I had two dinners lately at Lincoln and Marea. Here are a few notes and conclusions. Similar Zagat rating 26 vs. 27. Lincoln is slightly younger and hipper, though by no means a hipster hangout. The space is nicer. The service is way way better. The food is excellent, and innovative. But the flavors of Marea were awesome, if more traditional. An incredibly perfect risotto; comparable to the amazing risotto a'lamarone-made with an entire bottle of amarone-at Bottega Del Vino-developed at her sister resto in Verona, Italy. Amazing pulpo, lettuce soup, roasted branzino (must have been poached after baking-so moist).
VEGETABLES: Lincoln really wins here-their vegetable side dishes really stood out, while Marea's were on the mediocre side-Chef White should be embarassed by the vegetable offerings. Mushrooms at Lincoln were amazing (how could mushrooms stand out? High heat, controlling water content, good salting). Salad at Marea was boring and expensive (not listed on the menu).
DESERT: Didn't try Lincoln, but Marea's donuts with chocolate or honey was so 2009. Cookies were okay.
BREAD: Both were a bit disapointing. Olive oil at Marea was a bit non-descript. The breads at both places were overbaked with too much carmelization overpowering the flavors, and not enough of a feel of cakiness to the bread. Not enough flavor of the wheat.
SERVICE: Lincoln stood out. The server was there and attentive, and communicative. I think this was the best service I have ever had in New York. The Marea server spoke at light speed. Left the table as quickly as she could. Hard to find when needed several times. Mistakes on bill twice. Sommelliers a bit distant or complex. This was the worse service at a high end restaurant I have ever had in New York. Oh yes-at Marea, they actually gave us the check without asking. Never had that before at a high end NYC restaurant.
WINES: Wine list at both were good. But the mark of a great wine list are the cheapos for me-I don't want to spend big bucks when I can drink great pricey wines much cheaper in my own snobby cellar. So an incredible 1/2 bottle of Fontodi which was great, surprisingly for a Sangiovese in a fish restaurant. Didn't come from the somellier who was trying to sell me wines at twice the cost. The sommellier was definately not happy with my choice and never came back. At the next table, another wine guy (yes I am one of those), brought a 1983 Margot and a 2004 Chateau D'Yquem with him. He too doesn't want to spend big bucks on the pricey wines at restos. But the corkage was a staggering $50 per bottle. High by NYC standards.
SNOOTINESS: We came in and the restaurant was empty at first at Marea. The hostess made us feel small with the "wait until the maitre d returns before we can seat you" shtick. Why, was it hard to find a table with 70% of them available? Lincoln treated us like gods. Sommelliers were snooty at Marea. I asked "what are you proud of? Most places, somelliers are proud of the cheap wines that taste great, but not here. The "pride" meant pricey.
The waitress at marea was not snooty, but was hard to get.
FLAVORS: Marea does a better job at balancing flavors. Lincoln's innovative style doesn't win out here.
SPACE: The $20MM space at the Lincoln is nice, airy and open feeling. The hardly renovated space (I forgot what restaurant was there before, but it looks about the same), at Marea is crowded, noisy, funny walking patterns, and inhospitable.
OVERALL: I would repeat Lincoln-they seem to enjoy what they are doing far more. For seafood, I think it's back to Le Bernardin for me. More of a temple of food and service there. Explains the extra Michelin star for Bernardin. The two stars at Marea-perhaps for the food ex vegetables and bread. The food was great. But man can not live on food alone. The experience was a big disapointment. If you are a big bucks spender, perhaps you get better treatment. First time I ever left only 15% in NYC restaurant. I should have only left 10%. In fact, if you check the blogs on Marea, the service related to the expected revenue factor is quite possible. My guess- the chef/owner doesn't manage the front of the house and has hired a mediocre vegetable cook.