What do you do when you get bored of the same old thing and feel like throwing something new into the mix? If you're Nino Selimaj (of all the Nino's restaurants in the city), then you hire chef Ricardo Cardona (of Sofrito, Sazon and Gabbana) to help create a "mediterranean-latin-infusion" menu for their relatively new spot, Scarpina Bar & Grill.
I happen to love mediterranean food; it's in my blood, so I don't really have a choice. Being Greek and Jewish, I grew up eating things like hummus, tzatziki, babaganoush, taramousalata, lamb, fresh fish, and the like. Scarpina's menu speaks to a lot of that cuisine, but also incorporates latin and Indian influences as well, like ceviches and tagines. We started off with the assorted mezze, which is tzatziki, tarama (for short), babaganoush, and Scarpina's 3-bean hummus, which has a stronger, earthier flavor than regular chickpea hummus, which I liked. The tzatziki was great, and the tarama was very creamy. Two thumbs up from The Greek.
My next favorite thing would have to be the kebabs; we tried an assortment of chicken, shrimp, lamb and vegetarian. Nothing against vegetarians, but there's no comparison; the lamb and the chicken were seasoned perfectly and were very tender. There's only so much you can do with a vegetable kebab. Sorry. They were served with dipping sauces as well, which was not necessary because they were flavorful on their own, but they certainly didn't hurt it either.
I normally really like tagines, so we decided to try two: the shrimp and the octopus. The octopus was not something I would order on my own, but it was recommended to us by the waiter, so I figured "fine, I'll be adventurous." Note to self: be adventurous with things like brand of toothpaste, not with seafood. Here was my gripe with the octopus dish: the octopus actually wasn't bad, but it was served over an olive and feta cheese couscous, which was very overpowering. I love feta, and I love kalamata olives, but those are two ingredients with very strong, distinct flavors, and it completely overwhelmed everything else in the dish and made it a little bitter. The shrimp, on the other hand, was very good; big pieces of shrimp stewed in a sweet and spicy Creole tomato sauce. Mmmm..
For the main course, we were kind of full from everything we tried, so we decided to split the lobster ravioli in a wild mushroom sauce. In short, I was a fan. The pasta was nice and tender, and the mushroom sauce was tasty. And I forgot to mention earlier that we tried some of the ceviches, which were really good. I think Chef Cardona knows what he's doing with fish, because I had the tuna, salmon and branzino ceviches, and they were all good. I actually liked the branzino the best, which is not something I say very often, especially for a ceviche. They were full of citrus flavor, herbs and avocado. Yum.
I know what you're thinking – with all of that food, how does she still have room for dessert?? Well, I can't give away all my secrets, so let's just say I'm amazing. Anyway, we split the panna cotta and the blueberry/peach cobbler, and I would highly recommend the cobbler, but the panna cotta was a little bland. I'm not a huge panna cotta fan to begin with, so it has to be pretty good for me to remember it, and this one had a weird taste and wasn't as sweet as it should have been. The cobbler, on the other hand, had a flaky crust with big sugar crystals shining on top, topped with vanilla ice cream that melted down into the buttery pastry filled with gooey, sweet fruit. Mmmm…I like.
Scarpina has a pretty solid menu with many options, so it seems like the type of place where everyone can find something that they'll like, no matter what they're into. I'd like to go back to try the Steak Latino and Veal Churrasco, I've heard good things about them.
Scarpina Bar & Grill
88 University Place (nr 12th st)