Osteria Morini, with great views inside and out


Executive chef Matt Adler helms the kitchen at Osteria Morini in Southeast Washington’s Capital Riverfront neighborhood. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)
December 3, 2013

There’s a lot to like about a juicy cut of swordfish invigorated with broccoli rabe pesto, eaten in a window-wrapped room with a view. But perhaps an even bigger charge comes from where I’m enjoying the food and the scenery: between Nationals Park and Navy Yard, in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, at the breezy Osteria Morini.

The 130-seat Italian restaurant is a branch of the New York original opened in 2010 by veteran chef Michael White of the Altamarea Group, a collection of 13 establishments. The newcomer, under the watch of executive chef Matt Adler, made the neighborhood more enticing the moment it started serving pasta and pouring vino on Nov. 19 (at a user-friendly 20 percent discount on the food, since discontinued). Order scallops capped with salsa verde and arranged on carrot-sweetened lentils, or rosy lamb and fried bell peppers sharpened with an aged balsamic vinegar, and you, too, are likely to wish you lived closer.

Pastas are all rolled out in-house. An early favorite brings together broad lengths of stracci with sauteed porcini, cremini and oyster mushrooms, everything linked with rosemary oil.

The space, which includes a private dining room for 30, is big and rustic, set off with brick and wood and amber lighting. Adler, who previously cooked at the Morini in New York’s SoHo, says the chief differences between the two venues give him an edge in Washington, where he and his wife both have family: The chef’s new roost counts a wood-burning grill and an exhibition kitchen. “We like being part of” the dining room, he says of his more visible role here.

Complaints? As at too many places in the city of late, servers spend way too much time detailing the menu and telling you how to order. That pasta is promised as an “Italian” portion — small enough, in other words, to consider as a bridge between appetizer and main course — but the bowls we were served were so big, they canceled our appetites for a third savory course. And perhaps the owner didn’t get the memo that Washington already has a surplus of noisy dining rooms and doesn’t need another one.

That said, the sound of a joyful crowd must be music to the boss’s ears.

301 Water St. SE. 202-484-0660. www.osteriamorini.com. Entrees, $17 to $43.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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