Maré Restaurant celebrates European Coastal cuisine with a simple, but bright selection of mostly fish and shellfish. Choose from a location on Melrose or the newest one, near the beach in Santa Monica.
I remember my farewell meal at Los Angeles restaurant institution Jiraffe. After 18 years of serving diners well in Santa Monica, Jiraffe closed and everyone wondered what would fill its restaurant shoes. The fill comes from Eric Greenspan and Midcourse Hospitality Group. Greenspan expands his already successful restaurant on Melrose to the corner of 5th and Santa Monica Boulevard with his westside opening of Maré.
The dining room at Maré hasn't changed a whole lot since it's Jiraffe days, though the two-story room does feel a bit brighter. The butcher paper covered tables don't remain empty, or clean, for long. After sitting down, a server quickly came by with a fennel-heavy seeded bread, olive oil, pickled peppers and a pistachio and olive mix.
Our waitress, one of several who would touch our table throughout the night, explained the European Coastal Cuisine at Maré where shellfish is one of their specialties. You can choose from clams, black mussels or shrimp and from broths like leek and white wine, tomato fennel, basil pistou, spicy sausage romesco and vadouvan curry and green apple. While I do like to indulge in the specialties, warm broth was a tough sell on a hot summer's night.
It's a typical "sharing menu" where you grab a few plates priced $9-17 or grab one of the four larger plates, reasonably priced from $19-25. We did a little of each, starting with the crispy octopus. The flavor was bold and memorable with its lemon mostarda, chili, leeks and fennel. Unfortunately, it was a bit overcooked, making it a little chewy, but the ingredient combination almost made up for it.
The rapini with chili and garlic chips ran into some cooking issues as well, leading to some bitter notes throughout the dish.
We were warned that the whole branzino would indeed come whole, bones and all, but we weren't deterred, wanting to experience some of Greenspan's fish. The branzino was beautifully presented with a fig pomegranate glaze, but it did take some maneuvering to get the fish out. The fish was moist and flavorful, so if you're not afraid to get your hands dirty, and perhaps eat some bones, the dish is enjoyable.
Service during the evening started strong, and petered out so much so that we didn't stay for dessert. A lag time of over 30 minutes came between some plates and which made the cooking issues with both the octopus and rapini even more disappointing.
Maré Santa Monica has only been open a few weeks so let's hope they're still working out the kinks as they did have a packed house the night I dined there. If they can get the timing down on a few things, Maré could offer a straight forward and reasonably priced menu of quality seafood leaning dishes.
Maré (Melrose location as well)
502 Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica