On a cool Saturday evening, Dena Marino, a petite toque with a dimpled smile and starched chef's coat, overlooks the humming dining room at MC Kitchen. She stands in the open kitchen, surrounded by its massive white marble counter. At the restaurant's entrance, a party of ten lingers over glasses of craft beer and wine. For about an hour, they wait patiently for a table at the Design District eatery, which opened in November.
Every chair in the 145-seat restaurant is occupied. By 9 p.m., Marino's spinach lasagna is already sold out, and so is her burrata cheese, filled with roasted squash. Beneath orbed lamps of gleaming crystal, the space buzzes with the muffled tones of casual conversation and the waitstaff's hurried footsteps.
But Marino is in good spirits. She saunters past the blazing stone oven and busy burners. Shaking her short, wavy blond hair, which is pulled back in a loose ponytail, she waves at departing diners. Dena Marino is beaming.
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It's a contagious sentiment, one that's reflected in the delectable subtleties of her cooking. In her roasted octopus dish, a large Spanish mollusk is quick-roasted in the Wood Stone-brand oven and then dressed copiously with Tuscan extra-virgin olive oil, fresh red pepper, and garlic. The tentacles are charred quickly, producing an aroma of smoke so potent its flavors resemble meat more than fish. The cooking juices are tossed with sherry vinegar and combined with sea salt, pepper, and crisped pancetta. The dish is served atop a short dome of organic black rice, which has been cooked slowly like a thick risotto. Around the dish, Marino sprinkles peppery bursts of frisée.
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.