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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Something about the Spaghetti

Monday night I had a wonderful meal at Scarpetta...all 5 courses and 19 dishes of it.  Chef Scott Conant - known for his chef-y awards, his appearances on Food Network, and his cutie patootie looks - picked some of his favorites from the menu and prepared us a crazy-good meal.  I know it was good because I stopped drinking my wine so I could fully enjoy the manly, leather, mahogany, and marble surroundings and all the food that was served within them - no alcoholic distractions.  Here it goes, start to finish (sorry the pics - the ones I got, at least - were mostly taken after the food was on my plate and not in original presentations):

For the first course, we had a plate of crispy fritto misto (fried seafood and veggies - fine, but what you'd expect from any Italian restaurant) and the tuna susci (marinated vegetables and preserved truffle wrapped in raw tuna - an interesting take on sushi that was good but not my absolute favorite).  I know you're thinking my comments are not super-praising but that's because I haven't told you about the raw yellowtail that was drizzled with olio di zenzero and flaked sea salt.  So few ingredients but those three simple ingredients knew how to work it.  Perfect execution - one of the best dishes of the evening.

Course number two came out and I was just getting my palate warmed up.  We had the burrata with sicilian-spiced pear and arugula, which was good but nothing even close to the other two dishes in this course.  I'm not sure which I liked better, the braised short ribs that fell apart over a bed of creamy vegetable and farro risotto or the creamy polenta (and by creamy, I mean a bowl of buttery, cheesy nirvana with a few bits of cornmeal thrown in) with fricassee of truffled mushrooms.  Tough choice.  I had second spoonfuls of both to help my decision but still loved them both too much to pick.

The third course was all about pasta, and it was truly exceptional.  I have read plenty of blog posts and restaurant reviews that rave about the spaghetti.  It was even featured on Food Network's "Best Thing I Ever Ate," but I still didn't think there could be anything so spectacular about spaghetti with a little tomato sauce and basil.  Now I get it.  The pasta was unbelievably fresh and there was just barely enough sauce to keep it from drying out but still allow the pasta to be the star.  The other two pastas were just as good with the same perfect sauce to noodle ratio.  There black tagliolini with seafood ragu and basil breadcrumbs and a sweet short rib and bone marrow agnolotti with garlic chips and fresh horseradish.  This course was definitely my favorite of the evening.  To whomever is in charge of the pasta making in the back of that kitchen, consider this my proposal; I want to marry you.
Famous spaghetti on left
Up fourth we had the black cod with roasted fennel and concentrated tomato and the roasted sirloin with baby vegetables, potatoes, and pickled shallots.  Both were good but somewhat forgettable.  The spiced duck breast with celery root puree, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and pistachios, however, was very good.  The duck cut like a tender piece of good meat - in fact, I liked this piece of poultry better than the actual meat at the table.

There were three desserts listed on our personal menus but the waiters ended up bringing out seven.  I can't even remember all of them, which means they weren't that amazing - but that's not saying too much because I am much more of a savory person.  (Another bowl of pasta, please?!)  They don't need to all be good - one perfect sweet treat is all I need to end the meal.  The molten chocolate cake was very good (not overly original but exceptionally gooey), but it was the coconut panna cotta in guava soup with caramelized pineapple that I loved.  Guava is not a flavor you find all that often and I found it refreshing.
My fave (panna cotta on left)
Frank Bruni gave Scarpetta a three star rave review in the New York Times, and it lived up to my expectations.  Scott Conant gave new meaning to spaghetti and the other dishes worked as further proof that there's something good goin on this Chelsea restaurant.  I would have told him exactly that when he came over to chat it up with our table, but I was too starstruck to do anything but giggle.

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