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Jan 31, 2009 08:07 PM

Morello in Greenwich... not going back anytime soon

I was a fan of Gaia - have had some memorable dinners there - so husband and I were excited to see the space kept as a restaurnt by Morello. We made reservations for this past Friday night and went with positive expectations, esp after reading the chowhound postings. I'm sad to say that they have some serious issues that need to be worked out.

It was fairly busy but I've never been to an upscale-type restaurant where I had to flag the waiter down so we could get some menus. And what were they thinking by placing a couple of 2 tops right in the midst of 3 separate 6-8 tops - all of which were occupied by very loud groups? It was so noisy that the waiter had a hard time hearing my order. Conversation with my husband required both of us leaning towards each other and shouting.

Foodwise, the appetizers were very good - we had the grilled octopus salad and the tiger prawns. Portions were generous and the seafood was cooked well. Unfortunately, the wine we ordered was seriously corked. You could tell how off it was, first by the colour (never saw a sauvignon blanc colored amber gold like a sauternes!) and secondly by the smell. We didn't even need to taste it to know. My husband took a sip anyways just to be sure and immediately regretted it. I thought any decent sommelier would at least check the wine by smelling the cork? We again had to flag down a waiter to bring back the sommelier, who at least was very apologetic.

We had problems with the main entrees as well - my gnocchi was delicious and I was happy with the half portion. However, my husband's lamb chops were completely undercooked. He asked for medium and they came out raw/uncooked in the center. This type of basic mistake, esp. when charging $29 for the dish, is unforgivable. The portion itself was also quite small, at least 1/3 smaller than what you get in Manhattan for the same price. Not impressed at all.

Desserts were ok, nothing to rave about. The lemon sorbet was suitably lemony and the hazelnut ice cream gave moisture to a slightly dry hazelnut/chocolate cake.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by the fact that the experience was topped off by the cloakroom losing our coats. Stood near the front door getting blasted by arctic air while the woman brought up the wrong coats/repeatedly asked us to describe our coats. When we finally got our coats back, I couldn't leave fast enough. I'll miss Gaia...

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  1. At first I thought you were a plant - maybe a former employee at Gaia - because you know the restaurant lingo ("two-tops," "six-tops"). But your knowledge of wine service is, generously, behind the times. You can't tell whether a bottle is corked by smelling the cork. That's something people do to look Klassy. You might be able to tell something by LOOKING at the cork. I don't know why the sommelier had to get involved - who served you the wine? Didn't the waiter stick around to make sure you approved it? Why didn't you just calmly tell the waiter your wine was unfortunately corked, and he/she would have replaced it immediately? I haven't read your other posts, and I haven't been to Morello's, but your comments make me suspicious. (And why get so so upset about differing interpretations of "medium" lamb chops? At least they could be put in for more time - can't do that with overcooked meats!)

    1 Reply
    1. re: Laurie914

      Actually Laurie nothing to do with being "klassy" , if you have the nose for wine tasting you can easily tell if a wine is off or not by smelling the cork. If you know the charateristics of the varietal you are tasting then you will immediately recognize any aromas that are off or stale by smelling the cork. Not something the average wine drinker will necessarily pick up on - the warning signs can be subtle - but those who know what to look for can easily tell if it's corked or not. And the OP was quite right to get the sommelier involved if it was the sommelier who served it.

      Morello is on my list to check out so looking forward to comparing how it has changed from Gaia (I too was a fan of Gaia but that doesn;t mean I worked there because I know what a "two top" means!!).

    2. SQ

      Your antennae were correct when you sat amongst those parties. Jfood has never seen a good service when surrounded by 2, yet alone 3 larger parties. Jfood would have asked for a different table. The jfoods have actually packed up and left at that point in other restaurants, and a recent experience at Rowayton Seafood with only 1 large table supporting jfood's server was also a nightmare.

