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I had dinner with friends at Osteria Morini this evening, the Italian joint at "Yard Park" on the right bank of the Eastern Branch between Nationals Park and the Navy Yard. I hadn't been down to that part of town since all of the development of the park and the ballpark, and it's really very interesting and pretty cool. The restaurant is sleek and appealing, though rather uncomfortably noisy. There's extensive outdoor seating, though, which during nice weather, such as we had tonight, is probably very nice, and much quieter than the restaurant indoors. While my friends and I were dining indoors, I was silently wishing we had taken seats outdoors; oh well, perhaps next time. I totally loved the food. My favorite bits: Exquisite, wonderful lardo, very thin slices in a curly tangle, with little slices of toasted bread, just fantastic. I asked the server where it came from, and she said Emilia Romagna, which is a pretty vague answer, but with every morsel I ate I felt closer to heaven (which my cardiologist might agree with, if he believes in an after-life). Charred octopus with "red rice salad": I was less crazy about the red rice salad, which I didn't quite understand, than the octopus itself, which was sumptuously excellent. The lardo and the octopus were the big winners of the evening, to me, but we had a lot of other things that were also smashing. Buttered spinach. Crostini with: smoked trout and goop, which was very nice; finely diced beets and goop, which was also very nice; and a melange of mushrooms and goop, which was rather strangely sweet, and the only dish of the night that I disliked. I had a dish of bucatini with crab and sea urchin, which I adored, and which of course ended up spackling my brand-new white dress shirt, as bucatini will do. There were some other things. Asparagus, which was nice. I forget what else. This place serves up some wonderful food, and the servers do their jobs very well. I recommend it.
Thanks mainly to this post, managed to find and snag a last minute reservation at Al Fiori on a Saturday night a few weeks ago (most places were completely booked until 10, but they had openings at pretty much any time). The prix fixe menu is up to $97 for four courses, but still a decent price for the quality of meal. I had the Insalata di Alstice (nova scotia lobster, sunchokes, pine nuts, golden raisins, truffle vinaigrette), Corzetti pasta (fennel sausage, ricotta, pomodoro, basil), Capriolo (pan roasted venison chop, sweet potato, chestnut, parsnip, golden oak mushrooms), and Semifreddo (white chocolate, pomegranate, citrus, meringue). The lobster salad and dessert in particular were incredible. I think you might get a smaller pasta portion with the prix fixe menu to avoid getting full, because the people ordering just pasta next to us appeared to get a larger portion, but I didn't look closely enough to be sure. I thought the portion sizes ended up being just right for a filling meal, with some leftovers. Some other dining companions had the butternut squash soup, octopus, pasta with crustacean ragu, ricotta & marscapone ravioli, veal chop, caramelized brioche, and chocolate mille fuille. From what I tried, everything was great, especially the fatty, perfectly cooked veal chop. For vegetarians doing the prix fixe, they'll let you do a second pasta (and presumably appetizer if you ask) in place of the protein course, or a vegetable plate comprised of all of their side dishes (finger potatoes, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, hen of the woods mushrooms, and a creamy polenta), which we went with and ended up being a ton of food. Highlights in pictures below:
Last night saw me stop in to the Butterfly, a relatively new restaurant on West Broadway in Tribeca, about five steps from Batard, yet a complete world away. I would never have picked this spot as a member of the AltaMarea group, but it is. Kind of strange to go to two restaurants from the same group within a week. The Butterfly aims to be a cocktail bar/ supper club, and seems to specialize in 50s "“ 60s era cocktails, along with a brief menu of American Standards from that era (beef stroganoff, etc etc). This is small, narrow space, decorated sparsely and primarily in white. The most prominent design feature is a vaguely bow-tie shaped mirror behind the bar. I arrived in time for happy hour, where all cocktails are $10 and draft beers are $5. I debated ordering a Tom Collins, but instead opted for a beer. Service at the bar was very friendly and efficient, although the bartender mentioned that although they opened about ten months ago, things haven't been that busy. Scanning the menu, I noticed Fried Chicken. If Fried Chicken is on the menu, I'm pretty much incapable of resisting it "“ to the point that I head over to the Dutch every Monday to enjoy their chicken special. So, I ordered the chicken and three good sized pieces of chicken appeared in short order, along with a small salad. One quibble "“ the chicken came in a shallow rectangular basket, along with a side salad in a large ramekin. The size and depth of the basket made eating the chicken pretty difficult. That said, the chicken was fairly tasty, well-seasoned and not at all greasy. All in all a generous portion for $20. I added a side order of French fries for an additional $5, which got me a large bowl of hand cut fries with salt and rosemary. The fries were excellent "“ some of the best I have had recently. The chicken was not as good as The Dutch, but then again that is also twice as expensive. The Butterfly's concept strikes me as odd, kind of a cross between a cocktail bar and an upscale diner. I don't get any sort of "supper club" vibe, and that is just fine for me as I prefer the Buterfly's décor to that of the former Posh in DC, for example. Hopefully the place survives, as it is flying well under the radar in the neighborhood at the moment. I'll return for more of the menu when I need an inexpensive meal and a cheap drink during happy hour, and think that the Butterfly is a solid neighborhood option.
Ventured out to Costata last night. Costata is a part of the AltaMarea empire, and is marketed as an Italian Steakhouse, as Costata apparently means Ribeye in Italian. The space is at the corner of Spring & Sullivan in Soho (despite it being identified as in the West Village on Opentable), diagonally across from Dominic Ansel's shop. The restaurant takes up four floors of a five floor townhouse, recently renovated to include a glass elevator in the front of the house. The basement houses restaurant offices, a glass doored wine room, and restrooms. The first floor houses a bar and table space, as well as the hostess stand. The second floor contains another bar and more table space. Unsure of the third floor's layout, and the fifth floor apparently contains a dentist's office (?). All in all, a very pretty space, and I can't imagine the cost of renovations. PJ Calapo is manning the kitchen here, and is turning out a rather lengthy menu, encompassing at least half a dozen crudos, another half dozen (at least) each of appetizers, pastas, and entrees "“ aside from the steaks and side orders. The specialty of the house seems to be the shared steaks for two or more, which include a Bistecca Fiorentina and a Tomahawk Rib Chop, as well as large langoustines priced per piece. I was seated upstairs due to a private party taking place on the first floor. Looking over the menu, I decided to have a glass of rose and my first softshell of the summer. I was presented with a fried jumbo softshell of uncertain provenance, split in half and served with shaved fennel, calabrian chilies, and preserved lemon. The softshell was excellent, with minimal breading. However, I really enjoyed the combination of the shaved fennel, chili paste, and lemon "“ so much so that I ate the softshell by itself, then the fennel, chili, and lemon together. I wasn't much in the mood for a large steak, so I ended up taking the server's recommendation for a pasta course, which was the garganelli alla fiamma, which was garganelli pasta (potentially made in house but freshly made in any case) along with prosciutto, peas, and truffle cream. The pasta was excellent, if over-sauced. There was a cloud of parmigiano reggiano on top of the dish, so between the truffle cream and the cheese, this wasn't a light pasta, but I certainly enjoyed it. Service was fine. Neither notably good nor bad "“ comptetent. Between my appetizer, two glasses of rose, and the pasta I rang in at right around $70 pre tax and tip. Not exactly cheap, but one could easily spend much more here, particularly on wine "“ they have a premium by the glass selection delivered via coravin that had some pretty nice bottles at pretty nice prices. Ultimately a fine meal in a very nice setting. I'd return, but will check out other spots in the neighborhood first. <Edit> Guess I mentioned Coravin too soon.