Saturday, February 2, 7.30 pm: Maritime Parc, Jersey City
Maritime Parc just inside of Liberty State Park was very different than the other restaurants we had been to thus far for Hudson CountyRestaurant Week. It was much quieter, much more subdued. Maybe it was the time of the night, but it did not feel like the place would get more crowded later. It felt almost undiscovered, like a secret hidden in the park.
Maritime Parc restaurant occupies part of a circular building, and the other part is dedicated to events and event planning. The building is beautiful, all glass windows around the top floor, white and lit, almost like a wide light house, a beach front property. The round architecture gives the restaurant a sinuous curve, and so that circular theme appeared again in the round tables and semi circular booths. Even one side of the restaurant is rounded with windows, looking over on the water and the New York City skyline. The view is stunning, perfect like a painted backdrop for a delicious date.
The décor was very refined and matter of fact, but also classy and minimalist, which kind of also reflected the plating of the food. Everything was really understated; white, light wood, and dark from the outside.
The prix fixe menu was small, each course with only three selections, though the main menu was not large either, one single front side of a piece of paper. The prix fixe, in comparison to the regular menu, had all the dishes I desperately wanted, except for maybe one or two. The mains mostly featured the seafood portion of the restaurant’s expertise, and looked to a winter favorite for a starter.
Unlike our other stops during Restaurant Week, at Maritime Parc we were given ample bread, ranging from white, to wheat, to a type with nuts and dried fruit. This bread was paired with a small bowl of the sweetest and creamiest butter I can remember and another tiny bowl containing flaky sea salt. The combination a real treat. We were also given a shallow dish of pickled red onions, feta cheese, cucumber floating in a sweet beet juice. This was also lovely, tart and tangy, but leveled by the bread and butter.
For starters we tasted the baby arugula salad and the octopus a la plancha. The salad was pretty standard; the firey rocket cooled by the poached pear, red with liquid, and the Valdeon calmed by the meaty spiced nuts. It was light and refreshing, though as usual, there was too much of the strong cheese, and not enough sweet pear to balance. Somehow in the end, as always, we ended up with too many toppings for the dwindling amount of greens. The cheese was also in big chunks which made it harder to digest and enjoy its pungent flavors.
The octopus a la plancha was the complete opposite of the light salad appetizer. This starter was heavy, salty, luxurious and decadent. It was a flavorful composition of tender octopus pieces, crispy greasy bites of potatoes, and some slow cooked pork belly. There was a sea of textures, from the creamy octopus, to the stringy pork, allowing each bite to be different. The decadence was topped with a little frisee lettuce, to add brightness and a little freshness to the heavy starter. The leek puree underneath the mass of potatoes, octopus, and belly, and fat, was almost tasteless through the salt and heaviness of the other elements, but gave great color.
The entrees we chose were the local sea scallops and the fresh strigoli seafood pasta. Well, get this, just the words “local sea scallops” were bolded, as they were the main event, but these two beautiful scallops sat on top three pieces of braised short rib. This is a luxurious take on Sea and Land, both elements prime from their respective sphere. The scallops were nicely seared, and just half a second shy from being under cooked, but they chewed so nicely and felt fresh. They had little flavoring, other than their natural sweetness and saltiness. The short ribs were also well prepared, stringy, and falling apart with a tender stroke of the knife. The combination was really nice, similar textures, with completely different flavors, an equilibrium of the heaviness of the meat and the daintiness of the seafood. Underneath this pile of goodness was a Gribiche sauce, spiked with onion and garlic. This sauce apparently is like a cousin of mayonnaise, studded with capers and reminded me of potato salad without the potatoes. It was a little strong, but added another element to the dish, and something to smear on the meat, and watch vanish as it was almost absorbed.
The pasta dish was amazing, though not much to look at. It was a heaping bowl of pasta, with dots of a few different colors, but not many. The sauce that drenched the thick shaped pasta, was creamy, heavy and delicious, spiked with lemon and thyme. It smelled like paradise, because of the herbs and the dispersed seafood. There were kernels of fresh cooked, sweet corn throughout, bringing out the sweetness of the seafood, as well as the richness of the sauce. The bowl held an array of different textures and flavors, and was all married well with the sauce and the al dente pasta. It was extremely addictive, comforting and filling. It felt familiar and fancy at the same time. I kept finding myself reaching over our small circular table, to snatch some pasta from my dining best friend. Though delicious, it was not extremely memorable in flavor, almost monotonous except for the different seafoods like scallop, shrimp and crab meat. But what I do remember, is that it was absolutely delicious.
Of the three desserts offered, two were pretty predictable; a chocolate and a crumble, but the third was hard to imagine and innovative, so we had to try it. It was a beautiful little tropical vacation for dessert, focused on an island of vacheron (sweet French cheese) surrounded by coconut lemongrass sorbet, floating in a pool of passion fruit coulis, and topped with little pieces of kiwi, pineapple and mango. It was accompanied by a long thin strip of lime meringue. This was the most different, complicated, but delicious desserts I have had in a while. It was abstract looking, but everything fit together so nicely; the tart fruits with the tangy coulis, smothered by the sweetness of the sorbet and cheese, and made staccato with the crunch of the meringue. There were a few little micro greens on top, as well as what felt like pepper, adding another savory like element, in conjunction with the cheese.
The second dessert we decided on was the crisp. It was an apple pear crisp, pretty and round, standing alone. Next to it, was a scoop of cinnamon ice cream studded with mini butterscotch chips, and topped with a thin dried slice of apple like a hat. There was a stripe of caramel and strawberry, flavors that both heightened and contrasted the cold sweet ice cream, and warm muted crisp. The textures were all over the place, and the chips in the ice cream was definitely a surprise in the mouth, as we didn’t expect something so hard in the smooth frozen treat. There were crumbles under the ice cream too that mimicked those on top of the individual crisp. Both the desserts were a beautiful end to a delicious dinner, filled with unexpected tastes and flavors that had me longing for more. I am so glad we took advantage of Hudson County Restaurant Week to discover and indulge in Maritime Parc.