A Catch of Fish
By Charles W. Borden
We were greeted at the door of La Marée by the owner, Mehdi Douss, an Algerian who, in the best traditions of a patron, makes a point of saying hello to his guests.
Our table was next to one of the two large aquariums, filled with live Kamchatka crab, lobsters and other fish. The aquariums separate La Maree’s luxury restaurant from its seafood retail boutique. Mehdi Douss is one of the largest importers of fresh seafood into Russia; he opened La Maree in 2005 as the restaurant arm of his wholesale business which features fish flown in, often live; the business supplies both his own restaurant and many of the top restaurants in town. La Maree’s chef is Jerome Coustillas, previously chef at Moscow’s Nostalgie and Le Chateau de Marcay hotel in the Loire, France.
After a quick examination of the menu and wine card, we slipped into the adjacent boutique to select some fresh oysters, fish and shellfish for our La Plancha, a Spanish specialty of the house. You can buy fish and seafood from the boutique to take home.
La Plancha is a mix of the day’s catch seared on a flat grill. La Marée presents its oysters in baskets, laid on ice under white linen cloth. For the novice, they appear to be just oysters, differing somewhat in shape and price, but there are a dozen or so different varieties ranging in price from about 125 roubles each to almost 600. All of the varieties are French, with the exception of the giant Kiril Island Oysters. We chose Pousses en Claires #2 and Speciale Argente #2 (180 roubles each).
La Maree displays its selection of fish and shellfish over a large ice table, and prices are displayed per 100 grammes. For the La Plancha our host selected Madagascar Prawns (350 roubles), huge Carabinier Shrimp (890 roubles), Merou – otherwise known as grouper (350 roubles), Bluefin Tuna (305 roubles), Seiche – cuttlefish (345 roubles/100g), Praires – clams (100 roubles), Octopus (385 roubles), Scallops (430 roubles), and Spanish Mussels (190 roubles). We added a full Besugo – red bream (305 roubles). And as an afterthought, how could we leave without trying the Bouillabaise at 1220 roubles?
By the time we returned, our order of a round of cold shots of Kauffman’s Soft Vodka and a bottle of white wine, an Australian Dalwhinnie Moonambel Chardonnay (3650 roubles), were on the table. The La Maree wine list is dominated by the selections of Mark Kauffman, who owns Whitehall importers and the wine boutiques bearing his name. Kauffman has bottled his own premium vodkas, Soft and Hard, sold in La Maree at 200 roubles per 50ml shot. The Dalwhinnie wine is an import of a regular Passport Magazine guest, Australian Grant Dodd, and this Chardonnay has received top ratings of our tasting team, with good reason. It is a deep, straw yellow, elegant Chardonnay, with oak clearly present but not overdone. The big surprise on the wine list was Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu 2005 (1850 roubles), a full, honeyed-fruit forward, and brilliant wine from this Loire domaine that was converted to bio-dynamic production in 1990. La Maree also offers this wine by the glass.
Before starting, a complimentary Fish Tartar was presented; a small patty of chopped Dorado with black sesame seeds accompanied by shredded carrots. The bread selection included triangular shaped, chewy, white, yeasty rolls with a touch of caraway and black sesame, and very thinly-sliced black bread, baked hard. The oysters came out with the Madagascar Prawns. The oysters were very fresh, cool and smooth.
The Bouillabaise was presented in the classical way with toasted slices of baguette toast, a white wine/butter/lemon/cream roux, and shredded hard cheese, which we floated in the saffron yellow stew, and after a few seconds to soak up the flavour, popped them out as a preview to the soup to come. This was one of the first cold nights this winter and La Maree’s Bouillabaise was a heavenly treat. We finished the starters with a complimentary sorbet of grapefruit ice crystals to polish our palette before the main course.
The Plancha arrived on one platter together with the Besugo, flayed out on a plank with its large, bright white, now quiet eyes staring up at us. Besugo is a delicatelyflavoured, sweet fish and La Marees’s was a good example. No one item of La Plancha stands out, either plus or minus, from the rest; the La Plancha grill was what we expected, very fresh fish, grilled without any additional touch.
La Maree is elegant and upscale in design, with white, starched table linens, exquisite fabric and leather trim, and a staff wearing Gallic cafe dress. The prices are also similarly upscale.