Keith McNally has his formula down right. No matter what the cuisine, his restaurants are jam-packed, lively, loud, wide open and all operated like well-oiled machines. His reservation line is centralized, his hosts are professionals at gauging wait times, and menus, drinks, bread baskets, and food comes out like clockwork. If you’re working here, there’s no room for friendly chit chat. It’s “here are the specials, I’ll be back, okay what would you like, is everything okay, here are the dessert menus, would you like anything else, here is the check,” and “thank you for dining with us.”
So, it may not be the most personal or intimate experience – his places are not for the volume sensitive – but damn his food is always straight forward and spot on. Last night at Morandi, after copious amounts of bread and olive oil, I enjoyed every (over-priced) dish that I tasted. The crispy fried artichokes, mozzarella with speck and figs, apple fennel salad with sheep’s milk cheese, broccoli rabe bruschetta, fettucine with shrimp, kale and squash, apple crepes with ice cream and the cookie plate were all hits. The standout however, was something sent out by the chef – hot, utterly crisp wedges of fried polenta with a ceramic dish of baccala covered in black truffles. Now, baccala never sounds good to me – salt cod mushed together with oil and a few other things – but this had huge flakes of fish and tasted like heaven atop the sensually smooth triangles of polenta. Buttery, salty, divine.
Prices are high for an Italian restaurant ($30+ entrees), but come for the energy, the unquestionably solid food, the variety, and the feeling of being alive (unless you ate as much as I did and have to hail a cab for a 3 block walk).
Location: 211 Waverly Place