From the outside, Morello Bistro in Greenwich appears to be a cute, maybe even unassuming restaurant with a brown and white awning and a few outdoor tables. But, as you enter, the beautiful domed ceilings, archways, terra-cotta colored columns, and second-level balcony really set the mood for a contrasting old world, yet modern Italian experience. We were excited to have that experience again when General Manager, James Branigan invited us for a special tasting since we haven’t been to Morello Bistro since the first time we tasted their menu back in November ’12 when Chef Pasternack ran the kitchen.
We started the night chatting with Olivier Flosse, Beverage Director for MARC (Mardon Abela Restaurant Corporation). Not only is Olivier in charge of wine and cocktails at Morello, but also A Voce, Bistro du Midi, and FPB. We loved talking with Oliver because he oozed passion and excitement for his job! We talked about wine, cocktails, and his pairings for the night as he shared insights and observations in the world of adult beverages. He talked about how cocktails seem to be returning to classic liquors, how St. St. Germain has made a huge comeback in cocktails because it is, in the words of Olivier, “pure and elegant.” And, he kinda blew our minds when he told us about a cocktail that he has at A Voce: Il Tartufo. It’s made with a 10 year bourbon infused with three different vermouths and black truffles. Then, they put white truffle honey on one side of the rim…DAMN!
Well, enough foreplay, let’s get down to business:
Apps and Cocktails
Our first course was a seemingly simple dish: Cauliflower Fritti. At first we were worried this would be too simple, if not boring, but we were definitely wrong. A thin, crispy tempura batter wrapped the soft cauliflower, while a surprisingly light lemon aioli cut the heaviness. This well-balanced dish was paired with a refreshing cocktail (Morellini) of Bacardi Limon, Prosecco, lemon sorbet, and fresh mint. This is a great alternative to the same ‘ole bellini you see everywhere. The mint brought out a nice aroma, while the bubbles from the prosecco helped to bring out more of that fresh lemon flavor. We also tried the Slow Fashioned made with Slow & Low Bourbon, bitters, honey simple syrup, sweet vermouth, and blood orange juice. There was a great balance here: you still got that great bourbon flavor while the citrusy zing from the blood orange gave a nice finish.
We’ve had lots of tuna crudos, but the one at Morello is really different from the usual. The crudo here is made with crunchy toasted almonds, pickled radish, and ‘Nduja dressing made from the oil of a soft and spreadable spicy Italian sausage. This dish, which is the most popular item on the menu, was a complex mix of delicate, crunchy, tart, savory, and even smoky from the ‘Nduja! Olivier paired this with an excellent and crisp 2013 Sauvignon Blanc called “La Petite Perriere” from Domaine de la Perriere Guy Saget.
The Panzanella Salad came out fresh with red and yellow tomatoes, basil, asparagus, cucumbers, red onions, and ciabatta croutons. The croutons were buttery and crunchy enough to hold up against the red wine vinaigrette dressing. This salad is what a summer harvest is all about: light, refreshing, and tasting like everything was freshly picked. This was nicely paired with a 2012 Vermentino called Calasole from Rocca di Montemassi in Tuscany which played well off of the dressing and tomatoes.
Up next was the Branzino, served with fregola (more on that soon), orange, fennel, and a hot herb and spice dip called bagna càuda. The fish came out moist, hot, and was nice and crispy on the outside. They serve it skin side up so you can dig right in, no need to take it off. Adding nice contrast to the fish was the fennel, orange slices, and delicious pearls of delicate Sardinian pasta called fregola that looks like Israeli couscous. Olivier paired this with a 2011 Chianti Classico from Castello di Volpaia also from the Tuscany region. He noted that this all woman-made wine goes nicely with fish because it’s a lighter red. He added that people often shy away from reds and fish, but if you’re thoughtful with the pairing, it can be excellent.
One of the things that we remember the most about Morello is how good their freshly made pasta was. This time we tried their Beef Braised Ravioli, served with arugula, mushrooms, a brown butter sauce, and Parmigiano Reggiano sprinkled all over it. The ravioli were earthy, rich, yet somehow still remained light with the help of the thin pasta shell. The delicate beef melted away, bite after bite, and gained more intense flavor after each taste of mushroom. This was appropriately paired with a deep and rich 2013 Nero D’Avola from Cusumano in Sicily.
Pastry Chef Amanda Atkinson makes all the desserts at Morello right in the kitchen. Though we were at 98% full, we plowed into a trio of desserts like troopers. First we tried the Cherry Crostata that had a buttery and crispy tart crust, while bursting with juicy flavor from the cherries. This was served with a vanilla yogurt ice cream that was creamy and added a nice tart (no pun intended) twist to the dish. We also tried the Torta al Chocolate (flourless) which was rich and full of chocolate-y goodness. You wouldn’t guess it was flourless, but, for those who don’t love chocolate it might be too much. The banana gelato that is served on the side is excellent and a refreshing contrast to the heaviness of the Torta. And, finally, we ended with the Panna Cotta. The yogurt based Panna Cotta was creamy, savory, and had just a slight sweetness so it wasn’t overwhelming on the palate at all. We especially like how the basil came through, adding another dimension to this dessert. These desserts were paired nicely, again, with a 2010 Moscato d’Asti from Pasqua in the Piedmont region that wasn’t too sweet and played nicely off of the fruity and chocolatey flavors.
Amanda came by to see how everything was and brought us a final treat of (damn, and you thought we were done, huh?) grapefruit and tangerine granitas with blackberry gelee. While the granitas were tart (grapefruit) and tangy (tangerine), the gelee was sour, playing off the iced treats oh so well.
It’s always interesting to see how restaurants evolve over the years and through different chef tenures. And, while Morello is still searching for a permanent Executive Chef, Sous Chef Mandy and various MARC chefs are still putting out great and dependable dishes. We’re also happy with the wine list, with many bottles going from $32 to $55 and glasses from $10 to $16. And, for those days when you need a great cocktail, Helen De Luna will hook you up.
So, if you’re looking for some solid, dependable Italian in Greenwich that’s a good step up from the standard fare, Morello is definitely your spot.
Address: 253 Greenwich Avenue
Greenwich, CT 06830
Phone: (203) 661-3443