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Brunch at Morandi, 11/17/07

While I do love chowhound.com almost as much as a close relative, there is one thing that truly aggravates me about some of my fellow "hounds" (hounds are what the members of chowhound.com are often referred to). A lot of times, if one hound praises a trendy Manhattan restaurant (i.e. The Stanton Social or Rosa Mexicano), they are chastised by other 'hounds for not "thinking outside of the restaurant box" or being conformists to mass appeal. The best way I can describe this to you readers from outside of NYC would be an instance when: You choose to dine at P.F. Chang's instead of your city's local Chinese restaurant.

Why is it that one should feel embarrassed or ashamed about genuinely enjoying what many refer to as a "theme park" restaurant? (A "theme park" restaurant could be defined by some as an establishment where the first priority is the design/atmosphere/bringing in the beautiful people, and the second priority is the food.) In my humble opinion, there are only a couple of these "theme park" restaurants that don't measure up. Most that I've been to have been fantastic (i.e. Buddakan
, Rosa Mexicano, The Stanton Social) and frankly, what's wrong with wanting to enjoy your meal amidst a gorgeous atmosphere every now and then?
I was elated when my friend Marc, the restaurateur, scheduled brunch reservations for us at Morandi
on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Having never been to this restaurant, I knew that if Marc was a fan, it had to be good. The reviews for Morandi were mixed on both chowhound.com and menupages.com, but I didn't want that to steer me in the wrong direction. I've learned that it's best to keep an open mind when it comes to your first dining experience at a restaurant. In my experience, if too much emphasis is put on what has been said/reviewed/who the chef is, etc. chances are, I end up disappointed by my high expectations.

Saturday in the city was cold, windy and dreary, but once I entered Morandi
, I was transported to what looked like the inside of a rustic Italian log cabin. Everything about the restaurant was warm and intimate and though it was a new space to me, it felt very familiar in the most comforting way. Morandi is quite spacious, comprising of a lively bar with a separate waiting area and a large main dining room.
I found Marc sitting on a stool at the bar, sipping a Bloody Mary and seriously engaged in the latest issue of "The Economist." After we greeted each other, the pleasantly charming hostess led us to our two-top table in the back corner of the dining room. What a wonderful surprise to not be seated an inch away from my fellow diner; to have lots of elbow room and extra storage behind my booth seat in which to stow my over-sized purse! Amen! Did a woman design this space? There's no way that a man would think of such ingenious non-negotiables such as elbow room and extra storage to fit this seasons oversized purses trend!

After Marc and I were handed the menus, he pointed out some of his brunch favorites to help me make an educated entree decision. The waiter returned to our table and took our order which consisted of: the braised baby artichoke appetizer special, ricotta fritters, Fritatta Con Ostriche for Marc and the Fagottini Con Prosciutto for myself.
Crusty sliced Italian bread and a small bowl of olive oil arrived first, followed by the braised baby artichokes. The plate was laden with a roux and topped with three baby stemmed artichokes; both sauce and chokes were of the same lovely dull-green color. As the first piece of the artichoke touched my tongue, I was surprised that this dish was prepared cold. However, once I bit in to the perfectly cooked flesh, every bite was more delicious. What really made this work was the salty and delicate sauce (with small chunks of artichoke and sausage and thickened with what appeared to be butter and flour) that sensually enveloped the vegetable.

Next, a small plate the size of a saucer arrived with five golden donut-hole-shaped fritters sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. The external crust was buttery and slightly crisp and the interior of the fritter was sweet and moist (from the ricotta cheese) and delicately laced with pignoli nuts and currants. This is one of the most decadent treats I've ever tasted!

About twenty-minutes after we received our ricotta fritters, our entrees arrived. Marc's Fritatta Con Ostriche, or omelette with oysters and capers, was a glistening white pancake of eggs with various positioned "spoonfuls" of chopped oysters and capers. A thick wedge of grilled country bread and simple greens accompanied the frittata. My Fagottini Con Prosciutto, or baked crepes with ham and fontina, was two perfectly plated and positioned triangularly-folded works of culinary art. The crepes were oozing with butter and oven-baked heat. After cutting in to what would be my first bite, I noticed that the interior looked similar to a mille fleur cake, comprising of various layers of ingredients (crepe, cheese, ham). There were so many wonderful flavors going on at one time that it was hard to contain myself! The slightly crunchy exterior was buttery and delicate giving way to an interior comprised of salty prosciutto ham and sharp melting fontina cheese. What a glorious combination!

The atmosphere, service and food at Morandi were excellent. I look forward to trying their dinner offering and hope that it will be just as fantastic as their brunch. For all who've given this restaurant negative reviews, I must disagree with you (as far as brunch goes); but to be fair, I will reiterate the phrase "to each his own."
I highly recommend Morandi
and will name it as NYC's best brunch.

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