      The server seems to have been totally focussed on the other tables and did a huge nose plant. Not waiting to see if the wine was acceptable is a failure at Server 101. Serving vastly undercooked lamb is a failure at kitchen 101 under no definition is rare/raw inthe same class as Med. And the coat check debacle is a failure at coat check 101.

      You may also want t o read PB's review in the NYT this morning. She had some good, bad, and ugly incidents during her visits.

      Thanks for the input. Jfood struggles with going to any greenwich restaurant since it is just not relaxing, very overpriced and the servers there have been generally less than what he receives two and three stops up the train line in STM, new canaan and SONO.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jfood

        As I posted on anolther thread, we like PB had a Very Good experience at Morello's, but not without some minor flaws.

        While the service needed some polishing, the fare was delicious and NOT overpriced. Good value .. what a surprise on Greenwich Ave! Worth a shlep.

      2. Laurie914 - no, I have no connection to Gaia except as a former happy customer. My talent is in eating the food, not cooking it! However, from your comments (which veer on the personal) it makes me wonder if you are the one connected with Morello??!

        Anyway, let's stick to the facts. Of course the sommelier should have been notified! He's the one responsible for putting together the wine list. He'll also want to know about any bad bottles so he can figure out if it was due to incorrect temperature storage or it came from their supplier. In my case, the sommelier also opened and served the bottle for us.

        And as Jfood correctly pointed out, knowing how to cook meat is kitchen 101. Obviously, there are people out there who don't care or can't taste the difference between meat burnt to a crisp or served bloody raw. That's their choice or loss... depending on how you look at it.

        Jfood - yes, I was tempted to ask for another table but the ground floor was just as noisy due to the crowded bar. I looked at the rear mezzanine but it was empty so I thought the section was closed, but halfway through dinner I noticed they had seated several couples over there. oh well...

        Scotty100 - I really hope you have a better experience than I did.

        Restaurants only get one chance to make a positive first impression and unfortunately, Morello failed with me. There are other places nearby with better food and service for the same price point - Tarry Lodge and TenTwenty Post to name a few. I will stand by my original review.

        9 Replies
        1. re: SeoulQueen

          Since Gaia and Morello are owned by the same people, I don't get why you would be questioned on any connection to the former!
          I haven't eaten at Morello yet, but read PB's review in the NY Times this weekend. It struck me as another one of her "very good" ratings with just a so-so review. There were many negatives that she spoke of, so I don't see how it could garner a very good. It seemed as though she was a little taken with the space itself and the memories of Gaia rather than the food that was put in front of her at Morello.
          Thanks for your review SQ, it will definitely make me think twice before schlepping to Greenwich.

          1. re: sibeats

            jfood agrees with the conclusion versus input as well on PB's review. Another example of the end not justified by the means.

            1. re: jfood

              Like many of us, I am in the hunt for good new restaurants, I eat out with a degree of frequency where I have a core of restaurants that I find rather special but I could use some extra ones. Despite being selective in searching for the extras, I have had my share of pitfalls, one of which is the teeny bopper hostesses that dump first timers into the children’s section or the graveyard annex. It’s unfortunate for both restaurant and customer when this happens to someone with good potential because they are unlikely to return. But who am I to protest to any great degree, despite appearing at Morello Bistro dressed in "Greenwich" smart casual, since many of us are familiar with the table treatment that one of the New York Times food critics recently experienced at the Tarry Lodge.

              When thrust into a situation like this, I often find that it takes a bit of time to realize what you’re actually into since the surroundings and vibes of a first time restaurant take some time to get used to. However, I must say there was no doubt about the placement on a recent Friday night at Morello Bistro in Greenwich, CT. It was so obvious that I started to laugh when I sat down. My wife said, “what are you going to do”? I said, “I’m never coming back”. She followed up by saying,” well then, why are you even staying”, obviously a brilliant suggestion.

