Morandi%20big.jpgJust ask Jean Georges, Mario Batali or Tom Colicchio and they’ll tell you there is no need to re-invent the cheese-wheel, so to speak. They’ve built multi-million dollar culinary empires on a single concept, with a few tweaks here or there for freshness. But we’re sure they would warn, as they’ve learned in varying degrees, that the key is not to spread yourself too thin. They’d say to maintain high standards and consistency because your name can only carry you for so long. At least this is what we expect is the advice they would offer Keith McNally on his latest venture, Morandi, an Italian bistro-style eatery in the West Village.

While we’re not sure if McNally is listening, we can confirm at first step through the doors of Morandi, is the same frenetic energy and casual-style of Balthazar, Pastis and Schiller’s (McNally’s other establishments). The atmosphere is rustic, euro-chic, as we believe Jonathan Alder would describe it, and the open floor plan allows the energy to flow through the space. You would never guess the youth of this restaurant looking out through the crowded space, but it does show in the dishes.

Taking into consideration that the restaurant was only a few days old, it’s too early to make a judgment on the overall quality of the food at Morandi. The chefs are still finding their stride and the back and front of the house are still learning how to communicate with each other. However, with as many veterans as there are involved in this project we surprised by how many misses there were.

Overall the food was average. There were dishes that were good, like the gorgonzola, bosc pear and cracked pepper focaccia appetizer and the Risotto Sotto Bosco with mushrooms, sage and blueberries. It was cooked perfectly and the fruit studded in the creamy, rich mixture didn’t even take away from gluttonous-indulgent high one gets from eating risotto. But they weren’t enough to add halo effect to the disappointments. The hanger steak with polenta was bland and forgettable and the sea scallops were slightly overcooked and overpowered by a creamy, lemon sauce. The wine list was well put together and we started with a great 2004 F.lli Brovia Dolcetto d’Alba ($42), but they didn't have the bottle of Amarone we selected in stock. We didn’t have too much trouble selecting another delicious option. Dessert ended things on a high note with a light and flavorful lemon torte, a baked pear bathed in reduced-red wine sauce and the tartufo (which was extra delicious when dipped into the sauce from the baked pear).

While it’s too early to tell if Morandi has the staying power of its big brothers, it is clear that there are a few kinks that need to be worked out. McNally can’t assume that his previous successes will carry Morandi along. A concept is only as good as its last dish and atmosphere only tastes so good.

Morandi, 211 Waverly Pl (at Charles), 212-627-7575

Photo courtesy Urban Daddy