After my wife Jun and I moved to downtown in the Financial District area, it has become harder and harder for us to come all the way up to Upper East Side, where we used to visit from time to time primarily for museum visits. Upper East Side also doesn’t have the same depth of restaurants that other neighborhoods in NYC have, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy my meal at any of the places here. In particular, when I visited Ristorante Morini led by acclaimed chef Michael White about three years ago, I thought there was understated sophistication in the food here that stood out on its own in chef White’s growing Alta Marea Group empire. When a friend of Jun visited from out of town and wanted to check out this place, I figured this was a great opportunity to see how the restaurant has evolved. Not all dishes worked to great effect, but we found a lot of dishes to like, especially in the pasta section.
The menu at Ristorante Morini consists of broadly pan-Italian dishes. Unlike Marea where the crudos, pastas and seafood dishes are the highlights, Morini’s menu is broader. We ended up sharing two dishes each from appetizer, pasta and main dish sections. While Alta Marea Group’s restaurants have generally been very good at crudo dishes, the bigeye tuna tartare with trout roe and crispy shallots surprisingly felt not that fresh. On the other hand, chilled Maine lobster with shaved asparagus salad was quite delicious, especially with basil pesto underneath that gave something extra to the dish. As with all other Michael White restaurants, the pastas are the stars at Morini. I was somewhat worried that the spaghetti with clams would come out over-seasoned but actually the flavor was quite nicely balanced to give a rustic touch to the dish.
Fusilli at Marea is probably the best pasta dish I’ve ever tasted in my life, but the one at Morini wasn’t far behind either. I absolutely loved the firm texture of the corkscrew shaped noodle and the richness of Neapolitan pork shoulder ragu was quite memorable. If I could eat this pasta every week, I would most certainly be glad to do so! For the main dishes, Jun and I both liked the branzino accompanied by salsa romesco. The grilled sea bass’s flavor was not overly salty so that the expertly cooked fish worked well with the salsa without overpowering our palate. On the other hand, I felt the roasted chicken with fingerling potatoes and red peppers could’ve toned down a bit on seasoning and the overall meat was somewhat uneven in the level of tenderness. On my last visit to Morini, I’ve had a remarkable pine nut tart dessert, but this time the desserts we ordered came down to earth a little bit. Tiramisu was moist without too much sweetness, but I’ve certainly had better tiramisu elsewhere. Bomboloni with honey ricotta and strawberry jam was also serviceable, but it was a predictably delicious dish.
Getting a reservation at Morini wasn’t too difficult but the dining space quickly became packed mostly with grown-up locals from the residential Upper East Side area. I liked the decor of the restaurant (modern yet not stuffy), and the service staff was very attentive. There is an extensive Italian-centric wine selection as well as some solid cocktail offerings. Morini is not the crown jewel of Alta Marea Group and dishes here may look a bit like a repeat from other restaurants like Marea (and are on the more expensive side), but it is still a dependable restaurant, especially if you focus your meal on one or more pastas here.
- Creativity: 7.5/10
- Execution: 8.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
- Value: 7.5/10
Address: 1167 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10028
Telephone: (212) 249-0444