Mmm Mmm: Mediterranean meat on M Street

April 8, 2010

Photo courtesy of Morso

Ed Witt is not an ordinary chef. He is a tattooed, bald force of nature that just so happens to wear a chef’s apron. Yet he does not inspire images of fire and brimstone—his soft, drawling voice and laid-back attitude exist at odds with his shaved head and body ink.

Photo courtesy of Morso

As an aspiring engineer in the mid-1990s, Witt’s culinary interests pulled him away from the University of Maryland and towards the West Coast, where he opened Jardinière, a French fine-dining restaurant, in San Francisco. Later, he moved to New York City, where he bounced up and down Manhattan for more than a decade, cooking at critically-acclaimed restaurants such as Daniel and il Buco, working as fashion entrepreneur Marc Ecko’s personal chef, and appearing on Chopped, a competitive cooking reality show.

“I was going to be on Top Chef too, but they turned me down and told me I was too experienced,” Witt said.

Early last year, Witt decided to return to D.C., where he once studied at the Occidental Grill, to open Georgetown’s newest restaurant, Morso, with owner Mustafa Poyraz. After a month-long research trip in Turkey, he arrived at the corner of M Street and Potomac Street NW, where Morso will officially open next month, with a modern take on classic Turkish cuisine.

The exterior of the restaurant is muted, but a step inside reveals an extensive and ornate sit-down restaurant. A sweeping L-shaped bar towards the back of the room is flanked by a large brick-oven and kitchen without cramping the space, which will fit sixty to seventy people, according to Witt.

Morso will serve small plate meals—a Turkish tapas bar, so to speak. Witt’s menu expands upon the dishes at Morso Express, the restaurant’s fast-food step-sister, adding a variety of seasonal fish and meat dishes—including grilled lamb and brick-oven baked snapper—to the flatbreads, wraps, and mezes currently offered next door.

The flatbreads alone should make a splash in Georgetown, where Chipotle burritos and Kitchen No. 1 serve as typical foreign fare. The four-cheese flatbread—topped with mozzarella, feta, kashar, and goat cheese—has a strong bite to it, but tastes familiar enough that it won’t scare away picky eaters. Another flatbread, filled with ground lamb, tomatoes, grilled peppers, garlic, and topped with an egg, will satisfy the more adventurous eaters among us.

Witt hopes that a devotion to high-quality food from local, sustainable sources will separate Morso from the deluge of recent restaurant openings, including Crêpe Amour and the soon-to-open Georgetown Wing Company, which share a single block of M Street with Morso. The menu will change with the season to accommodate the freshest local ingredients.

“We’re focused on quality and affordable food,” Witt said. “It won’t be the cheapest, but it’ll certainly be the highest quality around.”

And there’s the catch. While prices haven’t been formally set, Witt expects the average small plate to cost under $20, but also suggests that a dinner for two may require four to six small plates. And those prices, for college students, are a bit hard to swallow, even with fresh pita bread and multiple cheeses.

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Morso Express gives a 20% discount to students, at least for now. And that makes the prices on their wraps and flatbreads totally manageable, around $7. I really like it.