I have wanted to dine at Chef Scott Conant‘s Scarpetta in NYC for sometime now (He recently opened a Scarpetta in Toronto, Canada). I have heard many good things about the food. Besides being an accomplished chef, Scott Conant is a judge on the Food Network’s Chopped and the host and primary judge of 24 Hour Restaurant Battle. He is also the author of two cookbooks, Scott Conant’s New Italian Cooking (2005) and Bold Italian (2008). (Note: Scarpetta translated into English means “little shoe”. It is also the end of a loaf of bread that you use to scoop and sop up sauce off your dinner plate.)
So being the crazy foodie that I am, I dragged my wife to the City this evening to check it out. I made an early dinner reservation on OpenTable. I have to admit, I’m a big OpenTable fan. It’s so convenient. Anyway, I nixed driving in favor of taking a NY Waterways’ ferry. What a convenient way for us Suburbanites to make our way into the City. The trip from Weehawken to Midtown Manhattan is a matter of minutes. It beats the bridge and tunnel traffic, especially on a Sunday night.
Anyway, once at the Midtown terminal, we hopped in a cab and headed to our destination: Scarpetta 355 West 14th Street near 9th Avenue. We arrived a few minutes early for our 5:30 pm reservation. The polite hostess said that the dining room would be ready shortly. So we waited a few minutes by the bar until our table was available.
After a few minutes, we were escorted into a large dining room that was lit from above by a large skylight. The dining room was accented by large exposed wooden beams. I also liked the light bulbs that hung throughout the dining room. They reminded me of the Thomas Alva Edison’s first one.
Once we sat, our friendly waiter came over introduced himself and presented us with our menus. The menu was simple yet classy. As I perused the menu, everything sounded so good. There was even a choice of a chef’s tasting menu. After some contemplation we decided on ordering ala carte. In a way, we made our own tasting menu. We were presented with an overflowing bread basket, which included an out-of-this-world stromboli, as well as focaccia and a few pieces of what I consider peasant bread (my favorite type of bread).
We were also presented with three little plates that contained a traditional and I must say flavorful caponata, extra virgin olive oil for dipping and a creamy mascarpone butter (One word: WOW!)
Upon finishing up our bread, the appetizers were presented to us. The waiter apologized for the slow start of the meal and presented us with a creamy polenta with truffled mushrooms that were compliments of the house. (Note: I do not like being rushed while I am eating so I personally did not mind the pace.)
The polenta was creamy, rich and buttery. It went so well with the woodsy, earthy mushrooms.
The Imported Burrata with Zucchini Blossoms, Tomatoes & Marinated Eggplant was absolute perfection. The burrata was milky and had a clean flavor. The pieces of tomato were big and juicy. They were at the perfect ripeness. And the real treat of this dish was the zucchini blossoms. They were delicately fried and tasted of a summer garden.
The Beef Tartar paired nicely with an Arugula Salad. The beef itself was nutty and beefy. I love raw meat so this dish was very enjoyable.
We also had Braised Short Ribs of Beef with a Vegetable & Farro Risotto. The short ribs were fork tender and tasty, but the star of this dish was the farro risotto. I love a well-done risotto. And this was perfection. At most restaurants, you are presented with two extremes, either a gummy, lump of slop or undercooked rice that passed off as being al dente. This risotto was neither. It was creamy, yet still perfectly al dente. It really popped on the palate.
I had to try Scarpetta’s signature pasta dish, Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil. I’ll be honest, I usually never order spaghetti with marinara sauce at a restaurant, but when it’s a restaurant’s signature dish, I could not pass it up. I actually saw Chef Conant prepare this dish on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s television show, No Reservations. It was an episode dedicated to culinary techniques. I must say I came away from that episode very impressed with Chef Scott Conant’s technique. Anyway let’s get back to the meal. This spaghetti brought me back to my childhood and many a Sunday dinner. It reminded me of my Dad’s Sunday Sauce. The biggest difference was that Chef Conant uses butter, which made it a little different than what I was used to, but in a great way. The butter made the sauce creamy and allowed the sauce to cling to the fresh house made spaghetti. If you go to Scarpetta for only one dish, let this be that dish!
My main course was the Moist Roasted Capretto (young goat) with Rapini & Potatoes. The capretto was moist and delicious. The taste of the goat reminded me a bit like lamb, but with no gaminess. The slight bitterness of the rapini countered excellently with the very rich sauce. This was a definite highlight dish.
My wife had the Cavatelli with Braised Rabbit. The cavatelli (which are also house made) were cooked perfectly. I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of rabbit that was in this dish. The rabbit itself had a wonderful taste. I do not know where people get the idea that rabbit tastes like chicken. To me, rabbit has its own distinct flavor, perhaps a bit gamey but delicious nonetheless. I almost find it an insult to compare rabbit to chicken. I feel that rabbit has a more interesting and complex flavor.
The perfect ending to our gluttonously, delicious meal was the Banana Budino with Pecan Gelato & Oat Tuile. The banana budino is not a pudding, per se, but a banana pudding chocolate cake. It was perfection. It was not overly sweet, which is a good thing.
I loved the caramelized banana pieces. The pecan gelato was light and nutty. And it was paired perfectly with the oat tuile, which is a fancy word for a light, crispy cookie.
We left Scarpetta feeling satiated and happy, as we took a stroll through the Chelsea Market (home of the Food Network) before hailing a cab back to NY Waterways’ Midtown terminal and home.
Chef Conant has a way of turning traditional, rustic Italian foods into an elevated fine dining experience. I highly recommend Scarpetta whether it’s for a special occasion or a random Sunday dinner. I am looking forward to returning to Scarpetta, as well as trying Chef Conant’s other New York City restaurant, Faustina (located at the Cooper Square Hotel). Enjoy!
Living to eat,
P.S. The pictures were taken with my Blackberry, so I apologize for the quality of some of the pictures.