[Pigging by Wilfrid: December 30, 2011]
I have been very bad at getting to Michael White's restaurants (ever since that dismal tasting menu at Alto, which I should finally stop complaining about). What with news of the crowds packing Osteria Morinin when it opened, I kept pushing it down the list.
I dropped by recently and have to admit I found it very pleasant. It's partly about expectations, isn't it? If I'd gone week one, expecting to be blown away, I might have had a different reaction.
It's a ulti-part menu, as is now standard, allowing multiple routes through dinner. There are sections of cured meats, cheeses, crostini, antipasti and soup before you even begin to figure out whether you can eat a pasta or an entree. It's ideally suited to large parties eating family style, which I - even at my hungriest - am not.
I started with some crostini (and you are getting grilled bread with almost everything you order anyway). Sharply pickled sardines were a special. The duck confit was actually duck rillettes, but potted and preserved "confit" is not an unfair descriptor. It comes in a heap on the side of the plate, and you can make up your own crostini from it, thank you.
Then some custard - why not? A parmesan-truffle custard, much the texture of chawan mushi, served under a heap of mushrooms. This is sformato, which is fun to pronounce, and also needed heaping onto warm bread. Delicately hearty, if that's okay.
Despite the deep temptation of the mixed grill, I felt I should check the alleged pasta wizardry of the kitchen, and ordered the lumache special. Yes, big enough that you don't need a pound of hot meat to follow. They sometimes serve these curly, snail-shell shaped twirls, made from farina affumicata, with braised lamb, but on this occasion it was a wild boar ragù, with added flavor and textural interest from the incorporation of dried cherries.
A good shaving of Pecorino on top. I was enjoying myself sufficiently at this point to actually wonder whether I should add a portion of grilled lamb blade to my order. It was a close thing.
I constrained myself to cheese. Podda Classico, the hard cheese, was a bit dry and boring. The two soft cheeses were dandy - one is Paglierina, the other a creamed Gorgonzola, barely blue. More bread.
Cheerful, mock-rustic, rib-sticking food, then, at non-rustic Manhattan prices. Pastas range around the $20 mark; with the exception of the steak, fish and meat main courses are kept admirably to $30 or less. But once you start picking around the menu, you'll run up a check. Wine by the quartino is welcome.
A Michael White restaurant I enjoyed and will happily return to. The season of goodwill indeed.
Here's the website.