THE DISH: La Marеe restaurant and fish boutique
La Marеe restaurant and fish boutique//34 Suvorovsky Prospekt//Tel. 719 8383//www.lamaree-spb.ru//Open daily from 10 a.m. to midnight//Menu in Russian and English//Dinner for two with alcohol 8,170 rubles ($261)
Published: November 30, 2011 (Issue # 1685)
Tipping the scales
Building on the success of their three restaurants in Moscow headed by Tunisian brand chef Zitouni Abdessatar, La Maree company, the largest importers of luxury seafood products into Russia, opened a restaurant in St. Petersburg back in July 2010. More than a mere restaurant, La Marée on Suvorovsky Prospekt is also a “fish boutique” in which clients can either enter the fishmongers and select their own fish to be prepared in a range of different ways or simply purchase food to take away. The boutique itself is something of a spectacle: Aquaria boasting enormous lobsters and giant Kamchatka crabs frame large fish counters with a range of exotic fish and shellfish from Groupers to Red Snappers and oysters. All are flown in to St. Petersburg, the waiter confidently assured us, within hours of being caught.
The restaurant is divided into a non-smoking and a smoking room. The latter adjoins the boutique, giving the room something of a stripped-down feel, in which diners are able to observe and select their dinner in the adjacent shop. The visibility of the fish counters and the bountiful aquatic images adorning the walls conjure up impressions of sitting quayside somewhere in France or Spain.
The atmosphere in the non-smoking room is more like a conventional high-end restaurant. Most restaurants of this caliber avoid having the atmosphere painted on the walls, but La Maree has chosen a different approach, with a giant mosaic-style image of Poseidon riding a chariot through the sea covering the entirety of one wall. The lighting and interior generated a relaxed, if slightly subdued, atmosphere on a slow-moving Monday evening. Slightly incongruous were the large flat screen TVs displaying footage of fish of all descriptions carving through the waters of the Red Sea. A little unnerving, given that many of them feature on the menu.
The menu is extensive, almost bewilderingly so. The à la carte menu ranges widely across carpaccio, tempura, soups, pastas, fish and shellfish and an impressive range of meat dishes from Spanish jamon to French steaks. But for those not content with these meager offerings, the boutique has its own, separate menu. Here, clients can select dishes ranging from oysters costing between 180 rubles ($6) and 320 rubles ($11) each, steamed crab phalange (550 rubles, $18/100 grams) to clams (350 rubles, $12/100 grams) and monk fish fillet (650 rubles, $22/100 grams). Whole fish such as sea robin (240 rubles, $8/100 grams) are also available to be prepared in a variety of different ways.
We opted for the more modest dishes from the à la carte menu. As a starter, the mussels à la Provençale (850 rubles, $28) were plentiful, if a little on the small side, but the thick sauce was an excellent balance between garlic and robust, oily tomatoes.
The fish soup with saffron and garlic toast (980 rubles, $32) proved to be a disappointment, however. The saffron was as lost in a featureless set of generic salty tomato flavors, as were the random pieces of fish and shellfish that floated rather forlornly in the red-brown liquid.
Between courses we were presented with an excellent complimentary lemon and champagne sorbet to prepare our palettes for the main courses. We opted for the stir-fried Chilean sea bass and crispy vegetables (1,570 rubles, $52) and the black truffle spaghetti with pecorino romano (1,050 rubles, $35). The sea bass was superb; the teriyaki and ginger flavors of the sauce enveloping the succulent notes in the fish without blasting them into anonymity. The vegetables were crunchy and the fennel, in particular, complimented the fish perfectly. The spaghetti was also delicious in a thick and creamy sauce.
Of the desserts, honey cake with caramel ice-cream (450 rubles, $15) was a very good combination of textures and temperatures, while the fresh berries in Barolo and panna cotta sauce for 650 rubles ($22) were decent enough but perhaps a little too bitter for many palettes. We ordered Chablis from the very foothills of the wine list at 650 rubles ($22) per glass (the cheapest bottles here weigh in at a hefty 3,000 to 3,500 rubles, or $100 to $117).
Our bill came to just over 8,000 rubles ($267) and our excellent waiter, who was happy to chat about the restaurant, informed us that the bill for two often scales the dizzying heights of 60,000 rubles ($2,000) if a couple of bottles of the best wine and the more expensive items from the boutique are ordered. Quite whether the quality of the food justifies such an astronomical price tag is very much open to debate.