmness that kept me from slipping away forever in the otherwise creamy cloud of flavor. This dish was truly the best of seafood and dairy together. It was like a cold “melt” if that makes any sense. The Vermentino was not a good wine match. The wine was way to full bodied and full flavored. It overwhelmed all the delicate nuances of the dish.
Fourth course – Veal tongue, seafood sausage, cabbage and hazelnuts. The chef is brilliant at combining seafood with animal fat. This was a great example. The richness and full meaty flavor of the tongue married brilliantly with the seafood sausage. The seafood sausage ate like a pork sausage but with the delicate flavor of seafood. The meat and the seafood swapped places as the seafood provided the firmness and the veal tongue was the soft texture. The cabbage provided the always necessary acid balance and the toasted hazelnuts brought you back full circle with their rich, nutty crunch. A Loire Sauvignon Blanc from Quincy was a tasty match. The herby quality of the wine played nicely with the vegetal character of the cabbage and the acids cancelled each other out and brought the flavors of the food to the forefront.
Fifth course – Octopus Bolognese with bone marrow. Bursts of rich pleasure from the marrow. The tomato sauce was spicy and the octopus had great texture but unfortunately you could not taste the flavor of the octopus. The tomato and bone marrow completely buried it. The Nero d’ Avola red wine was a great match but again was more of a red wine with meat profile that overwhelmed the octopus even further.
A glass of raisinated sweet Italian dessert wine was the perfect finish. It was like an after dinner drink and dessert all in one. I enjoyed this while practicing my Spanish with an awesome couple on vacation from Mexico. The wife promises to send me a famous family recipe from her grandmother. I will share that one with you when I get it!
Although this is not a meal I can afford very often I was so grateful to have it be one that felt worth every penny. There are chefs that truly know how to coax the best out of each ingredient and create flavor combinations that you never thought of. Thank you Marea.
Eat well, Enjoy life, Be happy

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Chase Lane permalink
    January 17, 2010 5:42 pm

    Hi Jeff,
    I really love this stuff so much I feel like I am stealing cookbooks. I hope you can let us in on if you are working on some media projects. I can imagine you’ll already have a paying public, though I hate to put it on monetary terms.

    I note that some of the chefs of Food Network are extolling the virtues of Harissa. I wonder where that came from? Funny that they did not say where to get it.

    What I am getting at is that you, and sometimes Alton Brown, come up with spices, but leave the onus on us to dig it up. That is fine, as it gives us more ability than to just suck off the instructions. Per Alton, I have been looking for a special pepper. Finding it on the Net is a breeze, but I want our local stores to carry it, too.

    Maybe a cookbook is a little too soon without a media blitz, but I am down with the program.

    It’s food, arts, music, and drink that bring this wonderful world together, and though you are not as glib as Bourdain, your joy and passion bring a new attitude towards getting rid of borders. How can someone hate with a beautiful omelet in front of them. Your message is beyond food. I hope you know that.
    Saint Louis

    • Jeffrey Saad permalink
      January 19, 2010 3:09 pm

      Hello Chase, You are so kind. THanks much. I appreciate your sincerity and the awesome support. I am working on a cookbook and will keep you posted. Take care and thanks much! Keep on cooking! Jeffrey 🙂

  2. Chase Lane permalink
    January 17, 2010 5:44 pm

    Oops, my bad for not saying Jeffrey. To be honest, I worry about doing an erey, errey, as opposed to it being correct. Comes with age.

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