It’s our last day in New York City and our friends invited to send us off with brunch at Morandi. Reviews warn that restaurateur Keith McNally (of Balthazar, Pastis, Schiller’s Liquor Bar) could have opened this Italian trattoria off the grid and would still lure droves of diners the same way Banksy’s “Ghetto 4 Life” graffiti tag in the Bronx has up to 50 viewers at one time flocking to a ‘hood that has 396 felony assaults reported this year so far. The West Village eatery with exposed bricks, low ceilings and thatched bottles of Chianti bottles lining the walls has garnered a reputation for having a rather loud dining room, too. But, I suppose when you’re visiting the city part of the guest experience is participating in the hype.
When we arrive at 10:35 a.m. on a Saturday morning, a gracious hostess that looks like an off-duty model greets us, and the dining room is quiet—it seems we came at the right time. Our New Yorker friends are waiting for us and have ordered coffee, which hasn’t arrived yet and in preparation for our flight across country, we order two glasses of Franciacorta Brut Rosé. The New Yorkers remind the bussers that they are waiting for coffee. Despite the peaceful dining room our table is making enough bustle as we share stories of our weeklong trip in the city. “Where is our waiter? I need half-and-half with my coffee,” Mrs. New Yorker states. After a lively story from my Mr. she’s still waiting. Mr. New Yorker requests it for the second time and the busser hurries off. Another one comes with water, but I guess he didn’t get the memo. Luckily, when the pot of half-and-half arrives it’s steaming, saving the lukewarm cups of coffee.
Our waitress recites the specials—so many that Mr. asks, “What was the first one again? And the second to last?” She carefully explains each dish, which results in half the table ordering from her recount of what’s in season. Suddenly, the ladies at the table are fanning themselves with menus—it’s getting uncomfortably hot—I look over at my Mr., who’s wiping sweat of his forehead as he talks. “Can you open a window or something? It’s hot in here,” Mrs. New Yorker asks our waitress, who agrees that our particular section of the room is stifling.
By the time our food arrives the dining room has filled and the volume has increased. At our table the conversation dims to muffles as we exchange bites from each other’s plates. There’s no shortage of Italian fare in New York, which beckons a successful restauranteur to offer inspiration rather than reinvent the wheel. At Morandi, exec. chef, Tony Liu, delivers flavorful punches with a less is more approach. Take my Mr.’s choice of the second to last special: A roasted butternut squash salad with thick slabs of fresh mozzarella, drizzled with a balsamic reduction dressing; sweet, decadent and delicate, it was practically dessert. I chose Mrs. New Yorker’s favorite dish, uova in camicia, two poached eggs over artichokes, peas and fava beans. The modest bowl of warm greens and perfectly poached eggs with gooey yolks was the ideal comfort food for a fall morning. It was testament to the value of cooking with fresh, quality ingredients—you don’t need much.
When we returned to California, I woke the following morning to an empty kitchen. Our fridge had all of three eggs on its bare shelves after a week away. I had some frozen organic petite peas and a can of garbanzo beans in the pantry. Isn’t it refreshing when you realize you see something from what was previously considered ‘nothing.’ Here’s my take on an inspired Morandi NYC brunch.