The Underground Gourmet

Keith McNally on Why Morandi Will Be His Last Restaurant Ever

“You’re not going to ask me any questions, are you?”haha Photo: Patrick McMullan

This Sunday, if all goes according to plan, Keith McNally will fling open the doors of Morandi, his new West Village trattoria. (See our opening announcement; here’s the menu.) Until then, there is pine to be varnished, Italian bread to be baked at Balthazar Bakery, and pasta to be rolled and stuffed by chef Jody Williams, with the fortuitous help of a McNally deputy’s visiting 80-year-old Bolognese mother. In the midst of the pre-opening chaos, Mr. McNally took some time to explain why the Brit who invented the New York breed of French brasserie is opening an Italian place in his own backyard.

What made you decide to open an Italian restaurant, and to hire Jody?
I like Italian food, that simple. And I’d known, tasted, and very much enjoyed Jody’s food for about eight years. Plus, I think I get along with her, and that’s more important than one thinks.

What attracted you to that space and location?
I’ve lived two blocks from the location on and off since 1984, and have been thinking about it since the eighties. I started negotiating for the space over five years ago. It’s been a very long and complicated process. In some ways the location is fairly bleak, but I think it has the potential to be very beautiful. I just wish I did too.

How did you settle on the name, and does it factor into the design at all (any artwork, for example)?
The name of course comes from the Bolognese painter. I very much like the discretion of his paintings and the fact that he basically painted the same subject — bottles and glasses — over and over again. His name reminds me of Bologna, my favorite Italian city, and that’s the only reason why I chose the name. Plus, it’s marginally more Italian-sounding than McNally.

Did you consciously do anything to distinguish it atmospherically from your other restaurants, to give it any kind of Italian feel?
You mean apart from the posters of Mussolini on the walls? No, not really.

Can you tell us anything about the materials you used?
The 150-year-old floor tiles were found by my wife in Forte de Marmi, south of Genoa. I think they’re the most beautiful thing in the restaurant.

Does the menu focus on any particular region of Italy?
No, but our wines by the glass do. We have wines by the glass and carafes from every single region of Italy.

What are the opening hours?
We’ll be open all day, even for an espresso and delicious porchetta sandwich at four in the afternoon. Hours will be 8 a.m. to midnight.

Will there be bar dining?
I’d hope to encourage people to eat at the bar. That’s how I’d prefer to see it used. We do have a wonderful Prosecco drinks list, however.

Where do the prices fall on the Schiller’s-to-Balthazar scale?
Prices are on par with Balthazar. But in lire, not francs.

What are your own favorite Italian restaurants?
For various reasons, some of which are sentimental, I like Il Buco on Bond Street very much.

What’s next?
I really can’t imagine ever building another restaurant. This one has worn me out. — Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld

King of Cocktails Bringing Bubblyesque Concoctions to Morandi
Keith McNally and Jody Williams: The (Happily) Imperfect Match.

Keith McNally on Why Morandi Will Be His Last Restaurant Ever