Italian cuisine is more than just pasta and pizza. As Italy has an extensive coastline, it also has a rich, culinary tradition of seafood. Concentrating on those traditions is Mare, a North End restaurant with a "coastal Italian menu." Most of their menu items are seafood, and in addition they use many natural and organic ingredients. Plus, they aim to be more ecologically conscious, working towards providing all sustainable seafood.
As a media guest, I recently attended a sustainable seafood wine dinner where Mare partnered with The CleanFish Alliance, a national seafood purveyor, and The Wine Bottega, a local wine store. Executive Chef Greg Jordan prepared a four-course dinner featuring sustainable seafood while Alisha Lumea of Cleanfish discussed the seafood and answered questions about sustainability. Kerri Platt, the owner of the Wine Bottega, chose the wines, which were organic, biodynamic, or natural, as well as spoke about them during the dinner.
The restaurant does not look like the typical North End restaurant, and has a more modern style. Large windows look out onto the street, and this would be especially compelling during the summer. There are a few "televisions" in the corners of the restaurant but they actually only show scenes of Italy so really do not distract from the atmosphere, rather enhancing it.
Jackie Church of the Leather District Gourmet and Donna Goodison of the Boston Herald were a couple of my dining companions. Jackie was her usual self, a fun and interesting conversationalist, while this was the first time I met Donna, who was also very nice and added to the discussions.
Our dinner began with a delicious Amuse Bouche, some American White Sturgeon Caviar atop a polenta bellini. The caviar was not overly fishy, and had a nice salty flavor that went well with the corn-flavored bellini. Our first wine of the evening had been poured prior to this dish, a 2007 Alois Lageder Muller Thurgau from the Alto Adige region. This wine had a pleasant floral aroma with hints of spice, that spice coming out more prominently in the taste. It was a crisp wine, with more tropical fruit flavors, and a good choice for seafood.
The Muller Thurgau also paired well with our first course, Atlantic Halibut crudo with grapefruit pulp and basil. The raw halibut was silky smooth with a strong grapefruit taste and the slight herbality of the basil. If you enjoy sashimi or ceviche, then this dish would impress you. The halibut was farm-raised on Gigha Island, Scotland.
For the second course, we enjoyed Blue Abalone with roasted foie gras, fig gastrique and brioche toast. The abalone was firm, though not rubbery, and the gastrique made a delicious sauce for the abalone. The foie was of course excellent, creamy and decadent. It also tasted good with the fig gastrique. The abalone was farm-raised in Bream Bay, New Zealand. Our wine for this course was the 2007 Antonio Caggiano Fiano di Avellino "Bechar" from Campania. It had a rich body and plenty of acidity, thus perfect for the foie and abalone.
Up next was the Spaghetti alla chitarra, with Laughing Bird Shrimp, wilted arugula, cherry tomatoes and lemon crema. These shrimp are never frozen. The dish was quite good, with a rich, creamy sauce and restrained lemon flavor. Lemon can sometimes overwhelm a dish but the chef did not allow that to happen here. The pasta, which is usually made on premises, was cooked just right, al dente. The shrimp were plump and flavorful, and are farm-raised in Belize.
Kerri actually chose a red wine for this dish, the 2007 Bocchino Langhe Rosso "Tom" from Piemonte. This is a blend of 70% Barbera and 30% Merlot. And it was a hit! The lush and smooth wine was just right for the creamy sauce. It was delicious on its own, with lots of good fruit, though clearly is an excellent food wine as well.
The final course was Faroe Island Sea Trout with a Chianti mustard glaze, pancetta braised swiss chard, and cannellini bean puree. The trout was moist and very flavorful with the glaze, which had a prominent mustard flavor. The final wine was the 2004 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva from Toscana. This wine is 100% Sangiovese, a clone used to make Brunello and referred to as the "King of Sangiovese." A superb Chianti, rich in berry flavors with some restrained spice, plenty of acidity and moderate tannins.
Service was very good and overall the dinner was excellent, with delicious food and wines. This was my first visit to Mare and I certainly will return again. I like the fact they are aiming for sustainable seafood and Chef Jordan is obviously very talented. Plus, it is a more unique North End restaurant, different from the many red sauce places you'll find.
Though I will likely expand on this issue in a later post, I did want to briefly address the sustainability of the seafood. Alisha's position is as an "Evangelist" and she seemed very knowledgeable when questioned concerning the seafood and sustainability. But, she did admit there was some information they considered proprietary and thus there is not full transparency. CleanFish is essentially a marketing organization, promoting their client's products. So, there are some questions about the company.
But, my own brief research on the seafood we ate did not uncover any significant issues with the sources of the seafood. I should note that sustainability is not always a simple issue, especially where seafood is concerned. I fully understand the difficulties the average consumer encounters when buying seafood, and I hope to expand on the matter in the near future.
135 Richmond Street