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Morso

420 E. 59th St.
212-759-2706
Web Site Group Booking

This open, airy space with big yellow umbrellas on the spacious patio has a modern Mediterranean feel, although the only "sea" nearby is the East River. Owner Pino Luongo is a restaurant pioneer in New York and an early employer of Anthony Bourdain. (Luongo urged the now famous writer/celebrity to get out of the kitchen and write a book or two.) For this new venture, Luongo's executive chef is Tim Ryan, formerly of Picholine.

Morso means "bite" in Italian and tutto means "the whole thing," and these portion sizes apply to everything on the menu, although morso is bigger than a bite -- it's an appetizer-size portion. Carciofi is a wonderful artichoke salad with pickled fennel, olives, arugula, and ricotta, with citrus dressing and topped with a pile of crispy fried artichoke leaves. (These are as addictive as potato chips and much more delicious.)

A standout is Spaghetti Vongole, a ragout of shelled white clams, white wine, and garlic sauce. The secret: tiny clams are briefly steamed and then the pasta is cooked in the clam water for intensity of flavor. (You might want to order tutto for this one.) Grilled Sardines with tomatoes, fennel, artichokes, and sun-dried tomato pesto make a lovely summer dish. Branzino is simply roasted and served with half a lemon to squeeze over the fish. Try the Coniglio (rabbit) braised with Chardonnay, garlic, and rosemary. For al fresco dining under those big yellow umbrellas, munch on Pizzetta: spring vegetable flatbread with grilled zucchini, eggplant, roasted peppers, tomatoes, and goat cheese. Dinner daily; lunch weekdays; brunch weekends. -- Marian Betancourt

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