Monday, June 21, 2010

Scarpetta Review

On a busy stretch of 14th Street near the corner with Ninth Avenue, there is an arched entrance to a modest building. The exterior has vinyl siding and a shingled roof and it resembles a small house. It's easy to miss; when I discovered that this was my destination — Scarpetta restaurant — I realized that I had passed by it several times in the past few weeks and hadn't even noticed it was a restaurant, much less one whose name I was familiar with. The signage is minimal in keeping with what seemed like the restaurant's unassuming demeanor.

Scarpetta is a product of Scott Conant who at one time had his hand in L'Impero (now Convivio) and Alto, two other upscale Italian restaurants. The prices at Scarpetta still keep it in the range of what most would consider a fancy dinner, but the atmosphere is less stuffy and many of the dishes are straightforward. Take, for example, one of our pasta appetizers.

Spaghetti with tomato & basil
You can't get much simpler than this. Had I not read Frank Bruni's review that recommended it, I absolutely would have skipped over these three words on the menu or quickly ruled the dish out. I'm glad I didn't. The noodles were cut thickly and unevenly, marks of a handmade pasta, and properly cooked al dente. The tomato sauce had a roundness to it that gave it great savoriness and the basil topped it all off. I could eat this every day.

Black tagliolini with mixed seafood, sea urchin & minted bread crumbs
Unfortunately the kitchen was making it without the sea urchin on this day. But the pasta exuded the delicious flavors of the seafood — a mix of squid, mussels and rock shrimp — and the minted bread crumbs actually added a strong fresh flavor to the mixture. It was really nicely done.

Fritto Misto:  zucchini, squid, and fish
A classic dish of Italian restaurants, this was a towering crispy pile. It wasn't too greasy but I would have preferred the slices to be slightly thicker so that some of the bites would have tasted less of pure breading and more of the actual ingredients.

Braised short ribs of beef with vegetable & farro risotto
The beef practically dissolved in my mouth it was so tender, but my favorite part of the dish was the farro risotto. Farro excites me — it's supposed to be healthy for you and it actually tastes good. 

Branzino with guanciale & calamari ceci ragu
This was a lovely piece of fish with a crispy skin, always a bonus, and it worked well with the sauce and sides.

Tagliatelle with spring vegetables, guanciale & truffle zabaglione
After the success of the appetizer pastas, this came as a disappointment. The flavors were muddled — the truffle zabaglione suffocated any chance the vegetables had of evoking spring.

Roasted capretto, rapini, pancetta  & potatoes
Capretto is just the pretentious way of saying baby goat. The meat was gamey, which I like, but the cubes were too dry. Goat seems like a meat that needs to be braised in liquid to maintain any measure of moistness. But the cubed potatoes were crispy and reminiscent of good breakfast hash browns.

Lardo-wrapped halibut with morels, asparagus & smoked potatoes
I had just a bite of this, but the halibut was essentially swaddled in bacon, which was salty and added great flavor to the fish.

Chocolate cake with burnt orange-caramel gelato & espresso sauce
It's the ubiquitous chocolate cake with the oozing middle, but nonetheless tasty.

And with the plate of goodbye cookies and a happy birthday wish for my sister, we concluded our meal.


  1. Really interesting re: spaghetti with tomato and basil. Like you, I would've passed over it thinking it too boring or too similar to something I could make myself. But sometimes in our quest for the interesting, we might wrongly eliminate the perfectly well-done standard. And your conclusion ("I could eat this everyday") is not only a review that would make a chef happy but one that "interesting" flavor combinations might not receive.

  2. you know who i am10:49 PM

    ok- i am willing to be invited here ;)