Friday, July 24, 2009

Review: Scarpetta

Scott Conant's Scarpetta has all of the characteristics of a restaurant that I would expect to be overpriced and overrated: a Meatpacking District location, a celebrity chef who by appears to spend more time in the salon than the kitchen, a branch that recently opened in Miami. Despite my apprehensions, having read great reviews of Scarpetta, the Significant Eater and I made a recent visit and were pleasantly surprised. Scarpetta is far from the usual Meatpacking circus.

I had assumed Scarpetta would be just another big box restaurant with a location perfect for Bridge and Tunellers to stop in for a bite to eat before their nights on the town. What I found was a cozy restaurant set in a Greek revival townhouse. Elegant leather booths line the sides of the restaurant. Mirrors, wrapped in orange leather belts, line the walls. If only it served French cuisine, Hermes would have been very proud of the design.

Of course, elegantly designed restaurants are practically the rule in the Meatpacking District. It was Scarpetta's food that made us forget the fact that we had ventured to West 14th St. on a Friday night after 8. The dinner started off on a good note when a plate of delicious breads arrived. It contained ciabatta rolls, focaccia, and a cheese and salami stuffed bread. I generally try not to fill up on bread when I am in for a big meal, but at Scarpetta I could not resist, especially with the salami-stuffed bread.

As our appetizer, we ordered the soft shelled crab, which was lightly battered, served atop a bed of pea sprouts, and dressed with a lemon and prosecco emulsion. The soft shell crab was as refined as the salami bread was decadent, but both were equally delicious. I loved how the prosecco emulsion transformed the crab into some much more refreshing than simply fried seafood.

The dish of the night, and possibly the dish of the year for me, was our pasta plate. We ordered the duck a foie gras ravioli, which was served in a marsala reduction sauce. The ravioli definitely gave me one of those "why didn't I think of that!" moments, as it is the perfect marriage of flavors: the richness of the foie gras, the meatiness of the duck, the slightly sweet marsala sauce. As he also did with the crab, our server graciously split this dish on two plates for us to share; lucky for our relationship or else I most likely would have swiped a few ravioli off of Significant Eater's plate (it's okay, she had the same feeling).

Our main courses were not nearly as memorable as the crab and the ravioli, but in all fairness, both were tough competition. For my main, I ordered the roasted goat, which was served on a bed of roasted potatoes. The goat, while perfectly cooked, was a fairly one note dish and I found the portion to be so large to the point that I grew tired of it midway through eating. The Significant Eater ordered the black bass, which we both found to be slightly overcooked. Full from the large portion sizes served, we decided to forgo the dull-sounding desserts and enjoy the rest of our inexpensive Sangiovese and lust for just one more bite of that ravioli.

Scarpetta made me realize that the Meatpacking District does not always have to be a lackluster experience. All it takes is some foie gras and a well-made pasta, and even two Manhattanites can find bliss in the Meatpacking District.

355 W. 14th St.
New York, NY 10014

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