Things are looking up for the Capitol Riverfront district — perhaps best known for its proximity to Nationals Park — of Washington, D.C.’s Southeast region. The area has recently seen significant development, especially in the 42-acre space along the Anacostia Waterfront that makes up the major urban, mixed-use development project called The Yards. The neighborhood’s newest resident is Osteria Morini, which opened on Nov. 19. This is the first D.C. outpost of Michael White, executive chef and co-owner of the Altamarea Group. White’s group consists of six Manhattan restaurants (two have even earned Michelin stars), two New Jersey restaurants, and one restaurant each in Hong Kong, London, and Istanbul.
Just as its namesake restaurants in downtown Manhattan and Bernardsville, N.J., do, the D.C. location of Osteria Morini strives to showcase the rich flavors of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and invoke the warm hospitality that characterizes the region. Peeking through the menu, it seems surprising that White did not grow up cooking with an Italian "nonna." He’s actually from Wisconsin. He had no training in Italian cuisine until he moved to Imola, Italy, after graduating from the Kendall Culinary Institute. Osteria Morini is named after White’s mentor, Gianluigi Morini, owner and founder of acclaimed restaurant San Domenico in Imola.
Executive chef Matt Adler, previously of Osterio Morni Soho, Marea, and Ai Fiori, runs the kitchen here. In keeping with White’s culinary vision of osteria-style small plates and composed platters, Adler has created a diverse array of dishes fit to satisfy any Italophile. Prosciuttos, mortadellas, and coppas abound on the Battilardo di Affettati (Italian-cured meat) list, the perfect start to a meal at Morini. Delectable starters or bar-bites to share include the miniature arancini (fried rice balls) — stuffed with braised short rib and Gruyère — and the pillowy soft pork meatballs — covered in fresh-grated, high-quality Parmigiano cheese. Bite-sized Cappelletti ravioli, stuffed with truffled ricotta and topped with melted butter and prosciutto, is just one of many house-made pasta dishes. Fish is also prevalent on this menu. For a dynamic option, guests can order fresh yellowtail topped with spicy mustard crema. Perhaps the most-anticipated offerings will come out of the kitchen’s custom wood-burning grill. Diners can look forward to succulent, juicy choices including lamb chops and a 32-ounce bone-in New York strip — aged 40 days and cooked-to-order (go for rare!)
The restaurant’s dessert list has plenty of choices to please any sweet tooth. Tasked with providing a tasty ending to the Morini experience, chef Alex Levin promises a whopping 10 flavors of house-made granite and gelati available to choose from on each given day. Composed dessert dishes include a sinfully luscious Manjari mousse chocolate cake with dolci cremaux and a melt-in-your-mouth bright green pistachio cake served with a pistachio buttercream.
At the helm of the bar, beverage manager Jochem Zijp has curated a wine list that boasts 250 approachable labels, 15 of which are offered by the glass. The selection — heavy on easy-going sparkling wines like prosecco and lambrusco — showcases wines from North-Central regions of Italy (to match the cuisine, naturally). Also in the works is a rotating cocktail list, which will prominently feature Italian ingredients such as amaro.
D.C. food lovers, rejoice. Nat’s games are no longer the only reason to trek out to the Southeast Waterfront. It seems Osteria Morini is spearheading the development of a new culinary scene in the District.
Lili Kocsis is a self-proclaimed gastronome. She graduated from Harvard University in 2011 with a B.A. in linguistics. She dedicates her spare time to purposeful travel, food photography, and writing about regional cuisine under the penname MyAmusedBouche.