First Look: Morso

Morso Interior courtesy of Pepe Gomez

Since opening in May, Morso has already seen more drama than an entire season of Top Chef. Less than a month after this contemporary Turkish restaurant launched, Executive Chef Ed Witt abruptly left due to a “difference in creative philosophies.” The restaurant closed for almost two weeks to regroup, leaving its more casual sister, Morso Express, to satisfy Georgetown’s culinary cravings. Morso finally reopened last Friday with new chef Michael Steinberg at the helm. By his own admission, the self-taught Steinberg’s previous experience has largely been limited to the front of the house, making him an unusual choice to serve as top banana.

It would be difficult for any restaurant to recover quickly from such a major shakeup so early on. And judging by the so-so food quality, it seems that Morso hasn’t yet regained its footing. During a private grand opening party on Wednesday night, the mezze on offer were artfully presented but generally lacking in flavor. It’s a shame, because the restaurant’s sleek, chic interior would pair beautifully with sinfully delicious cuisine. Designed by the Bethesda-based NOA group, the small space pops with orange acrylic bar stools and metallic gold tones. Every detail oozes sexy sophistication, from the clean, streamlined chairs and tables to the subtle texture of the rear wall’s Jerusalem stone. Thumping music and slick, glassed-in wine racks finish off the trendy, clubby vibe.

Trio of Sauces courtesy of Pepe Gomez

Unfortunately, the interior’s boldness didn’t translate to the food sampled by my dining companion and I. The dolmas were bland and utterly forgettable. Mini chicken skewers were juicy and tender, but had little flavor besides a vague hint of tomato. Tiny, bite-size versions of their pides were also on display. With healthy doses of melted cheese, these adorable little nibbles were tasty, but eerily reminiscent of frozen mini cocktail quiches. Hopefully, the pides leave a better impression in their larger form.

Lamb Wrap, available at Morso Express courtesy of Cemil Kor

Lamb Wrap, available at Morso Express courtesy of Cemil Kor

The best bite of the night was the warm grilled octopus. While many restaurants believe octopus is meant to taste like rubber, Morso’s version was delicately soft and perfectly chewy. Even without its normal accompaniments, it stood up beautifully as a true showstopper. The spiced lamb sliders were also very good, though a bit more yogurt and onions would have helped balance out the patty’s meaty density. The biggest personal disappointment were the grilled Medjool dates. Wrapped in pastirma and stuffed with goat cheese, these could have been a masterpiece of smoky, sweet and savory. Yet the flavors and textures somehow didn’t take flight.  All in all, the result was underwhelming.

Unfortunately, with Morso’s prices, one expects more than simply underwhelming. Small plates range from $8 to $16, pides are $12 to $14, and kebaps top out at $18. If you’re going to charge more than the mezze masterpieces at Zaytinya, there better be a good reason.

Panna Cotta courtesy of Pepe Gomez

The cocktail menu, however, was more promising. Morso’s version of sangria, garnished with fresh berries, was cool and refreshing with the perfect balance of sweetness. Although we didn’t sample the remaining offerings, their innovative descriptions left me intrigued enough to think about coming back.

So what does the future hold for Morso? Will it find its groove after things settle down? With plans to change the menu seasonally, there will be plenty of opportunities for reinvention. Let’s hope they spice things up – literally – during their next, hopefully less dramatic shakeup.

Morso is located at 3277 M St. NW. For more information, call (202) 333-1573.

Rebecca Gross

Raised in nearby MoCo, Rebecca happily jumped the District line in 2005. When not stuck behind a computer, she can be found exploring the city’s many wonders, usually with her trusty canine sidekick Jasper Jones. Questions, comments, concerns? Email her at RebeccaGross (at)

13 thoughts on “First Look: Morso

  1. I find it interesting that somehow its ok to “review” food at an opening party. I was at the party and had the complete opposite experience. I spoke to the Chef and while he is self taught he also has traveled extensively to the middles east and worked between kitchens and the front of the house management for 16 years, something omitted by the “reviewer” The food was excellent especially for passed mezze which anyone who knows the first thing about restaurants would know that this is not how the food is meant to be presented. Its a shame but it seems that in this day and age everyone wants to SOUND like a restaurant critic rather than give a restaurant at least the most minimal chance by actually dining there and then reviewing their experience, especially since they are comenting on prices of dishes they were eating on the house in smaller forms. This is a disengenuous, absurd essay about a restaurant that lost its chef and has come back stronger.

