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Did I just get unlucky at Scarpetta?

  • j

Have been debating whether or not to post this, but decided I should and get people's opinions on whether I should give Scarpetta another shot.

Took the gf there for her birthday, which was Sat July 4. In short, liked but did not love one dish and left thinking that the experience we had couldn't have led to the raves Scarpetta gets from so many. So, my question is: do you think we got the B-team in the kitchen on Sat July 4? Do you think we would see what all the accolades are for if we try it on another night? I will say, the service was excellent - friendly and attentive; the bartender even brought over a bowl of chips from the bar when he saw me eyeing them as I went back to my table from the restroom.

My review in brief -

Bread basket - excellent as has been reported. Maybe the best single 'dish' of the meal

Apps - Polenta was very, very good. I wish I would have had that and the shortribs, but the gf is vegetarian, so no go. I do feel that the truffle oil is what makes the dish and that it is so much easier to make a tasty grain when truffle oil is introduced. But, still, a success. Her mozzarella in carozza was nice, but not great - the stewed tomatoes were very good and the cheese well prepared, but largely devoid of flavor.

Pasta - where it started to go downhill. I had the agnolotti and was very disappointed. The flavors were so muddled - it was so one note. Nothing bad about it, but I couldn't taste meat, not cheese nor pasta. The gf got the spaghetti, which was better, and the pasta was very well cooked, but I got very little acidity or herbage from the tomato sauce at all. An ok dish, but I prefer the version I get at Bianca to the preparation we tasted on this occasion.

Mains - I had the Capretto (goat) which was flavorful, but not refined. I found the braising liquid overpowering (the menu says roasted, but it tasted at least partially braised to me) and the accompaniments (pea shoots, etc) completely washed out.

Nothing was bad in the least - this is not a complaint - but, with the exception of the breadbasket and maybe the polenta, nothing amazed me. So, do I need to give it one more shot?

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  1. i love Scarpetta but your review sounds fair: it seems like you went w/ very high expectations and were somewhat underwhelmed...

    fwiw, you didn't try any of personal favs...for me, the best Scarpetta meal is done at the bar, and includes: yellowtail crudo, soup (asparagus in the spring/summer or chickpea in the fall), and the signature black cod, and many tastes&glasses of wine...if those dishes sound appealling, i'd say give it another try, and maybe sit at the bar and split dishes as a light-supper...

    one of my favorite things about Scarpetta is how well is works for a light meal (an early light supper or a hearty midnight snack)...i recently took a buddy of mine of mine there for his bday dinner (done as an early light supper before meeting up with other folks for drinks), and we sat at the bar and ordered the above three items (+1 soup) and plus one dessert, and it was stellar...

    3 Replies
    1. re: Simon

      I think you are right, Simon. I went in expecting it to be one of the better food experiences in NY, and, at least on this occasion, it wasn't. That is fine, but without a defining dish (a steak at a good steak house, say) or cuisine, at these prices, it means I won't go back. I recognize this is holding the bar high, but it did not compare at all, in my experience, to Babbo, EMP, Gramercy Tavern or even Blue Hill. I actually had a better meal at Commerce this year.

      The dishes you recommend all sound good to me, but I cant' imagine I ordered poorly - I did a ton of research and read raves about the polenta, spaghetti, agnolotti and capretto. The polenta and spaghetti had to have been the two most widely acclaimed of the bunch.

      I'm hoping somebody with more restaurant experience than I is going to tell me I'm an idiot for going to a fine dining establishment on July 4 and should try again on a random Tuesday. :)

      1. re: Jorel

        I certainly can't say you ordered poorly. Between the two of you, you ordered every one of my favorite dishes (except for the short rib). I'm on record that the polenta/short rib/spaghetti/capretto flight is the closest I have to a menu I'd give a guarantee on. I find the combination to be extroardinary, and each to be a defining dish. While I'd like to chalk it up to a "B-team" situation (and I'd say it's quite likely that you did get something of a B-team, but there's no excuse when you're paying full freight), it seems more likely to me that, instead, your tastes just differ from the number of others who think the dishes you ordered are excellent to extroardinary, and coincide with others who think, well, "meh". Mileages will vary...

        1. re: Jorel

          I have wanted to try this restaurant for awhile since it originallyy got so much acclaim. However, I have seen many negative reports about it recently. I wonder what is happening- has the hype finally caught up?

