Caruso’s Grocery Chef Serves Up Sicilian Food and $7 Martinis at Cucina Morini

Chef Matt Adler partners with the Osteria Morini team for a menu full of pastas and seafood.

Sicilian seafood soup at Cucina Morini. Photograph by Nina Palazzolo.

About Restaurant Openings Around DC

A guide to the newest places to eat and drink.

Cucina Morini. 901 4th St. NW. 

Before he opened hit Italian-American restaurant Caruso’s Grocery, Matt Adler’s very first head chef gig was cooking southern Italian food for Altamarea Group’s Convivio in New York 15 years ago. He later helped the restaurant group open their first DC restaurant, Osteria Morini, centered around northern Italian fare, in Navy Yard. Now, he’s partnering with his former employer to open Cucina Morini, which will focus on crudos, handmade pastas, and other dishes from Sicily and southern Italy. The restaurant, opening Tuesday, March 26, replaces the group’s Nicoletta Italian Kitchen and adjoining Brew’d Coffee Bar in Mount Vernon Triangle.

“I’ve been wanting to do a southern Italian, Sicilian restaurant in DC for years, but haven’t exactly had the bandwidth or the time to do it,” says Adler, whose passion for the region was bolstered by a trip to Sicily in 2022. Then, at an event last fall celebrating the 10 year anniversary of Osteria Morini, he heard about Altamarea Group’s plans to redevelop Nicoletta, which had opened just before the pandemic and never quite caught traction. A few days after the event, Adler reached out to Altamarea Group CEO Ahmass Fakahany with his idea: “Ahmass got back to me in, like, eight minutes, which is always a good sign.”

Cucina Morini’s menu is heavy on crudos and pastas. Photograph by Nina Palazzolo.

Adler says Cucina Morini will be similar to Caruso’s Grocery in its quality ingredients and technique, but the plating will be “sharper” and the flavors will be “brighter” and with more spice. The menu, created with Altamarea Group’s Corporate Executive Chef Bill Dorrler, also goes heavy on seafood. Offerings start with four types of crudo—from salmon with trout roe and capers to fluke with blood orange and basil—plus oysters with Prosecco mignonette. Try a taste of three for $27. Meanwhile, small plates go heavy on vegetables. Think fried cauliflower with pistachio pesto and pickled shallots or broccoli rabe tossed in a pumpkin-seed gremolata with tonnato sauce.

Squid ink taglioni with hand-cut shellfish ragu and Calabrian chili butter. Photograph by Nina Palazzolo.

Handmade pastas include a squid-ink taglioni with shellfish ragu and Calabrian-chili butter. Paccheri alla Norma, a traditional dish from Catania made with eggplant and tomatoes, starts off with garlic, chili flakes, and fresh basil fried in olive oil, then is finished off with more basil, so the herb permeates the dish. All the pastas will be available in two sizes to make it easier to sample. You’ll also find a handful of Morini classics, like prosciutto-and-mortadella meatballs, as well as larger plates, such a s a classic Sicilian seafood soup or roasted game hen with spicy honey.

Get $7 martinis all evening at Cucina Morini’s 18-seat bar and lounge. Photograph by Nina Palazzolo.

What was once Brew’d Coffee Bar will transform into an adjoining 18-seat bar and lounge where you can find $7 martinis all evening. The deal will include nitro espresso martinis, classic dirty martinis, and “Morini martinis” with both vodka and gin, caper juice, and a parmesan tuile-and-dill garnish. The wine list focuses on southern Italy with an emphasis on small producers and affordable bottles. In addition to the full dinner menu, the bar will also serve snacks like citrus-marinated Sicilian olives and rosemary chips with a Calabrian-chili-and-green-onion dip.

“My time at Osteria Morini was very impactful for me in my career,” Adler says. “So the opportunity to work with them again in a different capacity as a partner, I’m very excited about.”

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.