1167 Madison Ave (between 85th and 86th St, UES)
Fatty Kat Eats: Wild Mushroom Soup, Big Eye Tuna Crudo, Lumache, Lasagnette, Tortelli, Veal Chop, Crostata di Pere, Torta di Pignoli, Gelato
Thanks to good friends like @chaodown, here's the first word on Ristorante Morini! We made the trek to the Upper East Side in our Sunday best (so as not to scare the fancy old people) and found ourselves at the most successful soft opening any of us have ever experienced. The food was generally very good; the wine and cocktails, excellent; and the service, fluid and natural.
We started with the lovely Panzarotti while we were exploring the menu to get our fatty juices flowing. It's our version of warming up before a work out. These beautifully fried suckers were stuffed with spinach and cheese. Light, crispy and HOT--watch your tongue!
Our server raved on and on about the Insalata Invernale, but it was dead on arrival when it didn't meet all the hype. This winter salad consisted of a bunch of funky ingredients, including radicchio, butternut squash, pumpkin seeds and fennel. While the salad was good, it didn't strike us as rave-worthy.
Thankfully one of us had the sense to order the Wild Mushroom Soup. It was rich like it was made of Benjamin$. (Yes, I just tried to make that joke.) This creamy soup had an incredible earthy essence that was just salty enough to truly bring out the heavy mushroom flavors. A few olive oil-soaked croutons gave this beautiful bowl some texture, and who doesn't like croutons? Fact: when I was a kid, I used to eat croutons as chips. What a weirdo...
To my surprise, the Cured Mackerel was a not overwhelmingly fishy, and I thought Nakazawa was the only man that could achieve that... This dish had a little bit of mozzarella to quell the more intense flavors, as well as a sauce or two I can't quite describe. Big picture? Molto buono, particularly if you're looking for a heavier seafood appetizer.
Sure, the Big Eye Tuna Crudo looks like it came out of a 90's video game, but that just makes me like it even more. The tuna was pounded thin and thus, incredibly delicate and smooth. These olives were some of the most mild olives I've ever tasted and didn't overpower everything else. The blood orange, radish, and creamy sauce took the fish in different directions individually but really became a balanced dish altogether.
When I saw the word "snails," I immediately looked past the Lumache upon first glance. However, our server gave this a thumbs up, and YOLO...I ordered it. The crescent shaped pastry sat upon a creamy almond milk pudding (of sorts), both of which served as a wonderful canvas for the snails, mushroom jus and truffles. The creepy and crawly mollusks themselves were incredibly tender and oyster-like, while the parsley greened everything out so the dish wasn't too rich.
The universal question: pasta or something else? Pasta. It's like a drug. It seeps into your body and craves more and more. Michael White knows what he's doing in his laboratory, so we did what we do best--we ordered pasta.
The Lasagnette was my favorite pasta for several reasons: 1) the thin layers of pasta were silky and chewy, 2) the sauce was out-of-this-world with a robust meaty essence not found anywhere else, 3) the sauce and cheese made its way to every layer of pasta, 4) the dish didn't roll downhill when it cooled down. Foodgasm.
What's not to love when it comes to squid ink, lobster, shrimp, cuttlefish, garlic and tomato? That's right, nothing. The Tortelli was very, very good, although not life-changing (and some pastas do have that kind of power; see above). Each piece was stuffed with a generous portion of lobster and shrimp. None of those things mattered without the wonderful sauce. Let me guess - white wine, butter, parsley, chilis and garlic.
The Spaghetti with clams and bottarga seemed very promising at first. No one can fault the quality of the pasta itself. Each individual strand was precisely homemade and cooked. The clams and bottarga amped up the flavor profile, but something was missing to give it that bump it needed. This dish didn't wow, but to be honest, it may very well have without the other two pastas.
Look at this beauty. I have no shame when it comes to veal, especially this Veal Chop. The damn thing tasted too good and entirely blinded my fatty conscience. So juicy it hurts. The veal chop played in a beautiful jus with some heavenly pancetta. And someone, please explain to me why cipollini onions just taste better.
Someone needs to give the pastry chef a raise. The things he or she does in the kitchen belong in a dream. Please quote me on this, Ristorante Morini's gelato is better than most in Italy. I've never had a pistachio quite like this. And the sweet cream gelato, oh my god. I can't even breathe when staring at this picture.
The Crostata di Pere is considered illegal in 20 countries. Yup, that ridiculously good. The crust was absolutely perfect--more toasted brioche than flaky pie crust, if you know what I mean. I'm still dreaming about the luscious golden pears and creamy gelato (the flavor escapes me; blame old age). This is a MUST.
Do not order the Cheesecake. I repeat, do not order the cheesecake! It was topped with a grapefruit glaze and came with a disgusting grapefruit prosecco sorbet. This dessert would have worked much better if the cheesecake was heavier, but still, that nasty glaze and sorbet combo would have killed the deal regardless.
I love me some Tiramisu! While not exactly traditional, this "deconstructed" tiramisu was beautifully presented and consisted of high-quality ingredients. It hit the spot, but I wouldn't say it was the best thing ever ever ever.
On the other hand, the Torta di Pignoli wow'ed my socks off (and a few other garments). It's not something I see on menus very often, but I wish there were more of these to go around! Pine nuts are amazing. Pignoli cookies are amazing. This is amazing. The crust was served hot and crumbles with a little bit of effort. The warm, caramel-y pine nut filling was no joke either. Top it off with honey gelato and wham, bam, thank you ma'am.
If Ristorante Morini can bust out these moves during a soft opening, I'm sure the regular service will be hugely successful. While I didn't love the beigeness of everything and the seemingly confused design fixtures, I understand how all of it fits in the neighborhood--rich, old people, museum goers and all.