Located in the heart of Tribeca, Gran Morsi (22 Warren Street; 212-577-2725) is based upon the idea of an enoteca, or an Italian wine repository — the wine list runs more than 50 selections deep.
This space was previously occupied by the restaurant Brick; however, six months ago, the restaurant shut down for renovations to reopen as Gran Morsi. Kenneth Johnson has been the chef in this address for a year; he was Brick’s chef and is now Gran Morsi’s. And he speaks passionately about vegetarian cuisine. “As a chef, one of the things that we try and pull off is make [vegetables] as attractive, as savory, and as fulfilling as like a full meal would be,” he says. “So that’s the trick…you take the vegetable and you treat it like a piece of meat — you roast it or grill it like a piece of meat. You can get a stunning result from it and it’s a beautiful thing.
“As far as vegetarian [dishes are] concerned, what you need to do is keep it as simple as possible and seasonal as possible so that it’s interesting and helpful and it’s just full of flavor. You really don’t want to mess with it too much. Just keep it to its essence.”
You can see this play out on the plate via Gran Morsi’s rigatoni ($19), one of the restaurant’s most popular pasta dishes. The noodles swim with pumpkin, firm cannellini beans, and sweet caramelized onions in a kale-pumpkin-seed pesto for which Johnson substitutes kale for basil, making the garlicky sauce extremely light.
Gran Morsi also does something special with its cauliflower gratin ($9), which features steamed cauliflower intermixed with a combination of creamy fontina and besciamella cheeses and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs. It’s good that the dish is small, for it’s also very rich.