New York foodies are buzzing about Morandi, the new Italian place in the West Village and latest addition to restaurateur Keith McNally’s mini-empire (Balthazar, Pastis, Schiller’s). Not without some begging, a friend managed to score us a 6:30 reservation last weekend. After many memorable brunches at Balthazar, Soho’s perennially-packed French brasserie, we were intrigued to see McNally go Italian. Indeed, he evokes Italy with the same finesse that transports diners to Paris at Balthazar. There’s a blackboard listing several house wines served in wicker-based carafes, rustic wooden tables that are just a little too small (somehow it makes things cozy, not annoying), and even servers with seemingly-authentic Italian accents.
McNally’s restaurants can feel a little bit like Epcot, but there’s so much to like about them. For one, the food. Chef Jody Williams left Gusto to run the kitchen here, bringing some of the Italian fare she won raves for. A “fritti” section of the menu includes carciofi alla giudea—the Roman specialty of simply fried artichokes—and irresistible fried olives stuffed with veal and pork. There are tasty salumi and cheese selections served on wooden butcher blocks, as well as more complex antipasti like marinated skate with red onions, pine nuts, and raisins. Ordering a bunch of starters to share is the way to go.
The pasta page is divided into fresh and dry, and Williams excels in both categories. You can go traditional—tagliatelle alla bolognese, spaghetti alle vongole—or branch out a little with a special of ravioli filled with beets and scattered with poppy seeds.
A perk to coming early: from our perch near the front of the dining room, we got to watch all the beautiful people come in and wait by the bar for a table. We kept hoping to spot someone famous, to no avail. The crowd seemed unexpectedly laid back—mostly groups of friends just enjoying good food and good company (and really good prosecco cocktails). That’s what really feels like Italy.
Morandi, 211 Waverly Pl. at Charles St.; 212-627-7575.