The Morgan is a swanky new place in a formerly lonely old building that seemed about to fall down before it was rescued by owner Richard Guillard. After a year-long rehab — Guillard is an interior designer by trade — that saw three neighboring buildings strung together for a sort of food-drink-music complex, the front portion has become a warm, classic, wood-paneled oasis on a rough-looking block.
The façade opens to the street, overlooking the Boar’s Head distribution plant, where trucks rumble by. Inside, the well-lit bar is stocked with fourteen beers on tap and an approachable wine list to sip in the loungey leather booths. A corridor leads to a soaring back room, a dark sanctuary lit by votive candles and downstairs, a basement venue meant for live shows. It’s a mixed-use space, for diners, drinkers, and bands, with plans for another entrance and bar on Varet — finally, a Morgantown destination that’s not Roberta’s.
Thus, there’s no pizza here, but flatbreads — thin crispy rectangles, slightly oily, and quite tasty, paved with shaved sirloin steak and rare ahi tuna. The grilled vegetable variety layers squash, eggplant, and zucchini with ricotta cheese which “is not made here but is not made in a factory,” explains our server. “It’s hand-packed.” The menu is reminiscent of another era when every upscale NYC restaurant offered seared tuna, pesto sauce, and everything was doused in truffle oil.
To start, one might order oysters from both coasts, shrimp cocktail, and charcuterie and cheese, before delving into a four-course $75 chef’s tasting menu. On the other end of the scale, it’s perfectly nice to sit at the bar for a beer and a snack. The hand-cut fries, perfumed with truffle oil and showered with gremolata, are delicious and addictive, great for crunching away at the bar with an Old Saratoga Lager. One of my favorite bites was a bowl of simply prepared "early summer" vegetables, once radishes and maitake mushrooms, and more recently, corn, tomatoes, and favas, fresh and buttery. Delicious, sure, but one can’t help but notice — and wince at — the implication of local seasonability of ingredients not yet available at any farm within 200 miles.
And then, there are real stumbles. A beet salad with goat cheese fondue had a handful of crunchy cubes of uncooked beet anointed with one celery leaf and crumbles of candied pine nut. Fried rings of squid and pickled jalapeños could be crisp but are soaked with a sweet sauce. A mushy kobe beef and shortrib burger and a crispy tuna roll, like slices of eggroll with cubes of raw fish riding on top, disappoint. A flat slab of blackened — as in, burned — foie gras on vanilla French toast, not the breakfast treat but hard croutons that taste like Captain Crunch, comes with both blueberry jam and apricot purèe. It’s liver, for dessert.
One stand-out was the sous-vide pork belly: it was snappish and fatty in all the right places, served on tender, garlicky greens, and surrounded by a Pepto Bismol-pink potato foam.
“What makes the foam that color?!” we inquired. “It’s a secret,” came the reply.
The fanciful dishes, loaded with sugary foams, bubbles, shmears, and drizzles eschew good technique for slick culinary school tricks and buzz-word adjectives. The “pardon my reach,” from a server removing plates could have come from the kitchen.