Clean Plate Club: Scarpetta New York
ORIGNALLY POSTED OCTOBER 2010
As most West Coast foodies are aware, Conant’s empire is expanding significantly by the end of the year with two more of his Scarpetta restaurants—one at the Montage Beverly Hills, and another at the new Cosmopolitan Resort on the Las Vegas Strip (the Cosmo address will also have a casual Italian wine bar, called D.O.C.G.)
In advance of both openings, I got the opportunity to have a menu tasting at the original Scarpetta in New York’s Meat Packing district, so that I could let everyone know (1) What’s all the fuss? (2) What to expect and (3) What to order. Since the Beverly Hills branch just opened last night (Cosmo arrives December 16), I figure it was high time to post this (see below for a full photo gallery).
Every Scarpetta branch (others are in Miami and Toronto) has different décor—BH will have an “Old Hollywood” feel, courtesy Studio Gaia--and slightly different seasonal menus, but there are several signature dishes.
My meal began with a couple of nice signature cocktails, The T (an Amaro-powered Milano twist on the Long Island Ice T) and a Limoncello-Prosecco, both refreshing aperitifs. The wine list is not grandiose, but is almost entirely Italian, so with any luck, sommeliers in BH and Vegas will be strong enough to aptly guide diners with pairings.
As soon as the bread basket arrived, I knew I was in good hands. Four breads, including a meat and cheese filled warm stromboli (which could be a course in itself) arrived accompanied by extra virgin and mascarpone to spread.
I began with a chilled puree of summer pea soup with riesling, poured at table over crabmeat and crispy shallots, a refreshing start, if just a touch oily.
Next came matchsticked fritto misto and a crudo sampling of yellowtail with olio di zenzero & flaked sea salt, fluke with artichoke and preserved lemon, and a tuna “susci” roll, the fish wrapped around marinated vegetables and preserved truffles. The last was by far the most interesting to look at and eat, a delightful combination of flavors and textures. A dozen of those would make a happy party.
When it came to the Primi, they really started to pile it on (Good thing I brought my mother along to help. What, you think I eat like this alone?). The burratta with fried squash blossom and heirloom green tomatoes, and the crispy mozzerella over stewed baby tomatoes were both interesting presentations (maybe too “interesting,” to be honest), but the braised short rib over faro risotto and particularly the creamy polenta served with a fricassee of truffled mushrooms were both hearty and flavorful, the short rib an excellent stand-in for osso bucco, the polenta very creamy, with a distinct corn flavor balancing the earthy mushrooms wonderfully.
Like many (but not all) Italian chefs, pastas are where Conant’s creativity really emerges. I enjoyed tastes of duck and foie gras ravioli in a marsala reduction; beet and smoked ricotta ravioli with pistachios and poppy seeds; farfalle with sweetbreads, mushrooms and tuscan kale; and simple spaghetti with tomato and basil.
While the latter is considered by many New York diners to be one of Conant’s must-haves, to me, it was outshone by all three of the other selections—the rich and savory duck, the sweet, nutty beet ravioli, and the earthy, complex farfalle, all of which I am pining to enjoy again.
For mains, we were brought a nice piece of roasted branzino crispy skin intact, over manila clams and green salsa, and the “moist-roasted capretto”—that’s crispy goat with a little pancetta and rapini, for those who don’t know, which is best described as close to a crispy brisket. I would be lying if I said either topped the pastas, but let's be honest: at this point in a meal, overload starts to set in.
Endings are strong at Scarpetta: Conant has a secret weapon in his on-the-job trained pattissier, who brought us a banana budino with pecan gelato & oat tuile, a coconut panna cotta with guava soup & caramelized pineapple, and a chocolate cake with burnt orange-caramel gelato & espresso nibs, each excellent (and I mean Excellent), each an apt contrast to the other. Let’s hope the BH and LV staff are well trained to duplicate his finesse.
So there you go. Must haves? Tuna “susci,” creamy polenta, raviolis, dessert!