The kitchen was out of diver scallops for “Peri Peri Spiced Diver Scallops” and substituted more prawns. This peri-peri is probably not the same as the incendiary piri piri of West Africa, but most likely the newly discovered South African breed of semi-hot capsicum. But on these shrimps, you could barely taste chili — mainly salt, salt galore. The sauce was a sweet, charming “Maltese orange saffron emulsion.” The cast of thousands neutralizing some of that sodium explosion included sticky black Asian rice, vanilla-braised leeks, white asparagus, kohlrabi sprouts, undercooked preadolescent carrots, and a spear of lemongrass piercing a pretty circle of lotus root, plus a few thin slices of honeydew so firm and intense they were surely compressed by liquid nitrogen, the “molecular” technique that local top chefs are now embracing.
Black Angus filet mignon, ordered “very rare,” came rare enough, and tender (of course), with a thick, slightly sweet Petite Syrah glaze to add interest to this rather bland cut. The meat was topped with a lacy circle of cooked lotus root, cradling another yin-yang: half guajillo chili butter (delicious, gimme more!) and half huckleberry chutney. I wasn’t sold on the cumin-Gouda mashed potatoes. Mingling cheese with mash made the texture sludgy — this flavor-combination might work better with sautéed sliced fingerlings (like potato nachos) or in a gratin. A small, thick slice of firm-cooked eggplant was purple all through and faintly sugary from drinking up the meat’s sauce.
If you order matched wines, you can get Chablis, Malbec, or one of each. The steely Chablis was a stern, flawless antidote for the sweet flavors in the starters. For entrées, Michelle’s green eyes and soft plea bewitched our waiter into substituting a gentle Cab for the muscular Argentine Malbec.
Both the “Passport” and the lobster dinners end with a sweets array called “Trilogy,” which I’ll describe later. Eat your lobster, then dessert.
With the lobster prix-fixe, you can start with a creamy wild-mushroom soup that includes espelette pepper, truffle oil, and frosted huckleberries, with bacony bits of pancetta for punctuation. It’s odd and amusing, but finally I could do without the fruity undertones, preferring mushroom soup to be really mushroomy. Afloat is a miniature puff-pastry cup (sound familiar?) filled with fromage blanc, classy French cream cheese. The alternative is a charming salad, but — take the soup. The paired wine is a Louis Roederer Estate Brut (champagne) from Mendocino. For my taste, I’d drop this ultra-dry vinous bling and substitute a mellow white more compatible with a fruit-fungus flavor combo — maybe a Condrieu viognier (fat chance, at this price!).
The lobster, an Australian tail, comes in your choice of three preparations. Our tail not taken was “guava Kalbi glazed” in white-port hibiscus sauce, which sounded too sweet and possibly harsh to both Sam and me. I opted for the pistachio-butter-basted tail. Like its fellows, the meat was served out of the shell, set atop its empty crimson carapace. The flesh was intense and buttery, albeit not as tender by nature as its Maine cousins. It was scattered with fine-minced pistachios and accompanied by red quinoa, green and white asparagus spears, and another pair of too-firm preteen carrots. A small shell of compressed melon slices shaped into a flower held unidentifiable microgreens — Sam and I both guessed newborn pea shoots. The sauce was the sweet, fruity “Buddha Hand essence” of the Passport Dinner’s salmon. The pour was the same French Chablis.
Even better was the fennel-pollen-spiced lobster tail. Unless you know it’s fennel pollen, you wouldn’t guess it, because it doesn’t have the same mellow anise flavor of fennel seeds or the sharp licorice kick of fennel root, but a subtle, slightly spicy taste all its own — a shadow of licorice with a whip. This was plated over the dreamy Maltese orange-saffron infusion (another repeat, from the Passport Dinner’s scallop dish) and came with a slice of spicy linguiça sausage and a soi-disant “blue crab risotto.” “Do you taste any crab in that, or is my palate fading on me?” I asked Sam. “I was wondering if it was just me,” he answered. Maybe the cooking liquid includes crab jus. (Ever notice that whenever a menu listing goes on for miles, there’s always some ingredient you can’t ferret out — chefs playing “find the enoki” maybe?) The wine for this tail was a serious Alsatian Pinot Gris — not to be mistaken for Italy’s lighter, chancier Pinot Grigio — called Beblenheim, Domaine Bott-Geyl. (Gotta remember that next time I look at a wine list. Beblenheim Bott-Geyl. Yeah, right.) With plump legs, full body, and fine fruit, it was grand with these sweet-spicy-buttery flavors.
“Trilogy” is three desserts in one, evolving from week to week. Both Sam and I preferred the sweet-sour hibiscus lemon tart, a wedge of sandy pastry (thin underneath, with a bit of a lip at the edges) topped with a rosy glaze spotlighting the idiosyncratic, rhubarb-like flavor of hibiscus flower (aka jamaica in Mexican sauces, “sorrel” as a British Caribbean soft drink, or “screaming red zinger” as tea). It reappeared at the Passport dinner, when Jim and Michelle fell harder for Almond Amarula crème brûlée (Amarula liqueur is made from a recherché African fruit), tasting nutty and butterscotchy. The lobster dinner’s Trilogy included a Valrhona Chocolate Crunch, a round of dark mystery pastry that shatters into fine shards of intense semisweet chocolate, like a sophisticated remake of Nestlé’s Crunch. I found it shatteringly sweet. At the “Senses” dinner, it was replaced by a refreshing Port blackberry sorbet, garnished with a Valhrona chocolate “straw.” (I passed my straw to chocoholic Jim.) The espresso, competent at both meals, was better at the Passport dinner because the Michelle-besotted waiter rushed it posthaste to the table before the crema had time to recede.
These amazing dinners are bargain meals? The cooking at Marine Room will challenge your mind and excite your palate, while that legendary close-up sea view will feel like an instant vacation. Eat! Enjoy!
But now comes the dark matter of the damned star rating (which I always hate, hate, hate having to decide). Chef “Bernie” is so creative, imaginative, and accomplished, I need to explain just what I mean by 4 3/4 stars for food and why he doesn’t get the whole fantastic five. These were my fourth and fifth dinners here; I’ve been chewing this over for nine years.