Scarpetta has a lot of hype working for it; Scott Conant is generally regarded as a very skilled chef, the tomato & basil pasta has been called one of Manhattan’s best pasta dishes, and it has received three stars for excellence from both the New York Times and New York Magazine. The buzz is so loud you could be living in a beehive. And trust me, after a 2 hour long dinner last night, there is reason for it.
Despite the less than ideal location between Comix and The Diner on 14th Street, I knew Scarpetta was going to be right up my alley from the get-go. Set in a white stucco Greek Revival townhouse with a small outdoor patio, the restaurant, set on the first floor, is simultaneously expansive and intimate. Soaring ceilings give the illusion of space, while luxurious brown distressed leather boothes keep things cozy. Separated into two rooms, the restaurant features a no-reservations front bar & cafe with wood-paneled and exposed brick walls, tables for two, and a wide marble bar as well as a cavernous back dining room with mirrors, edison-light chandeliers, a separated wine ‘cellar’, and stark brown contemporary furniture. The resulting look is a modern, sleek, and endlessly elegant.
Scott Conant’s soulful Italian cuisine is at once classic and inventive. His menu features surprising twists on traditional dishes, completely unique ingredients and flavor pairings, and oftentimes beautifully simplistic creations. For example, the tomato & basil pasta is nothing but simple with house-made spaghetti and a creamy tomato sauce; yet, it transcends your typical noodle dish with perfect execution and an ultimately refreshing flavor you’d be hard-pressed to replicate. The moist-roasted capretto with peas and fingerling potatoes is dripping with unusual marinated goat flavor; however, though it certainly needed a bit more salt, the dish had an uncomplicated and satisfying traditional meat & potatoes feel. Other superior highlights include the impossibly creamy polenta served with a pot of truffled mushrooms – both elements seemed to just melt in your mouth with a soulful and nostalgic richness, the short ribs agnolotti with hazelnuts and horseradish – a complicated blend of nutty, spicy, and meaty flavors that hit you in complex waves, and the addictive banana budino dessert with pecan gelato imbued with a rare and cherished moistness. Even something so simple as fried mozzarella becomes tantalizing when served lightly breaded with savory stewed baby tomatoes.
The night’s only bobbles include a too-fishy black cod in desperate need of more salt, more flavor, and better accoutrements and the olive oil cake that was appropriately moist yet completely over-powered by the tangerine gelato and muddy marscapone. From beginning to end, Scott Conant’s gourmet story told through dishes that challenge you is far above average and worth many re-tellings.
All in all, Scarpetta is a special place that strikes the ideal balance between buzzy hotspot and intimate restaurant; it has both sex appeal and a peaceful sophistication. Charming and professional service adds the cherry on top, rounding out a truly enjoyable dining experience. Two thumbs up, and more if I could.
Perfect For: an anniversary dinner or special occasion date, after-work drinks at the bar, a birthday celebration, pasta-lovers, dinner out with the parents, indulging in decadence