I don’t like trendy restaurants. I’m not saying that in the way people do when they’re too trendy for trendy restaurants. I’m saying that in the way of people who love food and love restauranteurs and love discovering new and delicious things, and hate disappointment. I believe strongly that on a good menu, you shouldn’t be able to “order wrong.” I believe that less is more, except sometimes when more is more, and that there is no such thing as too much garlic. I believe that the quality of the ingredients matters as much as the aptitude of the chef.
Last Saturday I had the opportunity to try Scarpetta, Scott Conant’s high-end Italian restaurant on West 14th. The housemade pasta has received a lot of hype, largely well-deserved: my cavatelli had all the lightness of really fantastic gnocchi, with an accurately al dente chewiness. The caponata was lovely, served with some addictive if heavy-handed salumi e formaggi bread.
Primi piatti: My boyfriend slurped down an entire serving of the creamy polenta, which I described as something like macaroni and cheese without the macaroni - would you like some cornmeal with your unearthly amounts of parmesan and heavy cream? The olive oil braised octopus was both more subtle and more delicious, largely benefiting, as many of Scarpetta’s dishes do, from the sheer quality of the ingredients chosen.
Spaghetti with tomato and basil.
Cavatelli with rabbit ragu, porcini and arugula.
Paste: The tomato and basil sauce in the spaghetti pomodoro was plainly not as incredible as I wanted it to be. A little too sweet, not enough garlic. New York calls it “famously restrained,” which I guess is sort of the opposite of what I’m looking for in Italian food. I had no complaints at all, however, about my rabbit ragu: fork-tender, flavorful, the braised meat was an ideal foil to the firm cavatelli. I would have happily eaten three times the quantity of porcini, but luckily a side of broccoli rabe with extra garlic filled the gap.
Veal loin with gremolata crust, salsify, favas and semolina dumplings.
I had only a bite of the veal, and it’s possible that it just isn’t up my alley, but I found it vaguely bland. In summary, come for the pasta and some elegantly prepared, top-quality produce, but you’ll have to be sure to order right.