“Looking for Maré? It’s in the back,” says the man behind the counter making grilled cheese. If he sounds a little exasperated, it’s probably because he’s had to say this at least ten times today, directing confused diners as they enter Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese but looking instead for chef Eric Greenspan’s other restaurant, Maré. There is a sign outside but little else inside to direct you—other than the Grilled Cheese staff—so here it is: head to the back of the eatery, turn right and climb some short stairs, where you’ll enter a small office before stepping through what looks like a freezer door. And then, suddenly, there’s Maré, a patio restaurant with twinkling lights, a foosball table and the soft sounds of Spanish music drifting throughout the small space.
There’s nothing even resembling grilled cheese on Maré’s menu; Greenspan has, undoubtedly, created an entirely different concept here. We were greeted with a complimentary spread that includes a plate of olives, marinated kumquats and cherry tomatoes; a small bowl of olive oil; and some of the most fantastic dinner rolls—if they’re fresh. On one visit, these rolls were a force to be reckoned with, covered in sea salt, poppy seed, fennel and a slew of other herbs, crusty and soft all at once. I craved them for a week and went back a second time, only to find them too hard to even break apart. There were other appetizers to make up for it, though, like a bowl of salt roasted potatoes drizzled in creamy aioli, or roasted broccolini that comes sprinkled with chili and garlic chips.
You’ll want to save room for the shellfish bowls, which serve as Maré’s main entrée (there is a nice branzino, too, if you don’t mind spending most of your time picking bones out of your teeth). It’s a sort-of DIY deal, where you choose your shellfish (black mussels, clams or shrimp) and a broth (leek and white wine, tomato fennel, pistou, spicy sausage romesco, or vadouvan curry and green apple). Whether you enjoy your bowl depends on how skilled you are at picking the perfect combination; shrimp in leek and white wine broth is a heavenly marriage, while mussels in sausage romesco is more perplexing, especially when the noodles are dumped in. Oh yes, there is a side of noodles that shows up (sometimes five minutes after the shellfish bowl lands) which we were instructed to add to our bowl along with a 135-degree egg. It doesn’t always work (trying to twirl noodles while picking mussels out of their shells isn’t the easiest), but it’s an interesting touch that makes Maré stick out in your mind. You know, if the hidden entrance didn't already leave an impression.
What to Eat: The salt roasted potatoes ($7). The roasted broccolini ($7). The shrimp in leek and white wine ($15).
What to Drink: There is beer and wine here, but the main draw on the drinks menu is the fruit muddled cocktails ($11), whose ingredients read like a delightful math equation: Tequila + Kumquat + Citrus, or Mezcal + Roseberry + Smoke. The best is the Whiskey + Fig + Oregano, a savory punch that will satisfy both whiskey lovers and those who like their libations a touch fruity.
Where to Sit: Maré feels like you’re in someone’s backyard, with everyone seated at tables fairly close to each other. There aren’t that many umbrellas, so in the off chance that it rains—which it did, on one of my visits—you’re SOL. But on beautiful, sunny, typical Los Angeles days, it is a delightful escape, and you might make fast friends with the table just feet away from you.