Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mediterranean Morsels at Morso

View of the Queensboro Bridge from a park in Sutton Place, just down the street from Morso

Morso, 420 E. 59th St., NYC; (212) 759-2706 

After nine years living in New York City, it wasn't until I was invited to dinner at Morso that I realized what an unofficial and somewhat unfortunate meridian Second Avenue serves, especially at the mouth of the Queensboro Bridge.  Other than the sky tram to Roosevelt Island or taking the lower level to Long Island City, I have never really ventured east of Second.  Arriving a few minutes early for dinner, I took advantage of the time to explore the street that to the north becomes York, and Avenue A farther south.  Neither York nor Alphabet City, this small stretch of street known as Sutton Place is one of the most affluent in Manhattan, having served as home to Kenneth Cole, Sigourney Weaver, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson, and even Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller.  The townhouses are beautiful--even more so, the views of the East River, the bridge, and Long Island City in Queens.  If planning a visit to Morso, I would absolutely recommend a stroll along Sutton Place to visit one of the small parks along the river.

Despite the rather exclusive surrounding neighborhood, Morso is extremely inviting.  Vibrant poster art commissioned specifically for the restaurant livens the border of the dining room, and an extremely friendly, accessible menu, features Italian and mediterranean dishes available either in large (tutto) or small (morso) portions, ideal for sharing a variety of plates.  It's the inspiration for the name, after all.

From the "Egg & Cheese" portion of the menu (a rotating daily egg dish is available at dinner), the gorgonzola fritters are a delicious harmony of temperatures, textures, and flavors, with crunchy crusted creamy gorgonzola on a bed of frisee with roasted pears, spiced walnuts, and a tangy apple cider vinaigrette.

The farro salad is a surprisingly hearty garden-inspired dish with tender farro grains, colorfully tart apricots, and earthy, meaty portobello and grilled eggplant.

Homemade pastas range from cannelloni florentine stuffed pasta rolls, to pappardelle blanketed with brisket-porcini ragout, as well as a classic take on spaghetti carbonara with savory bits of guanciale, onions, pecorino, and creamy egg yolk (pictured).

One of the most memorable bites of the evening was the capesante, sautéed scallops on a bed of black rice with piquant cubes of chorizo and roasted pepper, similar to what a south american risotto.  But the element that drew together the buttery shellfish with spicy sausage was a drizzle of a sweet and citrusy limoncello reduction.

The lamb chops, though flawlessly grilled and quite perfect, were only a secondary character to a side component that stole my favor from the entire evening--the chef's creative take on moussaka--a crispy crusted eggplant rollatini stuffed with minced merquez (lamb sausage) and feta, on a bed of white beans with a creamy mint sauce.  Rather than merely a side garnish, it was equally, if not more outstanding, than the chops.

A small, yett satisfying selection of desserts range from the Torta Napolitana (pictured), a decadently smooth neapolitan cheesecake studded with marsala-soaked dried fruit with a fresh strawberry puree, to an espresso hazelnut cake roll, as well as a selection of sorbet, gelato, and petit fours which change daily.

Morso on Urbanspoon

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