My sister said to me, ‘I think there’s a really good Italian within walking distance from you; you should give it a try’. So on the Saturday night after we toured Central Park, we walked up to the restaurant in the West Village.
Morandi is situated on Waverly Place where it has enough set-back from busy 7th Avenue to not be affected by traffic noise like horns and sirens that resonate only constantly in New York City.
You can make reservations however we didn’t have one but walk-ins are warmly welcomed. Because we were there in summer, the multiple doors were open and flowed to the sidewalk leading to outdoor dining that is casual and relaxed. However, we decided to sit inside at a table next to the open doors so it was almost an alfresco dining experience. Pete was there for his final night in New York before heading to Washington and with just a few minutes to spare, he joined us for pre-dinner drinks.
The restaurant has raw brick walls and very wide timber floorboards and given the size of the space, it seems airy, rustic and welcoming. There is music playing that adds to the casual Italian atmosphere and allows you to feel relaxed however it’s almost hard to hear over the noise in the restaurant. This is not for those seeking a low-volume dining experience.
And because restrooms have become such a bane of my New York experience, I’ll just mention that in keeping with an ever-increasing but disappointing trend, the only bathroom is unisex.
We had a very attentive waiter who asked us if we would like to start with a pre-dinner drink. Pete and I thought that seeing it was summer we would start with a Prosecco cocktail (when in Rome…). We had a Lamponi which is Prosecco with raspberries and it was very colourful and refreshing and completely relaxing and allowed you to settle into your chair and enjoy the ambience.
Pete and I then ordered a half bottle of wine to share and it seemed very Italian when it arrived in a thatched carafe.
For an appetiser Arabella ordered the Burrata e pachini which was burrata cheese with roasted cherry tomatoes on the vine. I couldn’t help asking if we could share this. It was a very refreshing, smooth and light appetiser. I love how Italians can take a few seemingly simple ingredients and turn them into a masterpiece. Italians really do excel in the simplicity of flavours.
I ordered the Piatto di salumi which I understood was a mixed salami plate of pistada, prosciutto ‘La Quercia, calabrese and finocchiona. It was a wonderful plate of amazing flavours with prosciutto and fennel salami (finocchiona), a spicy salami (calabrese), and a pate made from very finely chopped mortadella and pancetta that was spread on toasted bread. While the plate was consistent in colour, it was varied in flavour and all the meats were fresh, tender and moist but I think the highlight was the pate because I hadn’t before had mortadella and pancetta combined like this.
Then the entrees (main courses) arrived and this is where I had a problem. It happened in three restaurants we visited but this was the worst. Before I had even finished my appetiser our waiter arrived and asked if I had finished. As the appetiser was sized more like a platter to share than an individual serving I looked at what remained on my plate and thought that I probably didn’t need to finish it so he could take it away. But before I’d even finished telling him to do so, he swooped in, snatched away my plate and just when I thought I’d enjoy my glass of wine at a leisurely pace before the entree arrived, another waiter behind him slapped my main course in front of me. Arabella said, ‘Mum, he was standing behind you the whole time; he brought out your pasta before he had even cleared the table of the appetisers’. Now I don’t know what sort of speed these waiters think diners should be eating at but I like a pause, even a little gap, between courses.
I wasn’t pleased to have to eat the pasta so quickly upon not even finishing my appetiser and that may have affected how I felt about the pasta. The pasta was Cavatelli con salsiccia d’agnello e piselli which was house-made pasta with lamb sausage, mint & pea shoots. I felt the pasta was slightly underdone as there was a hard core in the centre of the pasta. Overall the dish seemed very dry as there was no sauce and I thought it could have done with a drizzle of olive oil or perhaps some cream to give it a dash of moisture. If the waiter had offered me some parmesan cheese, that would have been nice too. Arabella had the Paccheri con ragú di salsiccia which was the large tube pasta with spicy sausage ragú & smoked mozzarella. She loved this and found it to be very robust but would have liked even more spice.
In keeping with the ‘rushed’ theme, as soon as we had finished our entrees (mains) we were offered the dessert menu. As I needed a pause between courses I decided to peruse the menu on go-slow mode to give myself some time to enjoy my wine and allow the meal to digest. We were then offered the dessert menus and I felt like reading through what was offered very slowly so as to make sure I had some time to digest what I’d so far eaten. But the waiter asked for our decision and so we went ahead and ordered and within seconds our desserts were in front of us. It was as if we had to rush to make sure we completed our meal before the imminent end of the world. I ordered the Cannolini that was very pretty and filled with ricotta, pistachios & chocolate. While the cannolini appeared to have a slightly burnt taste, the ricotta, pistachio and chocolate filling was sensational and I didn’t have any difficulty in finishing this very Italian dessert.
Arabella ordered two scoops of gelato, hazelnut and vanilla. We thought she was getting two scoops in the one serve but it seems she ordered two desserts as they arrived on separate plates. The gelato was smooth and creamy without being overly sweet and each serve was more than generous.
I found Morandi to be fairly expensive and the food absolutely rushed to the table without thought of the diner perhaps needing a moment or two to finish chewing before the next course arrived. While the setting is rustic, romantic and relaxed, the at-a-pace-rush-you-vibe destroys the ambience of the setting.
Verdict: Dining on speed Morandi: 211 Waverly Place, New York, NY 10014 Ph: (212) 627 7575