Based on a first visit last night, La Morra represents everything that can go wrong when a talented and well-meaning chef goes out on his own. The food is admirable: a $35 prix fixe was a great value: a fabulous starter of a pork sausage with little lentils, a lovely risotto with marrow, a terrific lamb stew on soft polenta.
But the front of the house is so badly run as to drive one from rage and frustration to simple laughter at the mind-numbing ineptitude of it all by evening's end. The litany of basic service errors is endless. We arrive at 7:50pm for an 8:30 reservation. The hostess tells us we'll be seated at 8:45 ("party just finishing up"), then 9, then 9:15, and on and on. The reserved table in the dining room never materializes; we're finally seated at a table in the bar at 10:30. We conclude that she's not just a pathetic liar, merely pathetically incompetent.
During the interminable wait, the bar overcharges us by $5 for a $10 glass of wine (it's on the wine list at $10, but the barmaid is unimpressed with this fact.) When we're finally seated, the waitress we get is absurdly undertrained: she doesn't seem to ever have opened a bottle of wine before, and hasn't the rudiments of proper service in any form. The chef's wife wanders about the dining room with her infant baby in a sling.
A hundred other ignominies of bad service are propagated over the next hour: no one seems to understand such rudiments of Waiting 101 as not reaching in front of diners to serve or clear plates.
I like this chef; his work at the Tuscan Grill was wonderful, but he desperately needs a partner who understands how to run the front of the house. Turning out great food is at best half of the equation you need to solve to make a restaurant that people will want to return to.
I want this place to succeed, but it won't take much word-of-mouth like mine to sink it. We just had the most spectacularly bad overall dining experience in any of our recent memory.