      2. What are the menu prices like? I'm headed there this weekend, and interested to know if it's worth the hype. If the price point is not too over the top we'll keep the reservations, but based on your review, if the prices are outrageous, we may reconsider.

        15 Replies
        1. re: lnyc

          Mind you, I'm not arguing with Jorel's review. Tastes can differ and all that, and I will not argue that you should keep a reservation at Scarpetta's price point if you're having your doubts. I will note, however, that there have been several recent threads on Scarpetta, with some who find it overrated but also, I think it's fair to say, a solid (perhaps greater) number who love the place. Given that tastes can differ, I can only tell you that my personal experiences there have been awesome and you should consider giving it a try for yourself and seeing where you fall on the spectrum.

          1. re: planetjess

            I agree. Please don't cancel the reservation because of my review! I'm a pretty educated eater with a decent palate, but I'm not even in the top 20% of trusted reviewers around these parts.

            I was underwhelmed by my meal - and I still really want it to be a B-team issue - which I have been by other places before, but never from a restaurant so widely acclaimed as Scarpetta. I've decided to try it again myself (though not on my dime), but, with pastas $20+ and entrees around $30, this wouldn't even make my top 10 in the city for that price range.

            1. re: Jorel

              I agree, Jorel. We went for our first wedding anniversary with quite high hopes. We had almost an identical menu as yours and found everything OK, but definitely not transcendent. Thankfully, we went during Scarpetta's anniversary week, where it was $50 per person prix fixe, so we didn't mortgage the house or anything.

          2. re: lnyc

            It ticks me off royally that Scarpetta does not consider it necessary to include prices on the website's menu. It reeks of that old expression, "If you have to ask, you can't afford it!"

            So, planetjess, what are the "price points"?

            1. re: RGR

              'It ticks me off royally that Scarpetta does not consider it necessary to include prices on the website's menu. It reeks of that old expression, "If you have to ask, you can't afford it!"'

              I don't think that is the case at all. Most restaurants have the knowledge to code their own sites so it's just easier to list items without prices lest the prices increase and having angry customers who come in expecting the prices listed on the site.

              1. re: KTinNYC

                KTinNYC,

                Most restaurant websites have prices, and the majority manage to keep the menus up-to-date, including pricing. And that includes restaurants where the menu changes seasonally.

                The people I know prefer to have an *approximate* idea of what the costs will be *before* they go to a restaurant. And it wouldn't bother them if it turns that prices on the menu don't match exactly those on the website.

                I also agree with Jorel that the overall design of Scarpetta's website is awful.

                1. re: RGR

                  Many web sites don't have prices on the menus, I'm checking some randomly.

                  No Prices:
                  Daniel
                  Momofuku
                  Waverly Inn (No web site)

                  Prices
                  EMP
                  Jean George
                  Convivio
                  Craft

                  So there are many that have prices but I really wouldn't say that "most" have prices on the menu.

                  1. re: KTinNYC

                    All the restaurants owned by Daniel Boulud have prices, including his flagship. The menus at Daniel are prix fixes. You need to scroll down to the bottom of the menus to see the costs.

                    Waverly Inn really doesn't count since Graydon Carter treats it and Monkey Bar as semi-private clubs. Ergo, he doesn't feel he needs to bother with websites.

                    Thus far, you've only listed one website -- the Momofuku group -- that does not have prices.

                    I still hold to my contention that *most* restaurants *do* include prices.

                    1. re: RGR

                      Waverly Inn is a semi-private club? Okay. I guess I'm a semi-member.

              2. re: RGR

                Antipasti around $12-15, Primi $18-22 and Secondi $25-35 if I recall correctly. And I agree that it is annoying. It is easy to change the prices. Scarpetta's website is cumbersome to use as well.

                1. re: Jorel

                  How were the portion sizes? And does anyone know if it is possible to order a pasta as an appetizer at half price or is the pasta small enough to be an app?

                  1. re: steakrules85

                    The portion sizes were quite generous.

                    I don't believe you can order a half portion of pasta.

                    1. re: steakrules85

                      No, unfortunately, they do not offer half orders of pasta.

                      1. re: rrems

                        Actually, they have a late night menu now from 10pm to 1am. all half portions. went on a recent tuesday around 12:30am for basil spaghetti and glasses of lambrusco. (nice.) I think people expect too much from Scarpetta. i wouldn't choose it for a huge evening out, but for a late, light meal at the bar, yes please.

