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Chris Kompanek

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Marea and New York Craft Beer Week Preview

Posted: 08/31/11 01:54 PM ET

Sitting just off of Columbus Circle on Central Park South, Michael White's Italian seafood mecca Marea evokes the understated glamour of the Upper West Side of a couple decades ago. Clean lines and subtle lighting put you at ease as does the bar, which serves up powerful cocktails like the nearly-pure bourbon sudovest. It's the perfect place to whet an appetite and wait for tardy dining companions.

Once seated, an extensive menu reveals infinite possibilities that can be ordered a la carte but are intended as part of a four-course tasting menu. Sharable plates such as an order of Ricci (sea urchin and lardo on bread), which packs a lot "of the sea" flavor without being fishy, are an ideal way to begin.

It's hard to imagine a better antipasti than the lobster with burrata and eggplant, though it seems hard to go wrong with such great ingredients. That's part of the charm of White's cooking. It's all about magnifying the inherent flavors of each individual component in a charmingly understated way. This approach comes through in the attentive yet non-fussy service.

The pasta course provides many difficult choices. The fusilli with braised octopus and bone marrow is a tightrope balancing of flavors while the spaghetti with crab and sea urchin delivers instant comfort. The mushroom risotto, pesto ravioli, rigatoni with squid ink all looked mouthwatering, but difficult choices have to be made.

Fish is the natural choice for the main course, and the halibut and local striped bass don't disappoint. Each is cooked perfectly and its delicate flavors complimented with porcini mushrooms and broccoli rabe for the halibut and grilled ramps and fava beans for the bass. For those craving meat, the steak looked really good too.

Freshly made doughnuts (bomboloni) with lemon cream and pear sorbet make a perfect ending to a sublime meal. Of course, dessert is followed by petit fours because there's always room for one more tiny bite.

Tiny bites were scattered around the newly expanded Brooklyn Brewery Thursday night at the press preview for the upcoming New York Craft Beer Week. To keep us relatively sober, there were rolls from Sullivan St. Bakery and accompanying blocks of cheese, bacon fat roasted peanuts from Ovenly Pastries, maple syrup glaze jerky from Slantshack Jerky, My Friend's Mustard in jalapeno IPA and spicy brown flavors, and Van Leeuwen's peanut butter with chocolate swirl ice cream. A tasty array of local stuffs to say the least, and the food wasn't even the star.

The beers hailed from Captain Lawrence, Empire Brewing, Shmaltz, and others including Brooklyn, which poured from several taps. Dogfish Head, though, stole the show with exotic beers such as the Theobroma, a 9% ABV concoction brewed with Aztec cocoa power, honey, ancho chilies, and other ingredients that aim to recreate "the earliest known alcoholic chocolate drink" according to the Dogfish rep.

This is just a small sample of the beers that will be available throughout the city during Beer Week (September 16th - 25th) both at events like the locavore tasting benefit at the Altman Building, the Freaktoberfest kickoff party that melds beer and burlesque at Southpaw, lavish beer dinners at Resto and Lyon among others, an equally decadent brewers brunch at The Breslin, and Brewer's Choice, an evening-long food and beer pairing at City Winery featuring a keynote speech by Brooklyn Brewery's Garret Oliver. I'm getting giddy just typing all that.