Friday, October 29, 2010

Osteria Morini Review

Mario Batali may be one of the biggest names in Italian food in New York, but Michael White is giving him stiff competition as he builds up a collection of impressive restaurants, including Marea and Alto, two spots I've had great meals at. Now White adds Osteria Morini to that bunch. The Soho restaurant has been open less than a month and it's already a bit of a scene, crowded and noisy. The tables are close together and the tables along the wall awkwardly leave the outside diner in the way of traffic. Yet, the service is surprisingly pleasant (although perhaps not quite attentive enough as there were some minor problems). I was so pleased by the food that it trumped any issues on this evening.

My dining companion and I started with the Sformato, parmigiano-truffle cheese custard with wild mushroom sugo. After asking what we thought, one of the servers mentioned that this had just been added to the menu on this night. I say: Make it permanent. The cheese custard was smooth and creamy and balanced the earthy mushrooms perfectly. I couldn't get enough.

There is a lot to choose from on the menu here, but you won't want to miss the pastas, which are White's strength at all his restaurants.

The mezzelune filled with heirloom squash parcels and cooked in brown butter were amazing. The delicate half moon pasta was sprinkled with almond cookie crumble and the whole dish had a rounded sweetness to it.

I hate to do it. I hate to order chicken because it seems so boring and too much like something that could be cooked at home. But when a restaurant does chicken well, it's many times better than the homemade one. When I order it, I just hope the restaurant doesn't let me down. According to the waitress, the rosemary roasted baby chicken, served with Brussels sprouts and an oven-baked tomato topped with bread crumbs, was a popular dish that night. The chicken was nicely split in two, making it a very shareable portion. And I didn't regret the decision to order it. It was perhaps a little on the salty side, but tender and tasty.

For our assortment of gelati, my dining companion and I chose hazelnut caramel swirl, pumpkin and biscottini (an almond cookie flavor). They weren't bad, but not the most exciting and they were too stingy with the scoop sizes.

We also ordered the panna cotta with strawberry marmalade and poached orange segments. But before this arrived, the waitress tried to drop off the check. She soon rectified the mistake. But it wasn't worth the wait — the panna cotta was too sweet. The restaurant might be taking the trend of serving food in jars too far when we had two dishes in one meal presented this way.

Although Osteria Morini might need to work on the desserts (an unexpected turn since the pastry chef is Heather Bertinetti, also of Marea), the dinner is still a wonderfully satisfying experience. Following in the steps of other newly opened places producing great food early on, (Serious Eats likens it to Locanda Verde and Maialino, others I love) I expect this reservation to just get harder to score.

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