It's a good sign you arrive at a restaurant on a Wednesday at 9pm and it is absolutely BUSTLING. Especially when that restaurant isn't even a year old, and to find it, patrons have to walk through the back kitchen of a grilled cheese shop. LA, much like New York, has an affinity for secret hotspots that you already have to know about to find. Hidden behind a barber shop or even an industrial fridge, it's all about the secret entrance. But luckily, Maré boasts much more than a sense of privacy (of which Beyoncé and Jay-Z are fans). With a beautiful, leafy outdoor patio (those are kumquat trees nestled between the tables) and coastal, seafood-driven European cuisine, Maré is a haven for good food, craft drinks, and even a few games of foosball (they have tables in another area of the patio!). Helmed by Chef Eric Greenspan (of The Roof on Wilshire and said Grilled Cheese Shop downstairs), Maré opened less than a year ago to little fanfare, and still operates that way today. The whole restaurant seems understated and relaxed due to the hush-hush vibe and pared back menu. They only offer 5 cocktails, each focused on one specific spirit, and their permanent menu has but a few appetizers, some essential entrées, a handful of desserts, and a rotating menu of nightly specials.
Though Kyle cycled through quite a few cocktails that night (#yolo), I stuck to the vodka with greens and thyme. It was really nice, light, and refreshing. A great go-to drink for any night of the week. Kyle started off with the Whiskey cocktail, which had fig and oregano.
Our first appetizer was the fried smelt. Usually, smelt isn't the first thing I go for on the menu, and these little fish were hardly disguised by the fried batter. However, I quickly forgot about their little heads (I have a thing about fish heads) looking at me once I dug in. They were really crispy, but with the lemon sauce and radicchio, still seemed really light and fresh. I loved how these were an addicting little snack, like popcorn.
Up next was a seafood staple: tuna crudo. I really enjoyed the addition of the sweet strawberry, and how the pink peppercorn gave this a bit more a quick than your typical, run-of-the-mill tuna crudo. I'm personally not a huge saffron person, so I didn't love that element of the dish, but I did like all the crispy elements, as well as the fresh raw onion.
Up next was the crispy octopus. While I love a good fresh octopus, the light, crispy coating added a really nice textural as well as flavor element. The blood orange gastrique, yogurt, celery, and chili all provided the dish with plenty of brightness, acid, and a punch of spice. Very coastal, indeed!
Ironically, though Maré is all about the seafood, my favorite dish of the night was a short rib gnocchi. The gnocchi itself was soooo light, fluffy, and pillowy; I particularly loved the size of each individual gnocchi, as it provided the dish with a bit more of a substantial bite than a typical gnocchi. The short rib was really tender and melted into the gnocchi perfectly. I honestly wish there had been more of this dish!
As the meatballs were one of the specials that night, please note that I don't quite remember every element (hence the sparse description). However, I remember they had the exact texture you want in a meatball: a bit crispy on the outside, and tender and meaty inside. Yum.
One of their signature entrees is a pick-your-own style fish + broth combo. You can choose from between clams, black mussels, and shrimp for the shellfish and leek and white wine, tomato fennel, pistou, spicy sausage romesco, or curry and green apple for the broth. We went with a simple but flavorful combo of shrimp and leek and white wine. The dish comes with a side of noodles and a runny egg (that they cook in the shell), which they mix together at the table. All together, it was a unique, tasty combination that we all really enjoyed. It was another dish that managed to feel slightly decadent but retain a sense of lightness that plays into the Coastal cuisine aspect of the menu.
Of course, we had to order he whole branzino. Another signature entree, the whole branzino was presented beautifully, cooked perfectly, and came with sweet and acidic little bites of pomegranate. The fig pomegranate sauce added another sweet element, which offset the fish nicely. We also ordered the skirt steak (not pictured) which was perfectly cooked and served with a healthy dollop of uni butter. Delicious.
Overall, our meal at Maré was great. From the ambiance to the fresh, simple drinks and light, tasty food, it's no wonder why this place is such a hotspot. From the fried smelt to the shellfish presentation to the whole branzino, we have to give them major credit for not just presenting the same, trendy menu of shared plates that you can find everywhere. There's something very upscale yet relaxed about the restaurant, an element present in the decor, vibe, and food. It creates an ultra-cool but not-trying-hard retreat amongst the glitzy and hip spots surrounding it. We have a feeling Maré will only continue to get hotter. And hey, if it's good enough for Beyoncé...