Friday, February 5, 2010

Scarpetta (New York, NY)

February 2010

355 W 14th St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 691-0555

I've always thought that Scarpetta sounded like the name of a villain. It's so sibilantly similar to Scarpia, Scalia, Slytherin.... Maybe those associations are why, after all these years of hearing rave reviews of this restaurant, I still hadn't gotten around to trying it -- until tonight.

We walked in without any difficulty around 8:30, without reservations, and were seated in the front room (where, evidently, people without reservations are relegated). Our table was a bit unpleasantly close to the wait station -- right next to it, in fact -- but the space was still quite attractive and far enough from the door that we weren't getting hit with blasts of cold air each time it opened. I have to confess that I did love the front room's farmhouse chic, its variegated wood walls and cast-iron light fixtures.

We started with the yellowtail crudo with ginger and sea salt and the chestnut soup with root vegetables and beef cheeks. Both were quite good. Yellowtail was a nice study of textures, with crunchy sea salt and microgreens contrasting nicely with the well cut, tender, fresh fish. There was just enough acid to brighten each bite and not a bit more. Chestnut soup was rich and earthy -- a lovely wintertime dish.

For my main, I had the Sicilian-spiced duck breast with preserved orange and roasted root vegetables (actually carrots, endive and beets). The portion was small, clearly meant to be eaten after a larger, belly-lining pasta course, though sufficient for me. The meat was extremely tender and beautifully, perfectly seasoned, but prepared very rare without the wait staff asking me how I wanted it cooked. I personally love my meat bloody, but probably not everyone enjoys duck that way. In any event, I thought the dish was excellent. I do wish I'd ordered something more assertive to go with it than my quartino of pinot nero. It was a 2007, but was pale, watery and tasted much younger.

[Didn't try the SO's housemade spaghetti with tomato and basil, but he loved it.]

We finished with a nuanced, light, refreshing dessert of coconut panna cotta served with guava "soup", caramelized pineapple and a scoop of coconut ice cream (or possibly sorbet). Panna cotta was a lovely texture, almost as tender as dofu fa, and the guava soup was not overly sweet. The coconut ice cream tasted of the very essence of coconut, but avoided being cloying. It was a great dish to end a rich meal, though not entirely seasonal.

It's pretty clear that the kitchen is able to put out beautifully made food. Some might take issue with the portion sizes, which are designed to be part of a four or five course meal, though I personally do not. I wasn't thrilled with the two wines off the wine list we tried that were available by the quartino: Quality to price ratio seemed to be much lower than it is at Mario Batali restaurants. But in all honesty, at this point, it's too early for me to have a well-informed opinion; I'll have to do a lot more, ah.... "research". :) I will say I'm inspired to come back after a strong first meal.

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