                  2. re: RGR

                    I'm sorry--I don't want to give bad information and I honestly don't remember, as I don't often pay attention to the prices there--I have it slotted on my "once every two months kind of special occasion" list, which means to me that it's a bit more expensive than, say, Perilla, and quite a bit less expensive than Daniel. When I do get there I just order what I like and give them my card at the end and that's it. I want to say pastas are in the high teens or low twenties and the entrees are high twenties, low thirties, but I just can't be sure. I do know that dinner for two with an app, primi and secondi each, plus the polenta, a split dessert and a low-medium end bottle of wine came to about $260 last time, including tax and tip.

                2. The original comment has been removed
                  1. We were among the few (on this board) who were tremendously underwhelmed by our experience at Scarpetta. We were there shortly after it opened and were quite excited to find it as we were staying in Chelsea. I have since been amazed at the adoration lavished on it. ...But, it's not enough to make us consider going back.

                    1. Just to add another dimension to the views on this thread (and I preface this with a disclaimer that it's been almost a year since my last trip to scarpetta - I've been twice).

                      The first time I went, was about a month after it opened and Scott Conant was at the Maitre D' table welcoming guests (we had an early-ish reservation) and by 7:15 he was back in the kitchen. So we know he was in the kitchen that night.

                      The second visit, there were a couple VIPs in the room and it was a thursday evening, and the waitstaff was very interested in discussing the meal with us, what we liked, what we disliked, and why. So we got the impression that Mr Conant was also present as well.

                      Both of these meals were standouts and save for one entree that slightly missed the mark for us, both meals were pretty near perfection.

                      I would guess that on the 4th of July you probably got the "B" team, and while the B team at scarpetta is better than the A team at many other places in the city, I could definitely see how the meal could end up falling flat. This doesn't make it okay... I firmly believe in the Batali philosophy (probably not Batali-created, just noted in "Heat") that a diner should be able to have the exact same dish prepared the exact same way any time they visit the restaurant.

                      The problem then becomes if the B team does not perform up to the standards of the A team, then what's the point of visiting the restaurant at all as it would be impossible to determine who is there on what night.

                      It could be that Scott Conant is looking for his next Michael White, who he trained at Alto and L'impero (now Convivio) and ended up taking those two places over and building on their success. But it's clear from many of the threads on these boards that Conant has yet to find that person who can make Scarpetta shine when he is not there.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Spends Rent on Food

                        The facts in your last paragraph are wrong. No way did Conant ever "train" Michael White. Obviously, you know nothing about White's pedigree. He came to NYC from Chicago, where he was the executive chef of the excellent restaurant, Spiaggia. Here, he became executive chef at the upscale Fiamma and earned three stars from the "NY Times." When Conant split with his business partner, Chris Cannon, and left L'Impero and Alto (the split was not amicable), there was no executive chef for several months until White left Fiamma and teamed up with Cannon. Alto, with Conant in charge, received only two stars. Under White, it received three stars, as did Convivio.

                        The reason Conant is not around all the time is that he is now busy building the franchise. He's already opened another Scarpetta in Miami Beach.

                        1. re: RGR

                          RGR, Thank you for exposing my obvious insufficient knowledge of what happened at L'impero and Alto. I had taken this information on good faith from a friend whose culinary information is usually accurate. But I stand corrected.

                          So taking this into account into the context of this thread, maybe Conant's places just can't function without him.

                          1. re: Spends Rent on Food

                            Hey, SPoF,

                            I hope I didn't come across as being too pedantic. I'm a fan of Michael White's cookiing, so I just wanted to set the record straight. :)

                            1. re: RGR

                              RGR, no worries, we're all passionate about food/restaurants/chefs in NYC or else we wouldn't be here. It was a sloppy post on my part, I should check my facts before posting.

                              Plus as a huge fan of what Michael White does at Alto and Convivio, it's good to have the real story on his background.

                          2. re: RGR

                            Aah.. The facts in your post are not correct either, there was always a exec chef , at no time ever was alto or limpero without a chef, and white had not been with fiamma for quite some time before he started at alto.... Remember Fabio Trabocch?i

                            1. re: farang

                              You are right about White having left Fiamma some time before he hooked up with Cannon. And my recollection is that he didn't take over immediately after Conant left. So, if what you say is true about L'Impero and Alto always having an "exeutive chef," who was in that position between Conant's departure and White's arrival?

                          3. re: Spends Rent on Food

                            I love the Michael White comment above. Classic.