              My wife and I had arrived six minutes after a three week old 7 PM Open Table reservation and were met by two hostesses. One of them proceeded to take us by the main dining room, about three quarters full with a vibrant buzz and headed toward a rear mezzanine. We were taken up the back stairs to a dimly lit windowless room that had a number of empty tables, only one of which was occupied by two people. It was a rather dismal looking area. A similar mezzanine could be seen in the front of the restaurant which was brightly lit from windows with a sunny exterior. It also seemed partially full but it was difficult to tell exactly how much. There seemed to be a buzz there also similar to the main dining area.

              It didn’t take long to realize that we were not getting off to a good start for the evening. So after the humor of it all subsided, we decided to proceed down the stairs, passing by the hostesses, as we headed toward the exit, We all looked at each other and, without any words on the part of anybody, departed. Now I am not a fan of walking out, having done it previously on just two occasions, but there was just something different about the experience here that caused both my wife and I to feel that it wasn’t worth staying.

              As SeoulQueen has said in this thread, “restaurants only get one chance to make a positive first impression and unfortunately, Morello failed with me”. SeoulQueen, I must say that I echo your sentiments although I didn’t give the food a chance. Unfortunately, the tone of the evening was of such a nature that we just couldn’t do it. You may not agree with or choose to do what we did and I know there were other options that we chose not to exercise. However, I am only offering this post as an experience for new diners so that they will be able to understand the dynamics of the main dining area, the two mezzanines and what each section contributes to the ambience. You may or you may not like the back mezzanine but it’s best to be forewarned. As for the food, there are ample comments in this and another thread to decide whether it’s worth going there in the first place. As for me, the heading in this thread says it all "Morello in Greenwich...not going back anytime soon".

              1. re: Sonnyno

                Did you ask to be seated elsewhere?

                1. re: sibeats

                  We went last night at 7:00 with no reservations, the place was about 2/3 full. We were seated on the upper level next to a window, not the hostess's first pick but she promptly accommodated us when my wife asked. The cocktails were served promptly, the focaccia and breadsticks are made on premise and were wonderful. The food was quite nice - the octopus salad and fried artichokes were great, the pasta bolognese excellent and my wife loved her seafood entree (sorry, forgot the name of the fish). Service was pleasant and excellent. I wouldn't put it with the quality or value of Alba's but it was a more relaxed setting and closer to home. We'll be back.

                  1. re: sibeats

                    The answer to your question, sibeats, is no. We chose not to do so, something that is rather uncharacteristic of our experience. I tried to explain this a bit in the report by saying,”You may not agree with or choose to do what we did and I know there were other options that we chose not to exercise”. There was just something different about the experience of being transported up the stairs to the empty “graveyard” that caused both my wife and I to feel that it wasn’t worth staying. It was a first impression that colored the evening. I admit that I have had success getting a better table with most requests, but on a number of occasions we have been seated where there was little advantage. We just chose not to play the odds that night and went elsewhere for an enjoyable evening.

                    1. re: Sonnyno

                      Oh I wasn't judging, just asking! I haven't eaten at Morello, but was there when it was Gaia and I know exactly what you mean about that back mezzanine space.
                      Where did you end up eating instead? Anywhere worth reporting on?

                      1. re: sibeats

                        Well, sibeats, we did travel a bit, going down to Pelham, NY to La Fontenella, a very European type place that never disappoints. Comments in Chowhound are generally good and it is rare to see a negative comment in Zagats. It’s casual, not jazzy but solidly nice. The wait staff is old world accommodating and the food is simply delicious as it was that night.

                  2. re: Sonnyno

                    Thanks for telling me about your experience sonnyno! Whenever I went there during the Gaia days, I was always seated in the front mezzanine or downstairs. I believe they reserved the rear mezzanine for large groups - which obviously makes more sense! After reading your post, I realize my dining experience probably would not have been improved if I had been seated in that rear section.

                    I happened to walk past Morello at lunchtime today - husband and I were looking for a lunch spot. There was no way we were considering Morello but I took a quick peek in to see whether it was busy and it looked empty. It made me wonder how many people have never gone back because of the poor service and inconsistent cooking. Went for lunch at Pasta Vera instead (consistently good casual Italian with nice waiters) and the place was 3/4 full.