I made reservations for 8:30 on a Thursday night about 3-4 weeks in advance and luckily before Bruni from the Times gave it three stars and everyone in the tri state area ran to get a reservation. And truthfully, three stars it deserves.
The restaurant is absolutely beautiful. You walk in and it's got these huge vaulted ceilings. It's sleek and long and simply elegant. My friend and i were seated in the back room with the skylight. Since it was already dark, there was no natural light but the restaurant was lit beautifully and the glassed ceiling only added to the feeling of airiness in the room. I will agree with other reviewers of this restaurant that i had read and warn future diners, the place is indeed very loud. I strained to hear my companion speak.
The service is very much like any other fine dining restaurant. The servers are attentive and switch your various plates with every meal along with the table ware. But let's get to the good part: the food.
I had read many reviews prior to getting to Scarpetta and knowing how hot it might get, I made sure to order everything my hearts desired and only those dishes I knew would be excellent as i didn't know when i might score another reservation.
The bread basket is great. You get a choice of three but the one that stands out the most is the one with proscuitto rolled into it. YUM! Salty and mealy on the inside, crispy bread on the outside. They give you three condiments. A creamy butter that was like whipped air, an eggplant tapanade (my favorite) and excellent olive oil that had a very light lemony aftertaste.
We started with three appetizers. The creamy polenta had heavy cream and butter folded into it. The corn grains were so fine i wouldn't have known it was polenta in a blind taste test. It was creamy and rich and decadent and comes with a side of mushrooms in some kind of gravy which is poured over the polenta and eaten together. The creaminess of the polenta combined with the earthy more grounded flavors of the mushroom were a perfect marriage.
We also had the appetizer of spare ribs. The portion is in fact very small. Four small slices of meat are presented on top of a beefy flavored orzo. The orzo i was not insane about but let me tell you the spare ribs were perfectly cooked. Slightly pink and fell apart at the touch of my fork and knife. I had read to have the spare ribs with the polenta and just as the mushroom gravy complemented the creaminess of the polenta, the spare ribs did the same thing but with a different textural experience. I wanted a whole plate of the spare ribs.
To cut the heaviness of the other two appetizers, we then had the scallop crudo app. The scallop is raw, cubed and presented with avocados and bits of citrus (i think it was grapefruit). There was just the right amount of acid to bring out the sweetness in the scallop as the avocados brought out the soft texture of the scallop. Scallops were so sweet and tender that it was hard to discern which was the avocado and which was a scallop in your mouth. It was light and airy and tasted of the sea.
For main courses, I ordered one of Conant's signature pasta dish from Alto: agnolotti dal plin, that is little pasta pouches stuffed with ground pork and melted fontina cheese in a sort of butter (or olive oil) and parmesan based sauce. I tell you, those things melt in your mouth upon contact. The filling is VERY light...not as heavy and thick as you would think. The outer pasta surrounding the filling was not doughy at all but the perfect thickness to go with that light creamy filling. I couldn't stop popping them in my mouth! I will go back and have this dish again it was so excellent. We CLEANED that plate.
My friend ordered the calamarata pasta with seafood. Calamarata is essentially round fat pasta that looks very much like calamari. The seafood in the dish was mussles, clams, shrimp and apparently uni (although i didn't see chunks of uni -- supposedly it had melted into the sauce along with the panko breadcrumbs that were apparently in there). This dish was definitely my least favorite of all dishes we had. It was oversalted and lacked any creativity....it didn't have the "oooo ahhhh" factor the other dishes had once it touched my mouth. It was just very similar to any sort of oil based seafood pasta dish found in any other italian restaurant. My friend and i ended up picking out the bits of seafood and left most of the pasta.
Bonus: accidentally, the waiter brought us Conant's famous spaghetti pomodoro earlier instead of my agnolotti. Because it was a kitchen mistake, we got to have the plate for free. We were both very happy as we both eyed the dish on the menu but opted to pick more "interesting" dishes. The pasta is pretty simple. It's al dente spaghetti tossed in fresh tomato sauce and basil. It was VERY good which was surprising since one would think such a dish would not be so difficult to mimic. Something about that sauce: whether the tomatoes were sweeter than any i've tasted or perhaps it is the olive oil used but the flavors were very vibrant and fresh -- esp compared to the briny Calamarata dish and the more rich Agnolotti. So simple but SO good. My friend gobbled most of that down as i was preoccupied with the agnolotti :)
We washed this all down with a bottle of Rose Prosecco (forgive me but i forget the name of the bottle).
We rolled out of there stuffed.
For those that care, I noted that celebrities are clearly hitting the restaurant so try and get there before the buzz gets even stronger.
The night was absolutely delicious and in my opinion, totally worth the hype.