When in doubt about which restaurant to select for my fiancé’s birthday dinner, I went with the simplest strategy; I chose the one he’d seemed most enthusiastic about trying during the past few months: Scarpetta, located in New York City’s West Village. Opened in 2008 by celebrity chef Scott Conant, it received a three-star review from the New York Times and New York Magazine, which lauded the restaurant for being “fresh and forward-thinking.” Though Conant has since moved on to other projects, Scarpetta continues to receive praise for its homemade pasta and tasty Italian fare. In fact, Todd exclaimed after our meal, “That was the best birthday dinner I’ve ever had.”
After seeing Avenue Q off-Broadway (great show!), Todd and I ambled down Eighth Avenue, jotting into our phones the names of eateries we’d like to visit in the future. Though our Scarpetta reservation wasn’t until 6:30 p.m., we arrived a half hour early and the waitstaff seated us with no problem. With minimalistic yet sleek decor, the dining room had a soft, comfortable ambience. We pored over the menu; debated just how much food to order, unsure of portion sizes; and spied on neighboring diners to determine what looked good. In the meantime, we were served a bread basket filled with delicious samplings, from rosemary Foccaccia to a crusty roll made at Sullivan Street Bakery. On the side we had an eggplant spread, an olive oil dip, and creamy mascarpone.
We decided on two appetizers. The first: burrata and heirloom tomatoes with a black garlic and eggplant spread. The burrata melted, soft and creamy, in our mouths, and the eggplant spread had a smooth, rich flavor that worked really well when slathered on a warm, chewy piece of bread.
The second: a crispy fritto misto that combined calamari, shrimp, squash, and eggplant. The fish was fresh and the vegetables hinted at healthfulness despite each item having been battered and fried.
Because we felt really hungry and because the couple next to us ordered three entrees, we chose several different pastas to share as our main meal. The simplest in conception—yet complex in flavor—was the spaghetti with tomato sauce and basil. At $24, it was probably the most expensive spaghetti I’ve ever purchased, but it also tasted the best. Chunky tomatoes gave it some texture, the basil offered a slight kick, and the handmade pasta retained just the right amount of firmness.
Next we sampled a dish of agnolotti stuffed with short rib and bone marrow and glazed with a garlicky horseradish sauce. With rich and hearty flavors and a juicy filling, this pasta left me feeling the most satisfied. I felt it was more worth its $26 price tag, especially because it wasn’t something I would normally make at home.
Our last pasta definitely wasn’t something I’ll ever make at home: duck and foie gras ravioli drizzled with a marsala reduction. Though I found the texture of the filling to be a little pasty, each bite burst with an unexpectedly delicious flavor that lingered long after I’d swallowed a morsel. And the marsala sauce was just the right balance of sweet and salty.
Of course, no matter how much we eat, we always have room for dessert! The first, an espresso budino, a Italian pudding. Ours had a strong flavor and came topped with tasty hazelnut gelato and with a chocolate biscotti on the side. Though we had ordered a cappuccino to go with dessert, the budino more than filled my coffee craving.
Soft, sweet, and creamy, the espresso budino seemed like the perfect dessert… until I had a bite of the mascarpone cheesecake. It came surrounded by glazed peaches and stone fruits, with a subtly sweet coconut gelato on the side. The cheesecake itself was moist and thick, and extremely, wonderfully cheesy. Definitely one of the best desserts I’ve ever had!
Overall, despite a somewhat hefty price tag, Scarpetta is worth the trip into the city. The waitstaff was pleasant and accommodating, and the food felt like a fresh, contemporary take on classic Italian fare. I highly recommend this restaurant—and if you go, let me know what you order!