Whenever friends and family come to town, we almost always take them to the North End. Even more predictably, we always visit either Prezza, Mamma Maria, or Monica's. Of course, after dinner we invariably stop by Mike's Pastry or Modern Pastry for cannolis and cappuccinos.
Admittedly, we are biased in how we choose Italian restaurants in the North End. Bryan loves fresh pasta and has become a sort of super-snob when it comes to pasta. He just won't enjoy it nearly as much if a restaurant uses dried pasta. In fact, we often will walk up to a place, check out the menu, and if they don't have homemade pasta, we move on.
Which is why I was almost a bit surprised when Bryan sent me an instant message telling me he had made a reservation at Mare for dinner. It was not until later that I found out he got 1000 Open Table points for it, which is pretty cool, considering 5000 points gets you a $50 gift certificate to use at any participating restaurant.
Well, I'm always thrilled to go to the North End, especially when the weather fantastic. Mare calls itself a "coastal Italian restaurant." It's definitely a higher-end restaurant, with prices more similar to Prezza and Mamma Maria than Giacomo's or Pizzeria Regina. What makes them unique is that virtually all of their seafood is organic and sustainable, their beef is hormone free, and their pasta is homemade!!!
Sold. We were definitely curious about this place.
Bryan has a thing for tasting menus. If there's one on the menu, he can't help but have to order it. He figures that, if it's our first time at a place, it's the best way to try out the chef's best offerings. I guess he has a point - I mean, I tend to be a grazer and I also get bored of one dish after a few bites. But tasting menus are usually 2-3x more expensive than ordering normal stuff on the menu.
"But it's better for the blog. You try more dishes, and you can write about more dishes."
Sigh. I guess he's right. So, I agreed to get the tasting menu. Here it goes . . .
The fun thing about the tasting menu is that if you go with another person, the chef actually will give you two different things for most of the courses. You essentially get to try twice as many dishes if you try each other's plates. The only other place where I've seen this done is Daniel, but at a much higher price.
*note - The tasting menu is $95 a person and has 7-courses. You can also try the 5-course for $75. It consists of dishes that are off the regular menu and is a "chef's whim" type of tasting, although you can tell him about allergies, preferences, etc. I have written the regular menu prices for these dishes, but keep in mind that portions for the tasting menu are likely smaller than the portions of the regular menu item.
Local Oysters on the Half Shell limoncello ice $16
Bryan got this as his first course. He said it was light, refreshing, and flavorful.
Salmon Crudo frisee and apple salad, garlic chips, lemon oil $14
This was my first course. I love raw salmon, so it's not hard to please me in this arena. I thought the garlic chips added an extra dimension, both in terms of flavor and texture to this dish.
Deep Fried Soft Shelled Crab
This was one of their specials for the day, so they included it into the tasting menu. We actually each got one of these. Bryan thought it was pretty good. The meat was sweet, and the flavors of the dish overall were pretty good. I actually don't love soft-shelled crab, so my opinion is going to be a bit biased. I thought the breading was too thick, and, in general, I don't really like eating the shell of a soft-shelled crab - It feels like I'm eating shrimp shells, so I don't love it.
Papardelle, chestnut and black pepper pasta, wild boar, charred leeks, ricotta salata $23
Halibut pine nut and golden raisin agrodolce sauce $16
Bryan's next dish was Mediterranean in flavors. Although it was solidly prepared, neither of us loved the inherent ingredients in this dish, so it was hard to love it. Bryan doesn't love Mediterranean flavors, and I frankly don't like raisins in my food (except for this one amazing rendition by a particular Michelin starred restaurant).
Halibut asparagus puree, mushrooms
My halibut dish, on the other hand, was GREAT! Both Bryan and I liked this one better as well. The asparagus puree was light yet richly flavorful. The fish was nice and soft on the inside yet crispy on the outside. I think this may have been a special, because I did not see it on the regular menu.
Surf & Turf: Rack of Lamb edamame ragu with morel mushrooms, oven roasted baby tomatoes and Grilled Langoustine
Have you ever had langoustine? I had no idea what it was, and (sheesh, I'm embarrassed to admit this), but when I saw it on the menu I thought it was a mangosteen (tropical fruit). Anyway, a langoustine most definitely is not in any way related to the mangosteen.
Also known as the Norway Lobster, the langoustine looks like a small lobster, or a very large prawn. The meat is delicious - sweeter than lobster or shrimp -and quite delicate. It's really a very unique item that I've never had before, and I highly recommend it.
I also absolutely loved the morel mushrooms that came with this dish. I have no idea how they flavored it, but this dish alone elevated morel mushrooms to one of my favorite mushrooms of all times (maybe right below the white truffle!). The edamame and grilled tomatoes were also delicious.
We ended the meal with a nice custard topped with burnt caramel sauce, which was solid.
Bryan got the dark chocolate pudding, which he enjoyed.
Overall, the food at Mare is excellent. I like their focus on organic and sustainable seafood, although it definitely does come at a price. The prices in general are on the higher side - think of this as one of the more upscale Italian restaurants in the North End. Although the tasting menu was a great way to experience the best the chef has to offer, I probably would not get it again. Honestly, for just a bit more, you could order an incredible tasting menu at Craigie on Main or Clio and see much more inventive dishes cooked at a much higher level. Here, I would consider saving some money and just ordering a la carte, getting either the Wild Mushroom Spaghetti Alla Chitarra, Halibut with Asparagus Puree, or the Grilled Langoustine. Of course, I would look for those morel mushrooms - YUM!
135 Richmond St
Boston, MA 02109
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