Michael White is threading the needle at Osteria Morini, the Italian restaurant that opened Monday evening in Roosevelt Field. The owner of 18 restaurants worldwide, including Marea, Ai Fiori and Vaucluse in Manhattan, is determined to hew closely to the Italian traditions that made his name (and won him three Michelin stars). But he is equally determined to endear himself to Long Islanders.
The menu at Morini focuses on Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, which the chef characterized as “the bread basket of Italy. It’s an approachable cuisine,” he said, “the birthplace of prosciutto, Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar — ingredients that make Italian food what it is.”
It’s also the epicenter of tortellini, tagliatelle, lasagna and other pasta based on the “sfoglia,” a freshly made sheet of egg pasta. White realizes that the success of his Italian restaurants rests, largely, on the pasta. In Roosevelt Field he has three people working full time to roll them out and, in the case of the tortelli and cappelletti, stuff them with, respectively, winter squash and truffled ricotta. These filled pasta are sauced, minimally, with butter and garnishes, while the ribbons of tagliatelle are sauced with barely enough hauntingly meaty Bolognese ragu.
For Long Island, White made one critical tweak to all his pasta dishes: “I increased the portion sizes from what we serve at our other three Osteria Morini locations,” he said. I’ve been eating all over Long Island and I know that people like to take a little pasta home with them.”
He also knows that he’s going to have to convey to his customers that he is serving straight-up Italian cooking, not the more familiar Italian-American. “It’s a legitimate cuisine,” he said of the latter. “It was born when Italians immigrated here and couldn’t find their traditional ingredients. There was so much meat, but there was no olive oil, or Parmesan. There was this squishy bread that they needed to toast with butter and garlic to make it taste like something.”
White has run into the “but this doesn’t taste like my grandmother’s” plaint his whole life. He believes that when customers taste his meatballs, made with prosciutto and mortadella, they will want him to be their grandmother.
Morini’s menu kicks off with cured meats and cheeses (one for $11, five for $39). Antipasti and salads such as those meatballs, bruschetta, braised octopus, farro soup and arugula salad, range from $14 to $19. Pastas are all $25 except for spaghetti pomodoro, which is $22. Most entrees are $40 (crisp duck breast with glazed pearl onions and sweet potato puree, roast chicken with fingerling potatoes and olives, scallops with Brussels sprouts and endive salad, grilled branzino) with steaks and chops climbing from $39 (for lamb chops) to $120 (40-day-aged strip steak for two).
The wine list is a treasure trove of Italian bottles, plus glasses and half bottles. Among the cocktails is a Bombay Gin negroni on tap ($14).
The 5,000-square-foot restaurant accommodates almost 200 diners in two dining rooms and a bar (there are two additional rooms for private events). The look is rustic — White imported vintage timbers from Italy for the ceilings — but not slavishly so. There’s no cognitive dissonance, for example, when you look out the floor-to-ceiling windows and see Neiman Marcus.
For now, Osteria Morini is open for dinner, but lunch (including a $29 fixed price deal that includes any appetizer or salad and any pasta) is slated to start in a few weeks, as is brunch. It’s located on the west side of Roosevelt Field, south of Small Batch and Havana Central.
Osteria Morini is at Roosevelt Field, 630 Old Country Rd., Garden City, 516-604-0870, osteriamorini.com.