And so, on a sweltering New York evening, I bounced right into Scott Conant’s flagship Scarpetta with the intention of gobbling up a trio of desserts, on trend with this behavior which was becoming quite the habit. A habit lived and relived in New York, Chicago, and so many other hotspots.
The thing with Scarpetta’s original restaurant in Chelsea, New York, is that it retains a small, almost hidden vibe. Quite disparate from its mushrooming of outposts in other culinary cities, where it tends to acclimate to the local ingredients. While I enjoyed the light bites in a desert of jewels called Vegas, I had heard mixed things about the other locations, and in particular, the anchor itself. Thoughts to ponder, as I nibbled on the varieties of Italian bread and dips.
It started with a roasted beet and casonsei pasta with smoked ricotta, pistachio and poppy seeds. Enlightening myself on the type of pasta, I was told that it was shaped by folding a sheet of pasta over the filling and pressing it together akin to a ravioli, only smaller and more delicate. The winner here was the crunchy and popping texture of the nutty, roasted pistachios (my favorite nuts) and poppy seeds, an unexpected addition to a refined dish, and definitely elevated over its the reputation of this ingredient in grocery store muffins! While I didn’t taste a strong smoked flavor from the ricotta, it was nonetheless a gratifying chees-y taste that came in bite-sized portions. The roasted beets added more gorgeous pink color to the artistic plate than flavor, but as the dish came to an end they began leaving a sweet and content aftertaste in a dancing mouth. And even the beets, like the poppy seeds, had found a visiting home from their staple as a beet and goat cheese salad!
Next, I opted for yet another savory dish before the trio of treats. A summer truffle and truffle sabayon gnochetti was served with integrated greens, and an oversized dollop of truffle foam! Resembling what a seemed like a soapy aftermath, it was definitely not the trick of gastronomy that I anticipated at a refined Italian outpost. With an inclination to try it in isolation, it tasted unlike its soapy appearance, and actually had a strong truffle flavor. Perhaps one that would have been too strong as a liquid, making the foam a more technical, than visual, option. The truffle flavors were strong in the dish, whisking me back to Milan, and the potato fillings were scarce, albeit tasty whenever I gobbled a mouthful.
With the fear of having no more room to stomach desserts, I sat up straight to dig into the assembly line of desserts that made their way to my table. Starting with one that was, naturally, soaked in all sorts of chocolate.
I started with the Varhona chocolate cake with butterscotch and a salted caramel gelato. Dressed like a veil and a dollop of makeup droplets, it was almost Venetian to look at, and the darkness of the chocolate was most enticing. With a lust for dark chocolate, I dug into the cake, which was a dense, liquid brownie texture of sorts. When scooped up with the sauce, it was chocolate upon chocolate for the wildest of fantasies. With an almost molten quality, the cake was incomparable. The caramel gelato was not saccharine, and its bitter undertones complemented the cake well. The butterscotch touille, while adding texture and vibrant beauty to the plate, was the trickiest to integrate with the rest, as I found myself eating it from my other hand as a wafer to add a textural crunch. After a while, I resorted to breaking it up into bits and folding it into my gelato so I could inhale it in even bites.
Almost as a palette cleanser, the next dessert was a blackberry curd tartaletta with market stone fruits and yogurt sorbet. With the fruits cut and folded like open florets or trumpet horns, this was a musical ode to summer. Blackberry curd was densely packed into spheres like frosting on a cake, only as a filling for a texture-rich almond tart. Predictably sour in taste, it retained both color and flavor which gelled tastefully into the canvas of almond and dough. The yogurt sorbet tasted just like well refrigerated yogurt, and with the eyes closed, one almost felt they were indulging in a healthy fruity yogurt snack. Beneath the floral bouquet was a lemon caramel sauce in scarce portions, alongside a few hints of torched lemon meringue. Both gave a sour lemon feel to the otherwise fruit rich dessert, aptly redefining that deconstructed flavors could still be reconstructed into a awe-evoking dish.
Ending the signature Italian meal was a lemon and olive oil cake, the mere memory of which whisked me away to Tuscany, Italy. It was accompanied by strawberries, mascarpone gelato, and candied pistachios. The addition of this favorite nut in both my starting and ending courses completed the culinary sequence in cyclic style, which I found childishly amusing and gratifying.
Having had one of the best olive oil cakes in both Vegas and Chicago, this one was on the dryer side, with a less obvious olive flavor. While some liked that the formerly quirky combination was subtle, I missed the layer of olive oil that flirts with the tongue as you chew. The strawberries were fresh and juicy, the pistachios sweet and crunchy, so it made for an all encompassing bite. The gelato was sweet, but despite its vanilla appearance, had the impeccable taste of mascarpone cheese! That alone ended up pulling the dish together as an inventive take on recombining familiar flavors.
The inventiveness and impeccably artistic plating of the dishes was spot on, redeeming the flagship restaurant from its languishing rumors. Doubling up on art and inventiveness, it was something that I’d have to mention to Scott Conant the next time I bump into him at NYCWFF.
Till then, where can I next outdo my vicarious craving for a multitude of desserts?