We snagged reservations here Wednesday night. For those not familiar with the neighborhood, it's changed a lot since the stadium went up. I was surprised at the amount of foot traffic at 7pm; lots of folks walking home from work, walking the dog, jogging with strollers, taking the family to Nando's for chicken. The place never felt deserted or isolated. Lots of nearby construction on office and condo developments, so there's plenty of floodlights and street lighting. Parking was slim to nonexistent. There's street parking on Tingey Street, but your best bet is either the Navy Yard Metro or the private automated lot on 3rd and Water Street. Morini is located in Yards Park in a big glass warehouse that gives you a great view of the Anacostia Riverwalk and the USS Barry. I can see them doing a lot of waterfront business in the warmer months.
The interior is warehousey: high ceilings, exposed girders, lots of glass. At 7, the place was at about quarter capacity, so there wasn't the usual deafening "buzz." That will probably change on Saturday nights. There's a long bar for your $9 wine pours and small plates. The chairs were bare and uncomfortable so we moved to a cushioned booth and were handed a cute little basket of light airy foccacia seasoned with sea salt. The menu is fairly broad with a selection of cured meats, italian cheeses, crostini, salads, and antipasto to choose for first course, followed by fresh in-house pastas and seafood/meat entrees, several of which are grilled over wood charcoal (you can peer in behind the window on the way to the restroom). I opted for:
Speck (smoked prosciutto)
Coppa (cured pork neck)
Bresola (air dried beef)
Lardo (prosciutto bianco)
The bresola had a nice black peppery punch, but the best of the bunch was the lardo, shaved thin and served at room temperature, it was like a rich, porky butter for spreading on the grilled bread. If you like roasted bone marrow, you'll like this. Since we'd already had a few beers at Bluejacket (highly recommend "The Butcher" dunkles dopplebock which is made with Red Apron malt smoked over apple, cherry, and hickory wood), we just opted for a bottle of Pellegrino, which was good since that speck will give you a powerful thirst. I don't know whether it was the saltiness of the cured meat or that I'm used to more aggressively seasoned sauces (see the pepperoni sauce at Graffiato), but the flavor of the prosciutto & mortadella meatballs was a little too subtle for me. The pomodoro and shaved parmigiano didn't seem to help any. The texture reminded me of ground veal, which I liked, but I didn't get much out of this dish. The wife's Agnolotti (taleggio and potato ravioli, short rib ragu), however, had a nice well-rounded beefy/cheesy flavor. My Porchetta (thick rind pork chop, pear puree, fennel & brussel sprout slaw, topped with cracklings) wasn't like the usual thin sliced sandwich porchetta, but a thicker, fattier cousin. If you're a fan of swine, this one had a lot of flavor.
I spotted three managers walking the floor and there was about a dozen staff working the ovens, so food moved efficiently and we didn't go 15 minutes without someone checking on our water and drinks. About the worst I could say is that the background music was K Billy's Super Sounds of the Seventies mashed-up with a K-Tel Monster Hits mix tape. Instead of Dean Martin or Mario Lanza or Pagliacci, we got Steve Miller Band and The Eagles and Creedence. I guess they're going for an aging boomer demographic, but if I wanted to eat Italian while listening to "Can't You See" by the Marshall Tucker Band, I could do that at home in my underwear.
Some folks have complained about the prices, but food of this quality served by people who know what they're doing on waterfront real estate doesn't come cheap. Sure, there's a 32oz bone in NY Strip for two for $80 for those folks who think fine dining is a slab of meat the size of a toilet seat, but the two of us got out of there stuffed to the gills for $120, which is pretty decent by downtown DC standards. Drinks will send that pricetag much higher, but you can still cobble together an assortment of shared dishes without getting stuck with a bill for the month's rent. I'm looking forward to working my way through the menu.
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