Happy Valentine’s Day! You may recognize the name of this place from my Valentine’s 2014 post. This would be a great place to take someone for Valentine’s Day! You should call and see if they have any last minute cancellations… cough.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, my friend Hungry and I share a love of Chef Michael White‘s restaurants (and fried chicken). So for her birthday this year, when she suggested visiting Chef White’s newest restaurant – which he’d told me a while back was going to emulate Convivio (RIP!) – I was quick to make reservations for us and Dessert Zombie. Perfect birthday celebration with very happy attendees!
The space is posh without feeling oppressive, bright and airy without blinding, and just right… if I lived in the neighborhood, it might be my ‘local neighborhood place’ – already, a good sign of emulating Convivio, as I called that a local neighborhood place with fabulous food.
The fun thing about being extremely vocal about your likes and dislikes is that if you arrive late, your friends will have already picked out which drink you’d like. Thus I ordered the pompelmo – Italian for “grapefruit” – which contained none other than my very favorite fruit soda, San Pellegrino pompelmo, along with zucca amaro and a Maldon salt rim. Quite honestly, the zucca overwhelmed the grapefruit to the very back – this tasted like a very strongly brewed root beer. It wasn’t unpleasant – but definitely not for the faint of heart. (Or low alcohol tolerance. It was strong.)
Please note that I took photos of Hungry and Dessert Zombie’s dishes, but I mostly didn’t try them, so I don’t have much to offer in the way of opinions. We all opted for the prezzo fisso – a four course menu that allowed us to choose a dish each from four sections of the menu: antipasti, primi piatti, piatti principali, and dolce.
Blurry photo of Hungry’s capesante – seared sea scallops, hen of the woods, butternut squash, black truffle.
Dessert Zombie’s mare nostrum– sauté of scallops, shrimp, calamari and octopus, sea beans, lemon-colatura.
And my terrina – foie gras and rabbit terrine, heirloom apples, fig mostarda, toasted brioche… yes, I had rabbit – the only way I normally eat it. I loved my teeny little apple on the left – perfectly peeled and quite tasty – and the brioche (not pictured), toasted nicely… this was a good dish, but my big complaint is that this was more of a rabbit terrine with foie gras than the other way around. The dominant flavor and texture was rabbit by a long shot, with trace bits of foie gras for fattiness as rabbit is a lean meat. Which isn’t a bad thing, per se, but maybe the menu should list it as a rabbit and foie gras terrine…
Another blurry photo – Hungry’s tortelli; Maine lobster ravioli, seppia, crustacean brodetto. I know she liked this one because she took one bite and said “Nope, not going to share” – hahaha!
DZ’s spaghetti – mussels, clams, shrimp, calamari, sugo alla pescatore.
And my ferratini – alla carbonara, guanciale, egg, pecorino, scallion (no idea why, on Instagram, I called it “farralina”! oops!!) – this was so freaking good, I wanted to lick the plate. Creamy without cream, the thick sauce clung to the thick pasta perfectly, and the slight bite of the scallions brought a crisp freshness to some bites… oh my heaven above, I really enjoyed this dish. A LOT. While I was sad not to see pork shoulder ragout on the menu (my favorite dish from Convivio), this was really, really delicious.
Hungry and DZ both ordered the nodino di vitello – pan-roasted Amish veal chop, cipollini onions, endive, pancetta cream – which DZ was kind enough to share a bite with me. And whoa – that was a crazy good bite; fantastic crust, seasoned perfectly, and cooked to the right temp. YUM. I would have been jealous… WOULD HAVE… if not for my own dish.
I’m about to cry tears of joy just from looking at this picture. It captures all of the emotion and love I have for this dish: anatra – duck breast, cotechino sausage, castelluccio lentils, huckleberry-finanziera.
Take a moment to look at how huge that duck breast is. I marveled – much like I did at Cafe Boulud (which I did not blog, sadly) – “How big was the duck this came from?” Each piece was deliciously tender, with the crispiest skin… the flavor of “duck” shining through perfectly. How do you describe the taste of duck to someone who’s never had it? It’s rich, meaty without overwhelming, nothing like chicken, nothing like beef, nothing like anything but duck. Just… amazing. I’m not even a big fan of lentils – their texture doesn’t do it for me – but with this dish, it worked. I ate every last bit and scraped the plate with my fork; the cotechino (a type of sausage) mixed in with the lentils lending just the right amount of meatiness to beans… just incredible. I’m getting dizzy describing it, just remembering how each bite felt in my mouth, how perfect, how sad I was to finish it. (And I did finish it – after giving a bite each to DZ and Hungry – but oh, I finished that plate.)
I was tempted to order the short ribs, but that’ll be next time, I suppose. If I can get past the duck – and yes, there WILL be a next time. Oh, my.
Time for dessert – Hungry chose the tiramisu, which came in a cute little goblet shaped vessel. I tried a bite and found it very tasty, rich with the flavor of espresso.
DZ, chocolate monster that he is, chose the fiorentina – chocolate crema, chocolate biscotto, fior di latte gelato – which they finished tableside with a gravy boat of chocolate… that they left there… that let’s just say found its way into someone’s mouth before we left. Ahem. The chocolate was strong in this dessert – I tasted a bite and was duly chocofied.
And my choice was simple: the torta al formaggio, despite not loving cheesecake, because of the description: cresenza cheesecake, pane di spezie, grapefruit prosecco sorbetto. Grapefruit and prosecco? Two of my very favorite things in the world? Yes please. And that part was phenomenal! The cheesecake itself was also very good, light and airy, and not traditional NY cheesecake (which makes me sick) in the slightest. Pretty good!
As we paid our bill and prepared to roll out of there, a small dish of sweet nibbles appeared. Funny – three kinds, but only two each for the three of us… we figured it was a small oversight and not a big deal as we are adults and can share… though that torrone/Italian nougat? Wow, that was INSANELY GOOD. The wrapped caramel was slightly too sweet for me, and the chocolate was good, but that nougat, WOW. Fresh, chewy, not overly sweet, just perfect… I would love a box of those to eat a small piece after dinner every night… sigh.
Fully satisfied, very happy, we exited the restaurant. Personally, I was buoyed by the knowledge that Chef White has managed to open another winner – a place that comes close to replacing Convivio, a place that I can see returning to time and again… a place that I would be overjoyed to call my local neighborhood place. Sadly, I don’t live on the Upper East Side, but that’s besides the point. I am extremely happy with Ristorante Morini… it may replace Ai Fiori as my go-to suggestion when people ask me where to go on dates. It’s romantic enough for a special occasion date, but casual enough for a random weeknight dinner as well.
And it’s delicious enough for anything.