The Day – La Marea d’Old Saybrook raises the bar on Italian
Nestled along an indescribable stretch of Route 154 is Old Saybrook’s last culinary gem, La Marea. This Italian restaurant, at this location that straddles the line between Essex and Saybrook just off Route 9, has taken over an old, long-abandoned restaurant building and launched a hot spot that serves some of the best food I’ve had. tasted for some time.
I realize that a ‘hot spot’ at Old Saybrook is a relative term, but when the parking lot is three quarters full at 5:25 PM at a place that opens for dinner at 5:00 PM you know you’re on to something, especially considering the location. I was having take out that day, a feat in itself, since a few days earlier I had phoned to request take out and was told it would take at least 90 minutes to prepare. my command; the dining room was very busy that evening, explained the hostess. Too hungry to wait that long, I declined and postponed tasting # 1 for a few days and placed my order over the phone a few minutes after the dinner service started.
Apparently I’ll have to strategically phone for my take out orders in the future, as the Pizza Margherita ($ 15, one size) and Insalate Tricolor ($ 13) that we enjoyed for dinner were wonderful. There are about seven other pizza options available alongside La Marea’s pasta and “Secondi” entrees, but loyal readers will know that I’m a sucker for cheese pizza – especially high end pizza. La Marea’s margherita pie remains beautifully basic: take buffalo mozzarella, basil and fresh tomato sauce and place it on the dough; bake hotter than Lucifer’s living room; enjoy. Every part of the pizza was exceptional: the basil delivered a tangy green explosion; the cheese was fresh and creamy (a little fresh mozz can be boring in the wrong hands); and the tomatoes, lively and tangy, sang summer. However, the crust got ahead of the rest for Pizza MVP. When a dough results in a soft, crisp and slightly moist baked crust with olive oil, that, my friends, is expert preparation and a tasty base for greatness.
Our tricolor salad, a mix of radicchio, Belgian endive, bib lettuce, red onion and large chunky parmesan shavings, turned out to be a tasty and certainly colorful counterpart to the pizza. The accompanying rosemary balsamic vinaigrette unified the most bitter of greens and tangy cheese in the most perfect way, creating a sum greater than parts. Our only beef with the salad, if you will, was its lean size. Two of us each had a decent amount, but for $ 13 we both expected (and, after tasting it, wanted) more.
Considering the popularity of La Marea, we made a reservation for dinner for Tasting # 2 and we are so glad we did, as the place was buzzing again. To toast our wisdom, we ordered a few cocktails: mine at Lavender Collins – Broker’s (dry) Gin, Wild Moon Lavender liqueur, and splash of lemon and club soda – and his Sazerac ($ 9 each). I can heartily recommend mine, which kept the lavender in check with the smart touch of lemon spritz and didn’t taste too alcoholic. I’m no fan of bourbon drinks, but I can pass my husband’s seal of approval on his Sazerac, which was beautifully presented in a proper glass with a touch of orange.
One could easily dine on the appetizers at La Marea and leave feeling full; indeed, the restaurant’s lively bar area becomes very tempting if you are looking for a light bite and a glass of wine (the list goes on). We can recommend the two apps we tried, but we have to note that we wanted to try at least two more in the Antipasti menu.
Now the Timballo di Buffalo e Verdure alle Griglia ($ 14) seems small at first glance, but this timballo is densely constructed with layers of buffalo mozzarella and an alternation of sliced marinated grilled vegetables, including zucchini, tomatoes. and eggplants. Again, a balsamic glaze, sprinkled artfully on the plate, brought all the flavors together and made for a unique, refreshing and hearty dish. A note: our timballo came out almost freezing. Cheeses are best when they have had time to warm up after spending time in the refrigerator. We gave the dish time to approach room temperature and it realized its full flavor potential.
We have no cautions for Parmigiana di Melanzane ($ 13). Just order it and enjoy that excellent eggplant expression, which is lightly fried, sliced, baked and topped with mozzarella and grated Parmigiano cheese, and topped with that fabulous tomato sauce. It’s bright, tasty and satisfying.
Happy as we were with our app choices, our entrees ensured a return visit to La Marea. I opted for the pasta dish of the day: half rigatoni with lamb stew ($ 22). Yes: the lamb stew, and it was spectacularly delicious. I expected the ground lamb to end up in the sauce, but mixed in the middle of the perfectly al dente rigatoni it was chopped, tender lamb meat, expertly simmered with tomatoes and magic. Keep an eye out for this wonderful entrance, which was large enough to send us home with some leftovers.
Now, you wouldn’t expect to encounter one of the best steaks of your life at an Italian restaurant, but La Marea seems to be breaking expectations, as our second entree, Bistecca alla Griglia alle erbe ($ 33) is in our top five. This dish combines a grilled New York strip loin bathed in “wild herbs”, red vinegar sauce and roasted garlic and served with two potato croquettes and the vegetable of the day, asparagus. Ordered and delivered medium rare, the seasonal herbs and vinegar as well as the light grilled flavor have transformed a hearty and stuffy dish like a steak into a springtime highlight. I suspect the vinegar also contributed to the steak’s incredible tenderness. The perfectly prepared asparagus added to the springtime theme, but I would suggest rethinking the croquettes which, while well prepared, were a bit bland.
Still, I won’t quibble much about it, as we really enjoyed every other aspect of our dinners and look forward to tastings # 3, # 4 and # 5. After all, there is a dessert menu to discover …