Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Scarpetta is not "parfait"

Last week, Mom and I ventured into the Meatpacking District for Sunday dinner. Our destination? Scarpetta, a place I'd been longing to visit for a while ever since I had heard about their vegetarian menu. We walked in, right on time for our early reservation, and were told to wait in the vestibule for a few moments by the hostess, who was clearly nonplussed about her job. Soon, we were led into the dining room, classy and understated and mercifully blessed with natural light pouring through the (literal) glass ceiling.

Our meal was marked by ups and downs. Our server seemed awkward and uncomfortable; ordering a glass of wine was a trial, and his recommendations (both for and against certain wines) were almost aggressive in tone. After a couple of false starts, I settled on a glass of Ribolla "Rubikon," a white that was innocuous enough.

Vino, barely white

The bread course was a highlight. Several different types of carbs, from sliced white bread to different types of focaccia to stromboli packed with salami and smoked mozzarella, made a feast fit for a king, and the three accompaniments-- mascarpone butter, a sundried tomato spread, and a spiced olive oil-- were divine (particularly the light, addictive mascarpone butter).

Mmmm bread

I had ordered one veggie appetizer as my entree and one veggie app to share with my mom as a side dish. I requested that they all be brought to the table together; our server said one should be brought first. He said, "I'd like to start you with something because the fish [my mom's selection] will take a while." I said, "don't worry about it" and figured he'd fire everything at once as we had agreed. Wrong! Before my glass of wine had even made it to the table, our shared dish of roasted mushrooms with porcini puree and fingerling potatoes was before us. Because the server's always right, right? Yeahhh. I ate some of the mushrooms; my mom held off until he entree arrived and was thus treated to a cold version of what was otherwise a very tasty dish. The mushrooms themselves were well-seasoned and delightful; the puree was savory and addictive; and the little potato coins were a nice bit of starch to round things out.

Better hot than cold

As the mushrooms sat there half-eaten, our entrees made their way to the table. Mom had chosen the black cod with caramelized fennel and concentrated tomatoes. The portion was on the small side, but Mom really enjoyed it, especially complimenting how well cooked it was.

Lots of orange

My entree was the heirloom tomatoes with marinated eggplant and baby greens. This was a curious dish; it was larger than I had expected, which was a plus, and it was filled with large chunks of tomatoes. Initially I had trouble finding the eggplant, until I realized that there were tiny ribbons of acidic, almost pickled eggplant buried in the mix. Quite curious. It's not a dish I would return for, but it was certainly creative and flavorful.

Last gasp of summer

We were both looking forward to dessert. Mom ordered the chocolate cake, sans espresso sauce; I convinced her to keep the burnt orange-caramel gelato on the plate, and the kitchen added a smear of caramel sauce to round out the mix. I can confidently say based on my tiny taste that this is one of the better molten chocolate cakes I've ever encountered. The cake was the right balance of cakey and fudgy, and the taste was just a bit extra-chocolatey with none of the burnt edge that some chocolate cakes can court. The gelato was also surprisingly good, a nice cool counterpoint to the warm cake.

Almost art deco

I had been choosing between the olive oil cake (concord grape sorbet and pears) and the chocolate & vanilla parfait (hazelnut milkshake and biscotti). I ultimately went with the parfait, and I can confidently say that I tweaked. Sadly, this was one of the worst desserts I've had in a while. The main dessert was a cup of layered mousse/pudding strata, milk and dark chocolate sandwiching vanilla. Texturally, all were fine, but taste-- where was the sweetness? I like desserts because I have a serious sweet tooth, and especially after dinner I crave something sugary to round out the meal. Those who really don't like sweet stuff might find this dessert alluring, but I found the whole thing flat and bland and not nearly sweet enough. Plus, the parfait included a layer of coffee gelee and a crown of coffee granita on top, both of which were powerfully bitter and overpowered the retiring chocolate and vanilla flavors. The whole thing ended up tasting mostly of coffee, a dessert flavor of which I'm not very fond. Had the menu mentioned coffee at all, I would have skipped this dessert entirely. The hazelnut milkshake was a shot of milk lightly flavored with hazelnut; the biscotti were just as you'd expect (dry, crumbly cookies). A bite of biscotto dipped in the milkshake was by far and away better than a bite of the parfait.

Makes me sad to look at

So I'll admit, I left Scarpetta somewhat disappointed. Service overall ranged from mildly unfriendly to stilted and awkward to unpleasant. Food had its ups-- the bread, the mushrooms-- and its low, low downs-- the parfait. And, of course, it's not at all cheap. Our meal (two apps, one entree, two desserts, one glass of wine) came out to around $100. Based on value for money and overall quality of experience, I can't wholeheartedly recommend Scarpetta. As a result, it earns a disappointing two Offset Spatulas and a slow, sad shake of my head.

355 W. 14th Street, at 9th Avenue

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