Neighbors Block Michael White's Expansion of Osteria Morini
SOHO — The owners of the acclaimed restaurant Osteria Morini want to create more room to serve up high-end Italian food by taking over space next door to the Lafayette Street restaurant.
But some SoHo residents say James Beard Award-nominated chef Michael White and company should keep their tortellini to themselves.
Community Board 2 committees recently voted down a zoning exception request and liquor license renewal request that would allow the 218 Lafayette St. hot spot to take over the ground floor of 216 Lafayette St., which currently permits use only as manufacturing space or joint living-work quarters for artists.
Georgette Fleischer, founder of the neighborhood association Friends of Petrosino Square, presented CB2 with a petition Thursday of more than 200 signatures against the zoning change she said would turn Lafayette Street between Spring and Kenmare streets into a noisy "restaurant row."
"We already have five out of eight buildings [on the block] licensed for eating and drinking," she said. "How could it possibly be in the public interest to make it six out of eight?"
Morini, which is part of the Altamarea restaurant empire that includes Marea on Central Park South and Al Fiori in the Setai Hotel on Fifth Avenue, declined to comment on the expansion but in August a manager told Grub Street the 1,800-square-foot restaurant needed to meet ravenous demand for its fresh pastas and roasted meats.
"People have trouble getting into the restaurant because it's so crowded and we're so busy," manager Carolyn DeFir said, noting that the expansion would allow the 98-seat restaurant to add another 45 seats.
But Fleischer, who has lived near Petrosino Square since 1979, said city approval of the expansion would be the last straw for a community that has battled noise coming from the Lafayette Street strip — which includes Ed's Lobster Bar and La Esquina — since it became a "scene" in about 2005.
"People are raising their children here. People are trying to work here. We're trying to assert the community's need to have a livable environment," she said.
Little Italy resident Bernard Chappard said he eats the "impeccable" pastas and salads at Morini almost every day for lunch and that he supports the expansion of the restaurant as long as it maintains its quality.
"It's like a bistro, a trattoria — very dignified," said Chappard, a retired export manager for Veuve Clicquot.
SoHo resident Elise Fife, 44, said she thought the restaurant's high-end clientele seemed well-behaved.
"Fine dining is not too much of a concern here, I don't think," she said. "It's the places that draw a clientele that just want to revel that are the problem."
Morini's location drew national attention in early 2006, when 24-year-old graduate student Imette St. Guillen was abducted from the nightclub that formerly occupied the building, The Falls, before being raped and murdered.
The Falls, which residents complained was noisy and a regular source of fights, was closed in 2006.
CB2 will issue final advisory votes regarding Morini at its full board meeting 6 p.m., Thusday, May 24 at Grace Church School at 86 Fourth Ave.