Sunday, October 2, 2011

Scarpetta 09/22/2011

225 N Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 860-7970

Though I had an opportunity to visit Scarpetta on opening night, I had just come back from 10 straight nights of fine dining in DC and neither my wallet nor my stomach could handle another excessive dinner. Still feedback from my friends (particularly KevinEats who called this the best Italian meal of his life) ensured that I would visit Scarpetta at some point.

CREAMY POLENTA - fricasse of truffled mushrooms
Possessing a smooth velvety texture and an undercurrent of sweet corn, the polenta certainly lives up to its name. The polenta would have been a bit monolithic on its own, but the weight is beautifully offset by the robust savor of the mushroom fricasse and the accompanying concentrated dark earthiness of the gravy.

RAW YELLOWTAIL - olio de zenzero & pickled red onion
The yellowtail was typically supple and lush, but the typically clean flavor was substantially augmented by the ginger oil. I found the forceful salinity of the fish quite enjoyable, but I understand how my companion found it overly strong.

TUNA "SUSCI" - marinated vegetables & preserved truffles
This was even better than the yellowtail and the best tuna crudo I've ever had. Tuna is such a mild fish that it is easily overwhelmed but despite the expressive interplay between the tangy vegetables and heady truffles, the clean flavor of the fish managed to come through.

ROASTED SEA SCALLOPS - charred asparagus puree, agro dolce onions, chanterelles & truffle emulsion
This was probably my favorite course of the night. The scallops are cooked perfectly with a golden brown exterior enveloping a pink almost creamy interior. The earthy essence of the mushrooms played well with the scallops while interplay between the caramelized sweetness of the onion and the bitter grassiness of the asparagus raised the dish to even greater heights.

SPAGHETTI - tomato & basil
The humble spaghetti is Conant's signature dish and the rave reviews surrounding this course were what brought me to Scarpetta in the first place. Though the sauce is a mix of tomato and basil that certainly doesn't lack for flavor: bright and sweet with an aromatic vibrancy. The noodles are equally impressive with a dense yet supple texture that exudes a comforting rusticity. The dish is by no means complex but its simplicity makes it easy to appreciate the perfection inherent in of every facet of this pasta.

BLACK LOBSTER TAGLIOLINI - lobster & basil breadcrumbs
I had a hard time deciding between the this and the pasta with summer truffles but picked the lobster tagliolini based on the recommendation of our waiter. This was a good choice, compared to the focused simplicity of the spaghetti, this was substantially more complex. The pasta itself is imbued with a salinity thanks to the coating of squid ink, the perfect accompaniment to the bits of tender lobster. Again the flavors of tomato and basil are present, but subservient to the the brine of the lobster and noodles themselves.

PUREE OF CHILLED PEA SOUP - crab, riesling & tarragon
This course was a failure on many fronts. First, it was somehow left off our order, but to our waiter's credit, when we informed him that we hadn't received the dish yet he rushed the order through. Unfortunately, in the kitchen's haste they screwed the soup up and instead of a creamy soup, we got a thin watery mess. When I mentioned this to our waiter he was quick to take it off the bill. Though I was disappointed by the course, I understand accidents happen and the staff did their best once the issue was brought to their attention.

VANILLA CARAMEL BUDINO - gianduja chocolate sable cookies
For dessert we decided to share a caramel budino. The sweetness of the decadent pudding is quite restrained and further balanced by a liberal sprinkling of salt. The chocolate cookies and crunchy bits atop the budino served to add textural contrast to the thick creamy body of the pudding itself

I had high expectations for Scarpetta, and for the most part the restaurant met them. The food has the humble rusticity characteristic of Italian fare, but presented with contemporary grace and polish. I certainly enjoyed my time and wouldn't mind a repeat visit to sample more of their hand-made pastas and some of the heavier entrees.

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