Thursday, February 03, 2011

Marea with the Maestro

That's right Marea - not Marfa - not yet

There ain’t too many people I would get out of a warm, dry taxi and go hunt down a shovel to clear a path for, in a snowfall, but Filippo De Belardino is one of them. And to do it, to make a way to one of the best meals I will have this year, let’s say it was worth it. Oh yeah! Man if I was a gambling man, after SD26 and Marea, I should just go home. First the disclaimer and then the details.

I know some folks just don’t like reading these kinds of posts. It could come off like a nah-nah-nah-nah-nah kind of brag-fest. But I promise to interject love and life and good times about friends and the most important thing in the wine business – the relationships. If I remember. Or I might just brag.

It’s hard not to love a guy like Filippo. Even when I get mad at him (rarely) I still love the cat. He is warm and generous and he gives me room to be myself. I think of him as a brother-in-arms. Thankfully, not a brother-in-law.

And to get to have lunch at Marea with Filippo and Sausage Paul? Well, I’m luckier than Lou Gehrig.

Waiting for us at the restaurant on a blustery day in January was Filippo’s press liaison, Kate Morgan-Corcoran, who is a breathe of fresh air! She’s young, articulate, sassy and smart as a whip. They hit a home run when Kate joined the team (*Note to Kate: this is an example of how your IT folks should "deliver" your newsletter: here).

Last year Paul and I went to Little Italy, where Mario Carbone was ramping up his food at the then newly opened Torrisi. Now a hot ticket, with waiting lines to get in. But Marea is an expression of Italian inspiration that really turned the head. It’s like New York saying to Italy, “Yeah, we can do Italian,” but in a subtle, soft, affirmative, strong manner. And the results are amazingly delicious.

Grilled octopus with smoked potatoes, pickled red onion, chilies and tonnato
I was in the mood for octopus this day and thankfully Marea had a couple of offerings. One of the tricks, however was to get my polipo on and have red wine that would work with it. Sommelier Francesco Grosso made small work of it. But before we went into deep red territory, we needed to splash around in the shallow waters with apps and white wine.

Filippo, looking up from the menu, his eyes peering around the reading glasses, took a look at Francesco. “My God, Francesco, how old are you? I have frozen food in my fridge older than you!” It took all my strength not to hurl a spray of Assyrtiko past the table over to Paul. That’s the kind of humor that he has, and it comes like bullets out of a gatling gun, like we were watching an Italian version of Schecky Green’ Catskills shtick, Filippo rolls them off his lips, effortlessly.
  •  Why do Italian divorces cost so much? They’re worth it.
  •  Why do Italian men die before their wives? They want to.
  •  A car hit an elderly Italian man. The paramedic says, “Are you comfortable?” The man says, “I make a good living, but don't tell my wife.”
  •  I just got back from a pleasure trip. I took my mother-in-law to the airport.

So many times I’ve been with him and he just pours it out; he’s funny, he’s charming, he’s loveable. What can I say? This is the kind of stuff I live for (it doesn’t hurt that he has a good expense budget, either).

The Assyrtiko Francesco is pushing is the Thalassitis Gai'a, and with the Kusshi, Dennis and Beausoleil oysters (East coast this time, LB) it was a splendid union. We followed with an appetizer of grilled octopus with smoked potatoes, pickled red onion, chilies and a tonnato flourish. Kate ordered Astice, which was one of the best dishes on the table. While she and I sipped on Assyrtiko, Filippo and Paul were pleasured by a Kerner from the always-reliable Abbazia di Novacella. And we were just getting started.

I am writing this two days into a deep-freeze lock-down in North Texas, so this food is looking even better. Which it was. Easily will go down as one of the best meals I have had in a year and (I predict) this year. Saying this while I’m packing a bag to head to Friuli. Courage. We can do this.

Figuring I should stick to sea-going fare but wanting to sip on a red (rare for me in the afternoon) I opted for more polipo, this time the fusilli with red wine braised octopus and bone marrow. When I posted the dish, Brad Murano messaged me instantly, "That is THE dish, bone marrow and octopus. Brilliant!” If The Brad digs it, I am in. IN, BABY! Like Telly Savalas.

"That is THE dish, bone marrow and octopus. Brilliant!” -The Brad
I’ve gone from Shecky to Telly and am going from Assyrtiko to Coevo. A Tuscan red from the Cecchi family, Andrea and Cesare, who come to Dallas regularly. The wine is 50% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet, 20% Merlot, and 20% Petit Verdot, and not something I normally migrate over to. But like Tom Maresca says about the wine, “It may be a contemporary wine, but it isn’t an international one: Coevo has a deep-dyed Tuscan soul inside its sleek modern body.” And we are in a contemporary setting, here on the edge of Central Park in modish settings. Francesco is wearing one of those skinny Italian suits that so belong on someone young and thin. The server, Sofie has her cute Sarah Palin glasses on and a farmer’s daughter apron that doesn’t demean her station. It’s veddy sexy. Hell, even the tentacles wailing and flailing on the plate are looking aroused. But said polipo did just follow a plate of oysters. Thankfully the food is as good as my internal fantasies. And the Coevo was brilliant. And this from a guy who doesn’t lean into Tuscany that often. No faint praise. Heartfelt. Swing batter.

Sometimes an espresso is just an espresso
I know Charles Scicolone won't agree with me on this one, but when I ordered a “ristretto” in my typically genetic Sicilian way, that is what they brought. For me this little offering of coffee is a guilty pleasure. And if you don’t have at least one from time to time (guilty pleasures, that is) what is life but a two-dimensional piece of Masonite with a paint by numbers scene sketched out? How dull, how lifeless. Remember you’ve stepped into my fantasy. Nah, it’s just a cup of coffee.

I love these guys ~ my tribe!
And there you have it. Way too long. Too bad – my blog. The end. Grazie Mille Filippo and Kate!

Addl note: I hope the next time a post appears here I will be in Venice or Valpolicella or who knows where, with those two love struck kids celebrating life and their 1st anniversary. Jeesh, you’d think these two invented love and marriage. I have to go over there and see what they have gotten themselves into, they’re so cute and in love. Makes me sick. Just kidding, but I had to say it. In any event, I’ll be blogging with he rest of the crew at the COF2011 trip, sponsored by eh Colli Orientali del Friuli people and most likely some Italian government agency with money to burn. Should be fun, and is really the first “down time” I’ve had since Marfa in September. Yeah, yeah, yeah, get out the violins and “cry like baby”, Guy. Which by the way, you owe me a post or two for The Blend, Mr. Stout Reporter. Ciao ragazzi.

Astice ~ Nova Scotia lobster


Susan said...

As always, your posts are both interesting and entertaining. I especially liked your NYC posts since I I live in NYC and have been experiencing this crazy winter weather! Happy travels in Italy!

From Your Mindseye said...

Buon viaggio, non mangiare troppo!


Anonymous said...

I was fortunate to go on a Banfi trip to Italy a few years ago, and Filippo was our most gracious host for a week. His focus was more about the culture and history of winemaking in Italy, than the typical distributor death march into wine country. Happy to hear he is still out and about. Bland.

Antony said...

I need more details on the marrow and octopus please. Thanks for all of the catching up on what I missed in NYC.

Susan Guerra said...


You mention nothing about how stylish you looked in the coat and scarf. You can come to Jersey and shovel my walkway anytime in that outfit!


Charles Scicolone said...

It looks like you had a great time.
I see Philip often in NYC and as a Sicilian I agree with you on the caffe.

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