She caught me.
As my dining companion and I stood hovering over the coveted bar seats at Osteria Morini, awaiting the moment of glory when we could snag a couple of our own, a server squeezed past carrying trays of beautifully vibrant charcuterie and assorted artisan breads. “You literally just licked your lips when you saw those go by,” the hostess mused, “It was amazing.”
Though the move had been completely subconcious on my part (I don’t even particularly like charcuterie), the food at Osteria Morini proved to be more than worthy of the impulse.
The menu at this more casual destination from chef Michael White (Ai Fiori is the more elaborate counterpart) lends itself to eating simply yet indulgently. The offerings may seem numbered for the antipasti, pasta and secondi (and certainly so for the wine list) but there are enough tempting options to make choosing quite a task.
Selections of crostini are plated on small wooden boards: crisp baguette toasts with delicately shaped quenelles of combinations such as buffalo ricotta and nepitella pesto or cannellini bean and artichoke. The subtle salinity in the ricotta was mouth-watering in exactly the way that an antipasti is meant to be; the hint of lemon in the cannellini bean and artichoke was refreshing and lent a cleanliness to the pleasantly light spread.
Pastas were chosen by a process of elimination (there seemed no other way), resulting in a nettle-potato gnocchi with fennel sausage, mushrooms and escarole as well as lumache verde, (stunning short and fat corkscrew pasta, turned bright green by its spinach base) with lamb ragu, artichoke, fava beans and ricotta salata.
The gnocchi were small and dense but still pleasantly yielding, in a gentle white wine sauce that was creamy without being excessive. There was an occasional burst of bitterness from the escarole balanced beautifully against the woodsy, light maple sugar flavor of the mushrooms. The lumache verde sang of springtime; the al dente pasta complimenting the tender ragu and the garden’s bounty peeking through in the robust artichoke hearts and sweet favas. The commitment to seasonal fare (as evidenced by the nettles, ramps and fennel splashed across the menu as well as the visually stunning colors) is delightful, not overbearing. One of the evening’s specials was a whole artichoke, simply cooked, cut in half and served on a plate with a bagna cauda sauce (olive oil and garlic). It was sold out by 7:30 pm.
There are deals to be found amongst the smattering of wines by the bottle, and with some patient guidance from the bartender, we went with a Malvasia from Emilia Romagna. It tasted of pears and apricots and spring flowers but had a clean acidity and enough body that it stood up well against the varied flavors in the pastas.
They are working on amending their wine program and will soon be featuring new selections of wine on tap, out of big wooden barrels nestled in behind the bar.
I will be back to taste those, and hopefully that artichoke and, well, the rest of the pastas, either before or after they change to suit the flavors of summer. And at some point I’ll probably surrender to a charcuterie plate. The impulse is clearly already there.