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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  Dining and Travel

at 630 Ninth Avenue ( at 44th Street)

By Mervyn Rothstein

  MARSEILLE Restaurant

If you'd like to savor a soupcon of France - the south of France, to be precise - head to Marseille, at Ninth Avenue and 44th Street, just a block from the theater district. You'll find lots of inventive seafood, as well as the distinctive flavors of Provence, and more than a touch of North African influence, complete with its heat and spice.

Marseille is very much an upscale bistro, with its low incandescent lighting and its slightly Moderne look. It's a happy and bustling place, totally informal and friendly, although it never seems overwhelmingly busy or ear-shatteringly noisy. There's a large and reasonably priced wine list, including a wide selection of wines by the glass that changes monthly and that always features interesting and unexpected selections from Languedoc and Provence, those slightly less familiar areas close to the Mediterranean.

Even before the meal comes, the bread is a special treat - with a distinctive hard crust, full of character. It's almost as if you had magically been transported to Paris. There's also a crispy flatbread-style alternative that works perfectly with the herbed butter and olive oil provided. Sometimes there are delightful mini-muffins, soft, moist and flavorful.

And then there's the food. There's much to choose from in the North African area, but also many selections for anyone who prefers Italian or American cuisine. Appetizers include a smooth and piquant hummus Provencal vegetable soup with basil and garlic sauce grilled merguez crab falafel marinated sardines with cucumbers, fennel, date puree and Meyer lemon vinaigrette and sweetbreads with baby beets, arugula, hazelnuts and beet juice reduction.

My favorite is ricotta gnocchi with chanterelle mushrooms, leeks and parmesan cream - if you're a gnocchi partisan, you won't find many in town that are better. I also recommend the tuna Nicoise - olive oil poached tuna, raw vegetables, olives and hard cooked egg - as an excellent lunch for when warm weather comes around again. And if your heart warms to goat cheese, their salad with warm goat cheese rolled in nuts and baked, with watercress, arugula and beets, will make you happy. The tangy goat cheese is, for me, an ideal comfort food.

For main courses, I'm a couscous kind of guy. I prefer Marseille's vegetarian couscous - vegetables (zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, potatoes) roasted in chermoula (an Algerian-Moroccan marinade of herbs, oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin and salt, and sometimes with onion, cilantro and chili peppers) with matbucha sauce (red pepper and tomato salsa). The vegetables are cut in good-sized chunks, with enough firmness remaining to ensure their flavor the sauce provides heat, but not too much - and if you want to raise the temperature, just add the harissa sauce offered as a condiment.

There's also lamb couscous, with merguez and sweet and spicy onion sauce, and seafood couscous - monkfish, scallops, shrimps, mussels, saffron tomato broth, leeks and potatoes.

Speaking of seafood, you might try the rock shrimp and artichoke risotto, with orange-saffron broth, as an example of the way risotto should be made but so often isn't in New York. The grains retain individuality but also possess a risotto's characteristic creaminess - it's not the mush you too often get around town.

The seafood burger combines salmon, shrimp and scallops. The flavors of each survive, and also blend successfully.

There are many other excellent dishes, too numerous to mention. But here's a few: Tunisian chicken, with eggplant, tomatoes, green olives, kumquats, almonds and red pepper glaze duck breast with braised endive and quince short rib daube Provencale, with parsnip puree, caramelized pears and crispy potatoes and a tres Parisienne steak frites - hanger steak with bearnaise.

Desserts? The cho


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