Osteria Morini

The rustic tavern is another coup for Michael White.

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  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

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  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

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  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

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    Baked polenta

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

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    Osteria morini

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

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    Tortelli della nonna

Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

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Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

With five blockbuster restaurants under his belt—including the James Beard Award--winning Marea and Tudor City perennial Convivio—chef Michael White may be one of New York's most prolific and successful Italian-American chefs.

Since 2007, when he took over at Alto and L'Impero, White has been ticking off regions and price points, developing a restaurant to suit every mood and budget. Osteria Morini, his terrific downtown homage to a classic Bolognese tavern, is his most accessible yet, offering food that lives up to the chef's reputation but doesn't break the bank.

Like a Babbo for east-siders, the casual spot's old-world decor, lusty food and rock & roll soundtrack do more than any of its predecessors to position White as a worthy successor to Mario Batali's throne. The focus here is on rich meat and pasta from the Italian heartland, the Emilia-Romagna region, where White spent seven years cooking. His personal connection to the area surfaces in the decor (the wood beams on the ceiling were rescued from an old barn owned by his wife's family in Imola, Italy) and in the bold, rustic food. But even the most traditional dishes bear his cosmopolitan touch. Intense truffled cream is a luxurious flourish atop crostini with shredded-rabbit rillettes. The indigenous fried street snacks of Bologna become delicate greaseless bites—an assortment of cheesy mortadella batons, discs of polenta smeared with herbed lardo and miniature croquettes smoky with speck.

Though White has a soft spot for the off-cuts his ginger-haired colleague helped thrust into fashion, even a challenging stew of braised pig's head and cockscombs turns up delicate—the meat beautifully supple and lightly perfumed with black pepper and cinnamon.

But it's his handmade pastas, most of all, that have made him the new sweetheart of a city obsessed with Italian cuisine. They're more classic here than at his earlier venues, but no less fantastic: frail ricotta gnocchi in light tomato cream, wispy garganelli quills with sweet truffle butter and salty prosciutto, fat tortelli bundles oozing an absurdly rich mix of braised meats.

Though there are a few seafood entrees—including a very fine grill-marked branzino with salsa verde—Morini is really about heart-stopping meat. The porchetta with crisp, crackling skin and potatoes bathed in pan drippings is the best sort of Sunday roast. An enormous pounded veal cutlet with prosciutto cotto, Emmental cheese and truffled cream ought to be accompanied by a surgeon general's warning.

Desserts, like simple fried apple turnovers, are much more modest than everything else here. But if you order as you ought to—the best dishes go heavy on butter and cream—that may be just as well. Despite the end-of-meal disappointment, Morini is another coup from a chef on an expansion tear. His next undertaking, Ai Fiori, in midtown, debuts this month—here's hoping Batali can run in those clogs.

Vitals

Eat this: Rabbit crostini, garganelli with truffle butter, tortelli della nonna, porchetta

Drink this: Head barman Eben Freeman's riffs on classic aperitivi include the Camparinete ($11), a delicious orange-rich take on a Negroni. The all-Italian wine list includes an interesting range of lambruscos, like a beautifully dry Fontana dei Boschi ($39).

Sit here: Cozy up to the bar for cured meats and fried snacks. The best seats in the dining room are along the back wall, peering in toward the kitchen.

Conversation piece: Morini is named for Gianluigi Morini, founder of the original San Domenico—the two-Michelin-star restaurant in Imola, Italy, where Michael White spent seven years cooking.

See Michael White's pasta primer

See more Restaurant reviews

218 Lafayette St between Broome and Spring Sts (212-965-8777). Subway: 6 to Spring St. Daily 7am--1am. Average main course: $22.

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