Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mare, North End, Boston

With my sister home for the Easter holiday this past weekend, my family and I headed out to Mare, on Richmond Street in the North End for dinner one night. Owned by De Pasquale Ventures, proprietor of other well known North End eateries, such as Umbria and Bricco, as well as the North End's own magazine- Scene Boston, Mare is based on the principles of true, organic seafood and produce from the United States and Italy. With the world looking more and more towards "green living" and reducing our carbon footprint the strides that Mare has been taking to ensure that all of its offerings are natural and sustainable from entrees to dessert to wine, are leading the way in the Boston restaurant scene. However, not only is Mare able to ensure that they are utilizing only the freshest ingredients from sources that they know and trust, but they are creating delicious and inventive meals.

Our waiter, who was extremely knowledgeable and friendly, presented us with an amuse bouche as we surveyed the menu. A single slice of a Granny Smith apple topped with a dollop of a mixture of Ricotta cheese and garlic, with a single leaf of thyme was light, refreshing, and incredibly well balanced. The crisp apple showed off the creaminess of the cheese, and the flavors played really well off of each other. It was a delicious start to the meal.

We chose two appetizers to split- the first a favorite of my mother- fried squash blossoms and the second- a favorite of my sister and I- grilled octopus. The squash blossoms were fried in a light, tempura like batter, stuffed with a ricotta cheese mixture. Unfortunately our taste buds were hoping for a little less filling to allow the blossom to shine a bit more, but all in all they were light despite the frying, and satisfied the desire for something decadent. The grilled octopus was really a treat. Beautifully cooked, fork tender, and boasting its beautiful red color it was served with a bit of pesto and a potato mousse. The pesto provided the acidity that you want with grilled seafood, and the mousse was really outstanding. It provided this wonderful stability to the dish without overpowering it with starch. It was perfectly light and smooth, and wonderfully complimented the octopus. As an appetizer- this set the bar very high for Mare in my mind. Octopus is difficult to cook well as it can very easily turn to rubber, but this was so well done, with such a beautiful flavor on its own, that it really shown.

I selected to have Lobster Paccheri di Grangnano for my main. This was described to me, since my Italian is non existent, as a half lobster served with large round noodles in a light tomato sauce. The menu described it as also containing thyme and a mushroom ragu. The positives? The lobster was perfect. A full half, still in shell, very lightly seasoned to allow the sweetness of the lobster to come through- it was beautiful. It absolutely satisfied my craving for lobster. The noodles were large and round as described, and still perfectly al dente. The negatives however were present in this dish where they had been missing from the Octopus appetizer. The light tomato sauce/mushroom ragu to be served with the pasta was overpoweringly salty. It ruined the pasta. The mushrooms were sadly taken down by the sauce as well, and unfortunately there just weren't that many of them. I was hoping for a beautiful, chunky ragu enhanced with the lemony thyme- this was just not the case. I didn't taste thyme at all in the dish.

Luckily though, my entree was the only down point in the evening. My sisters salmon with crispy artichokes and lentils was delicious and very well cooked. My mothers scallops with lemon angel hair, arugula and garlic cream sauce was really wonderful. The scallops were well cooked- still slightly raw in the center and the sauce was a really nice enhancement. They were both very pleased.

We ended our meal by sharing their Vanilla Bread Pudding served with gelato and a saffron caramel sauce. The caramel sauce was the star of this show. Sweet with just a hint of salt and that beautiful saffron it was too good to waste even a drop of it. The pudding was good, though a spongier texture that I was looking for, and I have to say I didn't really even waste my time with the gelato. The caramel was just too good to get distracted from it.

All in all, I really liked Mare. The room was clean, though small, and its huge windows offered a beautiful view of the Old State House and Boston. The chef obviously has an inventive style and makes some delicious and exciting pairings. Mare has definitely succeeded in its goal of utilizing only the freshest and most natural ingredients, its a choice that you can tell from the quality of their food. I look forward to returning.

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