NEW YORK, NY
Now isn’t this place just the cutest thing on busy 9th avenue. They had me at open kitchen and petrossian caviar. As you all well know by now, dinner while watching the kitchen is always magical and so entertaining to me. Taking in the “magician” chefs do what appears to be simple and flawless tasks which leads to delivering mind blowing flavors is just a joy to witness. Mari is the name of this restaurant and they are from the Kochi team which I absolutely love. It is also just around the corner from this restaurant. Walking into the beautifully lit restaurant is a welcome respite from busy street and cold weather outside. Being as that this open kitchen is right in the front and center of this small space, I am so surprised at how they managed to maintain a neutral scent in the space while you are literally in the kitchen. Great achievement if you ask me. There is also a small sitting dining area in the back with a beautiful lighting fixture atop it.
My waiter is great and super friendly. I asked for one sool and he poured me a different one to taste and wouldn’t you know it… he was right and I liked it better! I settled on the tasting menu with the A5 wagyu and truffle upgrade with a side of petrossian caviar. Again, I will never say no to petrossian caviar… something must be seriously wrong with me if I ever do. As I expand my food writing foray into Asian cuisine, I have to work much harder to come up with the right descriptions to explain my experience which I am surprisingly finding to be quite hard. The names of the dishes are barely even the place to start. Well I guess I have to return to cooking all Asian cuisines at home to get better at it.
First was the amuse bouche which consisted of five pieces. I was told to start from the top left, go around and finish in the center. The first was Bang-eo Mari and I found it to be creamy, salty and sweet to flavor. I was not sure what was wrapping this bit but it was almost like a crunchy vegetable enveloping all the flavors. The next was the oyster. Never have I ever had an oyster whose flavors had been made slightly on the sweet side. I am used to salty brine but I quite loved this piece. I find shishito peppers divine and even though this was a small topping, its flavors enveloped the filling below, which had a slight kick that stayed on the palate, a truly special bite. The beef tartare was next and I found the piece to be interesting but not in a bad way at all. What was most exciting for me were the textures and how the tartare was not overwhelming in the mouth, it was almost like it was the side accompaniment to everything else in the bite. Finally was the fried rice ball which I found to be tasty but this is where I have my usual, “I don’t have the words to describe eloquently but it is tasty” moment.
The next of the amuse bouche was the cod mandu. I generally do not like cod but what they have done here is special. It almost removes all cod flavors and makes the fish almost unrecognizable. This is wrapped in a crepe but not one that remotely resembles a French crepe. The broth that this sat in had the full flavor of dashi and sesame oil and was really quite delightful. I could make this as a soup at home and be quite satisfied as a meal. This was lovely a lovely end and now I truly anticipated what was to come next which were … the hand rolls!
The first hand roll that I received was the caviar salmon which already had petrossian caviar so I did not need to add from the side that I had ordered but then again… no such thing as too much petrossian. This hand roll also came with toasted sesame and caviar. The salmon was not sashimi fresh but it maintained the of fattiness of the belly. Now when you have the bite with my dear caviar, it swoops in and makes this two bite piece even fattier and decadent on flavor. I am grateful that this was a two bite piece. Rice always bloats me and I was worried that I would not be able to get through so many hand rolls. I had my fears assuaged by this.
The next roll was the scallop. The first thing I noticed was the color of the scallop. With the deep, resembling dark brown color, my curiosity was peaked as to what it was marinated in before I even put it in my mouth. The crunchy topping and the sneaky spice was what did it for me here. I was delightfully surprised that I was actually enjoying all these spice kicks since I am generally spice averse. Since this was the second bite that was so balanced, I chose at this point not to put caviar on any of my rolls but to instead enjoy it after each bite. Chefs’ preparations were too special and balanced for me to “ruin” it by adding caviar.
The next roll was the pine mushroom. This roll was all mushroom through and through. There was pine, oyster and another that I did not catch with my favorite sesame oil. I had to have this one in one swallow because I could not bite through. All the mushrooms save the pine were raw so there were varying degrees of earthy flavors mixing seamlessly with the sweet sushi rice and sesame oil that laid beneath. I love using sesame oil at home but the way it is used here is a balance that I have never been able to achieve. I had some onion and cauliflower after this piece and it was a mind blowing combination, enlivening the mushroom flavor all over again.
