Moro’s Kitchen, Skaneateles, N.Y.

Meatballs over polenta

Moro’s Table was supposed to open in the space once occupied by Morris’ Grill in Skaneateles. After wrangling with a lousy building owner that let the building slip into foreclosure, Ed Moro went a few miles west to Auburn to open what is one of the best restaurants in the Greater Syracuse area (Al Dente has reviewed Moro’s Table twice, in 2011 and 2013.).

Five years later, Moro finally has his a Skaneateles storefront. Moro’s Kitchen advertises itself as a modern Italian dining, much in the same way Moro’s Table is a modern expression of a French-inspired, modern American bistro. The smallish dining room in the former Garage Eatz (and before that, Joe’s Pasta Garage) on Jordan Street has about 20 tables, and each were filled on our recent weeknight trip.

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Moro’s twist on Italian features old-school Italian favorites that are either paired together effectively or feature an innovative twist. It might by the homemade meatballs served atop a warm, creamy polenta with tomato sauce, or the bolognese sauce made with African spices for a little extra heat, or the fried calamari swimming in tomato broth with jalepeños and tomato broth. The kitchen makes all of its pasta on-site and gluten-free pasta is available. The extensive list of Italian, Finger Lakes and other hand-selected wines, a hallmark of Moro’s Table, and local beers highlight a liquor-free bar menu (New York State law prohibits liquor from being sold or served within 200 feet of a church, and the United Methodist Church is located across a very narrow sidewalk.).

On this particular evening, The Wife, The Aunt and I opted to order three small plates and push them to the middle of the table to share. The Wife’s meatball appetizer saw two large meatballs that were braised, not fried or baked, in sauce and served over a rich polenta. Topped with a thick red sauce and an abundance of grated parmesan, these were reminders of how my grandmother made meatballs by letting them steep in sauce all day with so much cheese that it would ooze out of the sides. In hindsight, I should have ordered a pair to go for lunch the next day. The Aunt’s calamari was unique. Capers, roasted tomatoes, jalepeños, pickled peppers and garlic took the lightly-fried squid out of Italian cuisine and inserted itself into more of a Pan-Mediterranean category.

Charceuterie

My charcuterie board came with generous portions of prosciutto, sopressata and mortadella, and smallish pieces of shaved parmesan and the softer taleggio. Wedges of crostini were topped with an apricot mostarda. While the meat was first-rate, the cheese portions were lacking. Given what I tasted from The Wife’s plate, I most certainly ordered the wrong thing to start.

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Where the meat and cheese lacked, the short ribs made up. Moro brought his signature protein from Auburn to Skaneateles. At both restaurants, these rich, boneless chunks of meat are slowly braised in red wine and beef stock. In Skaneateles, the kitchen changes directions by topping it with a tomato jam that Moro should consider bottling and selling as a condiment, over-the-counter pharmaceutical and/or cure for the common cold. I nearly asked our server for more, but felt that would be seriously out of place. Nonetheless, the jam complements the rest of the presentation, taking it from a excellent to exemplary. 

An additional note is due for the parmesan whipped potatoes, which are good enough to be served with a spoon in order to scrape up every last molecule from the plate.

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The Aunt opted for chicken marsala. The dry marsala and mushroom sauce was described by The Aunt as among the best she has ever had, saying that it changed the flavor over everything on her plate, shifting the bitterness from the broccoli rabe and adding an earthy dimension to her parmesan potatoes. The Wife went in the direction of the pan-roasted scallops, which saw four large sea scallops perched atop a red wine risotto and spinach. Typically, risottos are made with white wine, because who wants to eat red rice. This take on the traditional rice brought a whole different flavor construct, with seafood stock, parmesan cheese, arborio rice and red wine creating a fuller-bodied, more pronounced base for the scallops. 

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Moro’s servers know the menu inside and out, and our server offered recommendations at dinner and dessert. My affogato allowed me to choose a flavor of homemade gelato and she suggested the salted caramel over the stracciatella. It was the right choice as the sweet caramel blended together nicely with the sharp, bitter espresso. The Wife enjoyed her cannoli, which was freshly filled and all of the way through, at that (some restaurants and bakeries only fill the ends, leaving the center of the shell empty…sacreligious).

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The restaurant business is unforgiving. Nearly 3 out of 10 fail in their first year. They are expensive to own, time-consuming to running, and stressful to manage. But, when the stars align, a good restaurant can be had. If you are exceptionally lucky and skilled, you can have an excellent one. If you’re Ed Moro, you have two.

Moro’s Kitchen is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday, and for brunch on Sunday. Reservations are highly recommended necessary. Dinner for three, with drinks and dessert, was $168 before tip.

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