Opening Night at Osteria Morini
After checking out riverpark on Friday, I decided to make it two opening nights this week and headed to Michael White's Roman trattoria, Osteria Morini. Though there were some opening night jitters (to be expected), I really enjoyed my meal and will definitely go back.
I called during the day and made a 6 PM reservation. Upon realizing that I would be late, I called the restaurant and they could not have been more gracious. Arriving at 630, my bag and coat were checked by the FOH staff and I was promptly seated at a table in front of the bar. The room is very homey and welcoming. They nailed the casual vibe of a trattoria without lapsing into pretentiousness or condescension. The ceiling is made of wooden beams, and the walls are faded red brick. Wooden tables with mismatched chairs round out the decor. Music was pretty much straight ahead rock n roll, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Springsteen. Good stuff. Fits the surroundings and was played at a reasonable volume.
My server brought the menu, and explained that items on the left hand side were from the "cold kitchen" while items on the right side were from the "hot kitchen." After she left, I noticed that there were fried dishes on the left side, as well as meatballs in tomato sauce. I asked if these dishes were really served cold, and she said no, they are from our cold kitchen but the meatballs are not served cold. She seemed a bit defensive, which was unnecessary as I think it's reasonable for one to expect that items from a cold kitchen might be served cold. Otherwise, why mention this to me? I don't care where the food comes from, as long as it's prepared to my expectations. OR, let me know when I order a dish if you think I may expect it to be served differently than it is.
This question answered, I ordered my meal. My server made a few recommendations, but I noticed that some of them were different than the ones she had just made to the table next to me. Not sure if this was because she was tailoring her recs to what she thought the diners at each table might want, but it seemed a bit odd to me. At any rate, I ordered the taleggio cheese to start, followed by the polpettine (meatballs), and the mezzelune pasta (squash parcels, brown butter, amaretti).
The taleggio arrived at the same time as my bread basket. I decided to check out the bread first before digging into the cheese. Two breads were provided: slices of French baguette and a rosemary focaccia. The baguette had a great charred crust with a smoky quality. I would have loved to have had some butter to go with it, but the EVOO provided in a homemade pitcher worked well. The focaccia was also very good.
The taleggio was a great first course. It was more pungent and firmer than other taleggios I've had, but in a very pleasing way. It was served with crostini and an apricot marmalade. The marmalade complimented the cheese perfectly, but I would have liked it to be more spreadable instead of pieces of apricot (it just needed to be caramelized a bit longer).
Next up were the meatballs. They were very yummy. A shade drier than I prefer but very tasty and the sauce supplied ample moisture along with some fruitiness and smokiness.
Both of these courses were cleared without any server ever checking in and asking how they were. A bit of a pet peeve of mine. I think a restaurant -- especially one that just opened -- should be looking for all the feedback it can get.
My next course was the mezzalune pasta. This was ravioli stuffed with squash, topped with brown butter and amaretti. This was very good, and has the potential to be a special dish. For me, it was just slightly over on the fruity and sweet side of the equation for my taste. I knew going in that squash can be a hit or miss ingredient for me, and though I enjoyed this dish, the sweetness of the squash just slightly overwhelmed the savory flavors.
As a side, I ordered the polenta with lardo. This was a bold flavor, but excessively salty for me, and I usually like a lot of salt.
For dessert, I ordered the gelato, which is made in house. After inquiring, I learned that it is 3 scoops for $9 (for some reason, this is not on the menu). I ordered the crema, chocolate, and hazelnut caramel flavors. There was another service mishap here as the initial dish did not have any chocolate on it. The server who brought the dish was having trouble understanding me, but luckily another server overheard, asked about the issue, and went back to resolve it. I always appreciate this type of service, where staff are willing to go the extra mile to get things right, regardless of whether it's "their job" or not.
The correct gelato was then brought out, and it did not disappoint. The crema and chocolate were good, but the hazelnut caramel was the star. Just delicious.
The restaurant is offering 25% off all this week as a thank you to preview diners. My total bill before tip was $42. A nice deal.
Service bumps notwithstanding, I definitely enjoyed my meal. I see this restaurant as Michael White's answer to Lupa. If I was shut out of Batali's trattoria, I wouldn't hesitate to head to Osteria Morini instead.
I should also mention that Chef White was very visible, greeting friends and well wishers. He stopped at numerous tables to speak with diners, but I did not get the opportunity to speak with him.
170 Thompson Street, New York, NY 10012
218 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012
I liked this place. Low key, unpretentious, and not so crowded tonight.
The warm olive bread was great. Also tried the gargagnelli with mushrooms, crispy veal cutlet with prosciutto (I think) and served with a cream sauce and sauteed spinach, and a simple pear tart with mascapone and pignoli. All winners.
Thanks for the post. For the record, the restaurant is not styled on Roman food, but on the food of Emilia-Romagna, especially the latter part of the regional name: Romagnolo.