Spicy tuna was next. I mean tuna, mayo and potatoes… how can you ever go wrong with that combination. The flavors on this blend seamlessly and just continue to build and at the very end is a cute spicy kick. What I truly enjoyed about the mayo here is that it brings body but not the heavy drowning flavor that you can sometimes have with mayo. Finally I love the crunchy potato crisps and the texture that that brought to the piece.
Snow crab! I was so excited to see this as a hand roll coming out next as it has been quite some time since I have had snow crab. This crab is from Alaska and this is topped with spicy soy and crunchy toast crumbles. The seaweed wrapper is really crunchy on this one, almost like it was baked towards being a crispy snack. On flavor, there was a balance of sweet and refreshing coolness from the snow crab. At this point, I gave myself a little pat on the back for not putting caviar on the rolls. It is truly enjoyable tasting chefs’ creations just as they are presented.
Now I did not order the soy braised abalone but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Who am I to complain when every different roll that had appeared prior to this one was so unique and delicious. On this one, there was a huge dollop of a mix whose name I did not catch, but it was very pleasing to my eyes so much so that I was looking forward to tasting it. Since abalone is a molluscs, I immediately abandoned the thought of making this a two-bit adventure and had it in one swallow. Anything otherwise would most certainly have proved to be messy. The soy is most definitely the ever present flavor here but softened by a sweetener. I was actually surprised to taste this familiar flavor as it is essentially a marinade I make at home all the time but for meat.
Duck was next. I have been eating quite a bit of duck lately but completely unintentionally so I was very curious to taste what rendition I was going to get now. This duck breast is from Long Island and the roll has radicchio leaves on the bottom. The duck is cool to touch, shaved thin and layered atop the roll. There is the slight but familiar mild gaminess that comes with duck but paired with what tasted like butter, the crunchy radicchio and the slightly sweet rice, we have another winner here.
Finally it was time for the wagyu roll! Let us not forget that I also added truffles onto this one. In addition to that, there was also crispy rice and onions. I was beyond excited for all this fatty and decadent goodness! The wagyu, like the duck, was cool to touch and the delicacy of the Italian truffles really brings balance to this piece. I will be honest and say that it got a little messy with the rice but hey that is in fact the joy of eating alone i.e. no one is watching 😊.
That roll sadly brought me to the end of the hand roll section of the menu. Next up was the guksu. I really was not sure what this was but my curiosity in discovering and tasting food is just unparalleled. I will eat everything and deal with the consequences later. In the end this turned out to be very familiar noodle broth with pork belly. I guess this is the rendition of ramen. Pork belly is definitely in the flavor of what you would with chashu over ramen but this is very thinly shaved. The broth here is also much lighter with a tiny kick of spice from me mixing the spicy topping in. The noodles that were sitting in the broth was soft and really souped up ALL the flavor of the broth and it does so quite easily. I was determined after eating this to find this type of noodle in the grocery store next time I was in one. At this point I was beginning to feel the fact that I had been eating a lot of carbs as I was feeling very bloated.
Sujeong-Gwa was to be the palate cleanser before the final dessert piece. It is a cinnamon ginger punch with a rice cracker. The instructions was to eat the cracker first and then sip on the punch. I really enjoyed this one as it was very similar to a rice crispies. Once upon a time in my childhood I was obsessed with rice crispies. I enjoyed the crisp first as instructed and then moved on to the savory drink which was akin to a cold cinnamon cup of tea. The ginger was more of an after flavor that only came up at the end of the sip. I do have to acknowledge that this was quite a palate cleanser before dessert.
And finally we come to the end of the meal with dessert of an ice cream sandwich. I was truly excited by this one by just looking at it. I was a bit conflicted as to if I should just pick it up by the stick or have manners and use the silverware. I wanted to throw caution to the wind and go with no manners and the stick but then my “mindset” kicked in and I decided against it. It was a good decision in the end as even with the silverware, it was a bit hard to break through the top cookie without making a mess. The ice cream is caramel ice cream and quite delicious without being overly sweet. I found it interesting how the cookie was hard to cut through with the silverware and yet melts in your mouth. Then there was the chocolate shell and little chocolate cookie crumbles on the plate. All in all a delightful dessert and a perfect end to the meal.
Everyone should experience Mari once in their lifetime.
Now I bid you adieu and till next time.