  2. Thanks for your insight Nino. However, if a restaurant invites a blog’s restaurant reviewing team to an event, they are ostensibly courting a review. It’s true the mezze were passed instead of plated, but apart from the pide, which I mentioned, they were all presented in their standard menu form. The flavor of a slider or dolmas is going to change if eaten with a knife and fork. Finally, I don’t doubt that Mr. Steinberg is a competent chef. My point is that it’s quite a leap to go from a sometimes kitchen staff member to head of the house, particularly since he has no prior experience with Turkish cuisine. He mentioned several times that the majority of his cooking career has been spent in management or bartending positions – that was his emphasis, not mine. I’m glad you enjoyed your experience though. I look forward to your comments on my future absurdist essays!

  3. I remember a time in which restaurant reviews where written after 5 visits… and it seems if a restaurant invites a blogger to eat and drink and taste a small bit of what they are intending to offer to the paying public nowadays they should actually fear for the life of the business. By the way that little place offers nearly 50 different dishes that could and should be considered before comparing it to corporate monsters with huge budgets, kitchens and staffs and judging three or four items. I know what its like to run a business and have people nit pick only certain things in order to fill up space on some internet page. I understand that people have differing opinions on what tastes good but you really have to be crazy not to love those dates, they where amazing. I was there with a vegetarian who accidently ate one and continued eating them even after they found out it was wrapped in Pastirma. I don’t really care much about Morso, I just liked the food and I thought it was extremely interesting how 2 people could see things so vastly different.

  4. Nino, do you own shares in Morso or something? I live across the street and have been there twice already just to make sure! The food is mediocre by any standards. Quick Pita next door offers better tasting Middle Eastern fare for a fraction of the price. That’s not the point though. Rebecca is dead on when she said that if you are going to charge more than Zaytinya, you better have something to show for and unfortunately Morso has nothing to show for, just yet.

  5. Johnny,sorry but I think that you must be confused. How can you compare Quick Pita, to a wonderfully renovated Morso, perhaps Quick Pita and Subway are more your speed. Morso is in a league of it’s own, yes I think they have to hit their stride, but the pides are great, the crust is best I have had anywhere. You can tell the quality of the ingredients from the first bite you take of any of salads. I loved the sliders they have a great combination of flavors. I thought that everything I tried on the menu had the authentic flavors of Turkey. Why would any one that is a “food critic” feel they need to compare what a restaurant charges? You certainly don’t see the WP doing that, they just tell you whether is expensive or not.

  6. “Linda”,

    You can compare value especially well when it’s clear that Morso is charging more than one of the best thought of restaurants in at genre of food.

  7. I’m sorry Linda, but clearly you misinterpreted my post. Despite the wonderfully renovated Morso and despite the really run-down Quick Pita, the latter’s food is better tasting in my humble opinion. I think a good swanky restaurant should offer more than just nice decor, which Morso unfortunately fails to do. Bottom line is, you can’t have the Zaytinya look, Zaytinya prices and not deliver on the food. In a place like DC with so much competition, you will go out of business very quickly. But what do I know, apparently Quick Pita and Subway are more my speed, lol.

  8. Morso lost its touch when chef witt left,it will never be the same,with its high prices,small portions I do not think it will survive ,by the way where is chef witt now,it is too bad that he left so soon,he is one of the most brilliant chef ever.

  9. I personally love Zaytinya and been there a couple of times. Last saturday, I checked out Morso with a couple of friends and the place was packed. We loved the food and the cocktails. Especially, the grilled octopus, crudo and mastic pannacotta were fabulous. We spent approximately $35 per person and i think the prices were ok. I don’t know their previous chef but in my humble opinion, Morso is a hot spot in Georgetown and a must try place.

  10. 35.00/person for what for a piece of bread,it is really way way over price you can go to any bakery and get the same for a fraction of the price

  11. i don’t get it ron, should i be blamed for loving the food there or finding the prices affordable. If you don’t like it and if you think it’s expensive go to your bakery my friend, you don’t need to go there. I’m sure you can find many bakery stores around where you can done in and have some cocktails at the same time. By the way, the bread and the meze, Morso brings to the table when you sit in are complimentary and I’m sure you can fill yourself up with those and pay nothing, maybe then you might love the food since you eat for free.

  12. Well, I think the public may have voted with its feet (or Rebecca is omniscient) since Morso just filed bankruptcy. Looks like they will stay open for the time being so hopefully they will get it together.