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Michael White's Osteria Morini Expansion Plan Rejected by Community Board

Chef Michael White of the acclaimed SoHo restaurant Osteria Morini made his case May 24, 2012 for Community Board 2 support of the hot spot's expansion.
Chef Michael White of the acclaimed SoHo restaurant Osteria Morini made his case May 24, 2012 for Community Board 2 support of the hot spot's expansion.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

EAST VILLAGE — Chef Michael White's acclaimed SoHo restaurant Osteria Morini received a final thumbs down from the local community board Thursday night on plans to expand into a space next door. 

Backing up committee decisions issued earlier this month, CB2 voted down a liquor license renewal request and zoning exception request that would allow the 218 Lafayette St. Italian restaurant to move into the first and second floors of 216 Lafayette St., which is currently zoned for manufacturing use or joint living-work quarters for artists. 

White, a James Beard Award nominee, urged CB2 to allow the expansion, which would give the 1,800 square-foot restaurant additional seats, a private dining room and a second kitchen to be used as a "laboratory" for experimenting with new dishes.

"We're being very, very thoughtful," White said. "This would bring nothing but good to the neighborhood." 

White added that delectable dishes, not booze, are the focus of the hotspot, which some residents have complained attracts a rowdy crowd.

"I lead with food, not with alcohol," White said. 

CB2 members voted 32-11 against Morini's liquor license application and 36-6, with one abstention, against Morini's land use application. They argued that an expansion of the restaurant on Lafayette Street between Spring and Kenmare streets would create additional noise, exhaust and traffic. 

Board members also contended that 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 — had violated city Environmental Control Board policies. 

Department of Buildings documents show that Morini received a violation in January for improperly using a cellar as a "food preparation accessory kitchen." 

Board member David Gruber advised other members to take a long view on the liquor license decision, lest a less responsible tenant occupy the space later. 

"This place may change hands in a few years," he said.

NoLIta resident and Morini customer Danielle Chang urged CB2 to support the expansion and said she often takes her young children there. 

"There's no reason to oppose the expansion," she said. "I support it because it will make it easier for me to get a seat at my favorite restaurant." 

Altamarea will continue to seek approval to expand, a spokesman said in a statement Friday. 

"While we were disappointed in the community board’s vote, we believe that the testimony at the hearing, along with the fact that a number of board members voted in favor of our proposal, indicate that Osteria Morini’s extension at this location will be an asset to the community," the spokesman said. 

"Altamarea Group will continue in its efforts here, and we are confident that we can ultimately demonstrate that a high-quality restaurant is an appropriate use at this location."