Scarpetta, in my mind, is one of the most well-known Italian dining establishments in New York City. Mention Scarpetta to a past visitor and chances are they’re a die-hard fan. With such a reputation, Scarpetta has been on my Must Try list for ages, but getting a reservation at a reasonable hour is a struggle (“only 5pm or 10pm available this Tuesday…”). Finally, I was given the opportunity to check out this mysterious gem / long-time fantasy for a team gathering, and left ample belly space the day of to make sure I arrived capable and eager to taste enough to give this supposedly incredible a fair assessment. Fortunately I wasn’t paying 🙂
Scarpetta is in the heart of the Meatpacking District, so I expected the same sceney-swanky vibe like that of Buddakan, or Abe and Arthur’s, or other over-hyped (despite decent) restaurants in the area. I was immediately proven wrong – the vibrancy and “cool” factor is still there, but the soft colors and warming lighting give it a sense of both elegance and comfort lacking at most restaurants. No pumping house music in the background, no snooty bartenders, no warehouse ceilings, and last but not least, space for 5 at the bar! I was instantly quite impressed.
My perspective on the service is mixed. Our waiter was young, natural, and personable, totally open to our questions and obviously eager about the restaurant’s food. When he was around, he was charming and accommodating. However, when he disappeared, there was no sign of him ever returning. Wait time between courses was far too long, and simple requests for more wine or salt and pepper required a belting of “excuse me sir!” Probably to be expected due to the crowd – and it wouldn’t stop me from coming back again.
Ok ok, on to the food. Firstly and most importantly, the bread basket…Scarpetta basically had me at hello. Before even ordering our food, we were handed a bountiful basket of meat and cheese filled spirals, soft foccacia, and crusty Italian rolls with an array of ricotta-whipped butter, eggplant caponata, and olive oil. Rule of Thumb: Exceeded bread expectations generally equals start to an excellent meal.
After attempting to restrain myself from bread, I tried virtually everything that touched the table. Do the same if you have the stamina. To start, we ordered the Creamy Polenta with Truffed Mushrooms, the Raw Yellowtail, and the Tagliatelle with Truffles and Parmesan.
Each dish was simply yet beautifully plated and utterly delectable in their own right, but the Tagliatelle received by far the most attention. The pasta, creamy, silky, and buttery, sat under the biggest mound of shaved truffles I have ever witnessed. At $42, this dish is quite the treat but worth every penny, and totally justified compared to the typical claiming-to-be-truffle-filled courses that arrive with three microscopic black specs.
By main course time my belly was feeling quite full, but once the Black Cod with caramelized fennel and sundried tomatoes reached the table I was back in the game. With melt in your mouth texture, perfectly crispy skin, and delicate yet bold seafood flavor, this cod was probably one of the best Italian fish dishes I have ever tasted.
For a more simple, yet equally solid dish, I would recommend Scarpetta’s famous “Spaghetti Tomato & Basil” – sounds boring but the uniquely dense homemade noodles and light, yet ample tomato sauce make this dish seem unique.
The Roasted Chicken with parsnip puree was also very tender and flavorful, and another great picky-eater option. For the adventurous the Black Tagliolini with mixed seafood and sea urchin broth is a gold medal. While the dishes were on the heavier side, their unique flavors and textures made it worth rolling out of the restaurant at the end of meal. After dessert, that is.
I went a bit crazy for dessert – purely as a result of that incentive you get to eat more food once you’ve eaten so much already – like there’s no turning back so you just keep going, consequences totally out of mind. So, instead of ordering 1 for the table, I ordered 3: the Chocolate Cake (HOLY MOLY BEST CHOCOLATE DESSERT EVER), the Chestnut Cake with prune ice cream, and the Banana Budino (what is that?) with pecan gelato and oat tuile. My intention to try one bite of each absolutely failed after trying one bite of each. The chocolate cake had that intense, chocolate flavor that sadly is so rare in chocolate desserts, and the accompanying burnt orange caramel gelato really brought out its true flavors. Though the Chestnut Cake wasn’t my favorite, I’d definitely recommend it to those non-chocolate dessert fans (not sure who because I don’t associate with them).
Hopefully you’re convinced that Scarpetta’s label as a “must-try” is justified. If not, maybe the fact that I’m sitting here wishing for more truffled tagliatelle despite my stomach-pinching elastic pants gives you ample proof. If you visit Scarpetta, definitely reserve in advance and eat VERY lightly that day – it would be a shame if you didn’t have sufficient stomach space to taste the bounty of treats its menu has to offer!
Address: 355 West 14th Street near 9th avenue (near The Diner)