Grub/Spirits Restaurant Reviews — 23 March 2011
A Restaurant Review: Osteria Morini

Osteria Morini
218 Lafayette Street, near Kenmare Street, SoHo, (212) 965-8777
Getting There: 6 to Spring Street

It happens all the time. Someone recommends a new restaurant and swears by it, and you wind up leaving there with a good but not great experience. With so many new restaurants opening and others shuttering seemingly every day, these new experiences are rarely worth the hype. Luckily for us, Osteria Morini is worth the hype. And it’s damn good too.

A crowded bar scene greets you in the midst of your first steps inside the restaurant. Hopeful that your table is ready as you scan the bar for non-existent vacant seats, you fret about where you’ll stand. Smiling, the host staff checks your collection of jackets and welcomes you inside, reassuring you that the wait will only be momentary. Relieved, you find a small nook for your party to stand, as the energetic noise in the room invigorates without overwhelming, and you select a bottle from the winelist to sip as you wait your turn. Since you planned ahead and shrewdly made a reservation, the wait is brief as your wine and your party are both delivered to your table. Immediately you find yourself glancing around at the patrons- at their plates and at their appearances- before your eyes stop at the evening’s specials, conveniently written on the wall.

The interior is illuminated by dome shaped lights hanging overhead, only bringing attention to the classic looking wooden tables and chairs and the exposed brick walls that surround the restaurant. Those same brick walls are lined with traditional black and white framed Italian photographs; the ambiance setup to establish the restaurant’s nod to Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region in décor and in taste. But the old-fashioned scheme perhaps works best, because the fare tastes authentic with several dishes reaching must-try status.

Like any recently opened Italian restaurant, the menu alternates between large and small plates- flexible enough to satiate any appetite or budget for that matter. The “polpettine” ($10) were some of the tastiest meatballs we’ve had in recent memory- a marriage of prosciutto and mortadella baked in an incredibly savory and thick tomato sauce. The bulbous tender meat glistened before us, tempting us with bite after bite. The pastas were equally as award-winning- the “capelletti” ($19), a truffled mascarpone ravioli doused in melted butter and prosciutto was downright outstanding, and the “maccheroni,” with its long strands of fresh pasta meshed with tender lamb sausage, spinach, and chestnuts, was a perfect combination of different contrasts to the red sauced meatballs. After having filled up on pork dishes literally all evening, we boldly selected the “branzino” ($27) as our finale- a tastefully cooked, light filet served with a tail over a bed of salsa verde and oven roasted potatoes- a wonderful closure to a heavier selection of opening dishes. The “funghi trifolati” ($9) proved to be an exceptional side bowl of assorted wild mushrooms, doused in butter, and a deliciously salty compliment to the flaky fish filet.

A restaurant is only as good as its reputation once its patrons leave. While admittedly on the pricey side, Osteria Morini is one of the most noteworthy new restaurants to open in some time and somehow despite an awful lot of praise, it was every bit as good as advertised. In a city where so much of what we try out typically fails to live up to our expectation, Osteria Morini outshone even our loftiest hopes.

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