I used to live on the Manhattan's Upper West Side, and residents always bemoaned the fact that there was only a short list of outstanding restaurants. Most restaurants seemed to be "ok," but rare was the standout for setting and taste. Recently, though, I found Marea, located on Central Park South. While Marea is not a cheap find, it is worth the splurge for a special evening.
First, the restaurant is stunning. It has a grandness (without being gaudy) combined with a degree of warmth that makes one feel very comfortable. Second, the service is solid. And third, and most important, the menu offerings and food quality are excellent. The cuisine is a mix of seafood and Italian. I tried the seafood risotto, which was superb. A number of fish items are flown in daily. I can't say that all the menu items were without flaw; a couple of my guests felt that their meal was very good (e.g. "fair scallops") but not quite outstanding. So be sure to ask the waiter for some advice.
All in all, though, Marea is well worth a visit. If you are staying at a midtown hotel such as The London (a smart splurge) or The Mansfield (a great value), then you are not far from CPS (Central Park South). The Mandarin Oriental on Columbus Circle (Time Warner Center) is just steps away. The meal will likely run about $60 per person plus drinks. It's a good find for a special evening.
Reserve well ahead. I suspect that Marea draws a solid pre-theater crowd. However, for now at least, the place is abuzz with locals.