Ristorante. It just sounds fancier.
Michael White's new Upper East Side duplex venture, Ristorante Morini, is a tiny bit like Osteria Morini, its Soho sibling, but here the rustic simplicity has been swapped for swank wood paneling, billowing chandeliers and Italian leather chairs.
The food gets a similar upgrade. No more platters of salumi and spit-roasted porchetta. Here the dishes are beautifully composed and tend toward indulgently luxurious ingredients; an entire section of the menu is devoted to caviar.
Sparklingly fresh pieces of amberjack crudo ($22) are joined by a few quenelles of sturgeon caviar and pristine baby artichokes. A dish that combines Marsala-braised snails ($23) with black truffle and a half-moon of puff pastry is all earthy, buttery richness.
Handmade agnolotti ($27) filled with beef shank are reminiscent of White's homier dishes, but the celery root and a red wine reduction elevate it above standard red-sauce fare. And a pine nut tart ($14) was a surprise charmer, its chewy (in a good way) filling given a shot of sweetness by honey-ricotta gelato.
"It's still very much a neighborhood restaurant," White tells us of his seventh NYC location. And he's right. The service is unpretentious. The room is comfortable despite its outright elegance. It's a neighborhood local well suited to its neighborhood.
"It's like a restaurant you would find in Milan," White says, which sounds about right.
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