I don’t actually tabulate the number of times I visit a restaurant, but if I did Osteria Morini is in the running for the number one spot. It has been quite some time since my initial post, so I’m putting my fingers on the keyboard once again to sum up why this Navy Yards Italian restaurant is now a DC favorite.
I like the food here. Obviously. But for me this is comfort dining. There are things that I know about Osteria Morini that keep me coming back. I know I can bring friends here – the food enthusiasts and those who are not the most adventurous eaters- and they are going to depart as fans. I know that getting a reservation here does not involve crazy machinations and months of pre-planning. I know Executive Chef Matt Adler will be incorporating seasonal ingredients into a stellar pasta dish- he’s a wizard with pasta. And I know to always save room for Executive Pastry Chef Alex Levin’s desserts.
While my usual tendency is to mix it up when I make a return visit to a restaurant, there are menu items that are must haves at Osteria Morini. Our meals always commence with crostini and a trio of spreads. Our repertoire usually includes Trota (smoked trout, olives and sour cream) and Parmigiano “Gelato,” which is not gelato at all but rather a creamy mix of cheese and heavy cream and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Our last visit marks a transition from Passover to a dinner where we scarf up all the bread and pasta that we missed in the last eight days. As a nod to the concluding holiday, we select a savory spread with roasted beets, cucumber, and horseradish. We have to adapt this for our Seder menu next year.
Burrata at Osteria Morini is irresistible. In summer it’s accented with peaches. The spring version incorporates grilled and pickled ramps.
Casarecce Nero is my current go to dish. It features squid ink pasta tossed with scallops, calabrian chili, and snap peas. I fixate on the pasta dishes every time I dine here. More often than not, I settle on this mix of fresh seafood with its hint of heat, and and crunchy peas and breadcrumbs adding a layer of texture.
On my most recent visit a plate of pansotti also captures my attention. Scrumptious pasta pockets are dotted with English peas and pistachios, and garnished with basil and parmigiano.
Agnolotti filled with braised duck, tomatoes, asparagus and ramp butter is another option that tempts with its rich ingredients. Bottom line- don’t noodle around. Order pasta at Osteria Morini.
My dining excursions usually include one pescatarian dining companion, and often more. This means that at least one plate of grilled branzino graces our table. The current version includes a Mediterranean mix of chickpeas, charred broccoli, lemon, and olives. I’ve seen this dish served here numerous times, and it always garners accolades.
On a visit with a meat-eating friend I seize the opportunity to sink my teeth into grigliata mista from the wood-burning grill. This simple plate is a departure for me, as I’m usually attracted to more complex dishes. I’m surprised by my unbridled enjoyment, as I alternate bites of lamb porterhouse, pork ribs, chicken sausage, and hanger steak.
Did I mention that you must save room for dessert? Alex Levin is widely considered one of the most talented pastry chef’s in DC. He is known for composed desserts that incorporate a variety of tastes, textures and temperatures. The Washington Post featured Levin in a comprehensive article by Bonnie Benwick in October 2015. “I’m trying to play on geometry and beauty,” he tells Benwick. “But if my dessert doesn’t taste delicious, it’s a failure.”
Alex Levin doesn’t need to worry. His desserts are flawless. The offerings rotate regularly, but if caramelatta is on the menu, don’t miss it. It’s an inventive combination of caramelized banana and peanut butter mascarpone mousse, whisky caramel honey-roasted peanuts, and milk chocolate crunch gelato.
This is not the place to order one dessert with six spoons. An Alex Levin dessert storm is the best way to maximize your experience.
Other factors that beckon me back to Osteria Morini include top-notch service, and a dining room that allows its patrons breathing room between tables. Even on a busy evening I can actually hear what my friends are saying, and that’s not something to take for granted. Osteria Morini is not fussy dining. For me, it’s notable for quality and consistency. I’ll see you again soon Osteria Morini. And again…
Osteria Morini, 301 Water Street Southeast, Washington, DC
Washingtonian 100 Very Best Restaurants 2016, #49
Washington Post review by Tom Sietsema (March 2014): “Osteria Morinia on the Capitol Riverfront
Osteria Morini: Giving Me Something to Cheer For (February 2014)