Restaurants that are backed and operated by a celebrity chef usually don’t interest me much, especially when they’re located in the meatpacking district. Overhyped and usually overpriced, these words are more often than not, indicative of the restaurant scene in this trendy locale. However, there are exceptions to every rule, and Scott Conant’s Scarpetta has something it’s neighbors don’t: integrity and competence.
Have you ever gone to a trendy Italian restaurant and ordered the foie gras ravioli (or something equally fancy) only to find that there are three ravioli on your plate garnished with a single sprig of thyme? Of course you have. Everyone has…well, everyone in New York City anyway. It might taste ok, but in my opinion, that comes off as pretentious as opposed to satisfying; and sorry, I prefer a satisfying meal any day. Thankfully, Scott Conant gets that. Nestled in a townhouse in the heart of the meatpacking district sits Scarpetta, a lively yet relaxed spot where you can grab a drink with friends, and if you’re smart, have dinner too. This past weekend, I took my dad to this dinner instead of my friends because, well, I kind of hoped he would pay. Isn’t that the cardinal rule of father-daughter dates?! Moving on…
We were seated way in the back by the wine bottle cellar (that houses 3,000 wines) and were greeted by two friendly waiters who presented us with a wine list and menus. My dad, ever the wine connoisseur, asked for a Zinfandel (I mentally smack my forehead). I was eyeing a carafe of Barolo from Piemonte, but since he doesn’t really drink, I compromised and suggested something lighter. Perhaps a bottle of Rosé instead? Yes, indeed, since they don’t offer Rosé by the glass. Per the waiter’s recommendation, we had a 1999 Calabretti from the Etna Rosato region of Sicily, and it was actually quite nice; not too heavy, dry, and a little sweet. Perfect for a not-so-seasoned wine drinker.
The menu at Scarpetta is modern and refreshing, with offerings like short ribs, polenta, and raw yellowtail, I guess it really depends on what you’re in the mood for. I have heard amazing things about the Creamy Polenta with Fricassee of Truffled Mushrooms, so we decided to split that and the yellowtail, which is cured in ginger, topped with chili oil and cracked sea salt. When the polenta arrives, a separate waiter appears to personally spoon the truffled mushrooms on top of the polenta. Ok, now this COULD be deemed pretentious to some, BUT it’s so good you won’t care. “Creamy polenta” is the perfect name for this dish; butter, heavy cream and cheese are integral cogs in the Scott Conant polenta machine I’m sure. The mushrooms add a nice earthiness and depth, which made every bite a little different. The yellowtail was also an excellent surprise, and I know this because my dad actually ate it and he doesn’t eat raw fish. It wasn’t fishy at all, and the chili oil and sea salt texture added a nice bite.
Entrees are normally a hard decision for me, but I knew I had to try the pasta. Spaghetti for me (I know, I know, but just trust me…), and the Agnolotti Dal Plin for dad. That’s the beauty of pasta – you can make it simple or complex, and I’m not just referring to the pronunciation either. The spaghetti arrived in a little mound tossed with a delicate tomato sauce, and I could smell the fresh basil. Mmmm. The agnolotti pasta was filled with braised short ribs and parmigiano cheese in a hazelnut butter sauce. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my dinner at Scarpetta, it’s that you just can’t beat fresh pasta. The spaghetti was so good, and the sauce was even better; sweet roma tomatoes, basil, and what I believe was a healthy dose of butter, bind this dish together beautifully. It doesn’t look like much on the plate, but believe me, it’s filling. The agnolotti was also great, but definitely a more complex taste and I swear, the spaghetti is a tough act to follow. I did enjoy the hazelnut butter sauce though and dipped a piece of fresh bread in it.
Did I mention the bread?? Oops. Warm focaccia and stromboli (Italian bread baked with ham and cheese inside) were presented in a basket served with olive oil and a sweet mascarpone-butter. I salivated a little just now.
The dessert menu was a little tough for me – I wanted practically everything. In my mind, when in doubt, go with chocolate. I got the Amadei chocolate cake with burnt orange-caramel gelato and espresso sauce, and my Dad got the coconut panna cotta in guava “soup”. They also give complimentary miniature Italian cookies at the end of the meal too, so…three desserts! If that’s not an awesome Saturday night what is? The chocolate cake was amazing – made with Amadei chocolate from Italy, it was rich and slightly over the top, but I like that in my dessert. The panna cotta was like nothing I’ve ever had before. The guava “soup” made it special; with it’s orange hue, it was sweet and slightly tart and complimented the coconut really well. Is it Italian or Tropical? I’m not sure, but I didn’t want to stop eating to ask questions.
Lastly, a few mini cookies with jam to finish the meal, and we were stuffed. Scott Conant’s Scarpetta is a welcoming Italian spot that may not be free of hype, but that’s because it actually deserves it.
355 West 14th st (nr 9th ave)