Faustina//not quite Scarpetta…yet

Hello, Chef.

We knew it was early to be trying Faustina given that it’s been open for 2 weeks but being huge fans of Scarpetta, we really could not resist the temptation of Scott Conant’s wise “Italian-as-interpreted-by-other-cultures” ways on a cold winter night.

It began with five of us in the rather masculine bar area which is interesting considering the restaurant is “named after a Roman empress whose monument is the only building inside the Roman Forum dedicated to a woman”. The decor runs towards the Scarpetta equation of dark leather cocktail seats, tall wood tables and dark tiles lining the undulating ceiling. Not bad considering the team had four weeks to transform the former-and-never-opened Table 8 space into Faustina.

As we were drinking rather delicious but uninspired cocktails in a cold room and mulling over the sharable menu choices, we had agreed to start with the roasted beets with pink peppercorns and taleggio, tuna and avocado “salad”, and Mediterranean octopus with fingerling potatoes and olive oil. These dishes were all about the combination of flavors and the whole of the dishes being more than the sum of its parts: the filthy and stinky taleggio creates a nice balance with the sweet beets while the combination of tuna + avocado has exisited since time eternal. Nice, but again, uninspired.

The second course was all about the pastas: naturally, we had to order Chef Conant’s self-proclaimed “sex-in-a-bowl” pasta with sea urchin and tomato sauce. We also decided on the cannelloni with burrata and baby tomatoes to satisfy the burrata addict in all of us. Surprisingly, the cannelloni won by leaps and bounds. It was hearty, homey, warm and heavy; just delicious and gooey. Everything you want in cannelloni. The sea urchin pasta? Well, if that was “sex-in-a-bowl” then I’ll have to slip out the door quietly at 4am. It just wasn’t that good…but I wanted it to be…

Next up was the grande dame of dinner: the meat course. We tried the short ribs of beef with spaetzle plus the pork belly with potato and grain mustard, and for sides the eggplant with pork shoulder, truffled cabbage and the mushrooms. Seven words for the short ribs: do it to me one more time; the tender texture and flavorful meat coupled with the chewy texture of the spaetzle was a real delight. The pork belly was also rather tasty especially with the texture-lending, crisp piece of bacon it was served with. The sides were just ok (save for the woodsy and very fresh mushrooms).¬† The eggplant and pork shoulder was overpowered¬† by a heavy hand of rosemary.The cabbage was as good as anything “truffled”.

The three desserts we ordered were accompanied by a nice bottle of Muscado d’Asti which finished off the meal on a civilized-version-of-inebriation tip. The date pudding with currant compote and prune ice cream was a clear winter winner; the slightly sticky and dense pudding (more of a moist “cake”) wasn’t too sweet and left us with a warm and fuzzy holiday dessert feeling.

I won’t dare to comment on the service. It’s not fair given Faustina is two weeks old and still has a few kinks to work out before it reaches Scarpetta A-list level.

All in all a warm, hearty meal with dynamite potential. I will be back to for short ribs and date pudding. And, maybe, another chance to sneek a peek at Scott Conant.

Faustina @ The Cooper Square Hotel
25 Cooper Square, NYC
(212) 475-3400

Yummy, thank you

Another summer night in NYC brings me another last minute ressie, this time at Scarpetta, Scott Conant’s uptown-goes-downtown Italian eatery. As the former chef/owner of L’Impero and Alto, Conant mastered the art of the high end Midtown Italian resto and after taking a self-imposed hiatus for about a year, he opened Scarpetta in May. Here, he has mastered the art of refined Italian cookery – rustic, peasant food this is not.

I almost walked by Scarpetta as the entrance is relatively unassuming on a patch of West 14th street that (thankfully) borders the Meatpacking District (aka: the B&T District, gross). You enter into a very cool yet warm room with slick wood details and a marble bar. In the front lies “tavern” area where reservations are not needed (a la a Danny Meyer resto) and along the lengeth of the room runs the long marble bar where me and my two lovely ladies sat down for a glass of refreshing prosecco prior to our meal. We were seated on time in the main dining room with a gorgeous glass ceiling and masculine, leather details that I wasn’t particularly fond of (mirror on the walls? no thanks). There was a festive feel to the atmosphere that was compounded by the Euro trash sitting behind us taking photos of themselves sitting on each others laps (klassy). As we had been sitting at the bar catching up for an hour, we quickly ordered a wonderful, floral, fruity bottle of Rocca di Monte Vermentino and sat down to a few must-have dishes: The Creamy Polenta with a fricassee of truffled mushrooms and the Buratta with pickled julienned eggplant. Both were just divine – I will never forget that polenta – it was perfection. Conant has a sort of Midas touch with simple ingredients, turning polenta (cornmeal) into a luxurious, dimepiece dish by adding Parmesan and cream and topping it off with truffled mushrooms. The buratta was, of course, stunning. It is my favorite fromage so I am never disappointed. The pickled eggplant was so interesting and had a mushroom-like texture that I mistook it for Enoki mushrooms at first. It lent a nice contrast to the creamy buratta.

Next up were the pastas. Of course, we ordered the spaghetti simply described on the menu as “spaghetti, tomato & basil”, this was, after all, what Frank Bruni has been raving about. Although I have some reservations about a $24 pasta + tomoto sauce dish, this one was excellent. The pasta was perfectly cooked and the sauce was clean and we all detected some heat (some sort of red pepper?). I don’t know, but it certainly was delicious. We also had the cavatelli with ceci (chickpeas), pancetta & bitter greens which has a crazy interesting texture – the mushy peas, the al dente pasta and the meaty pancetta made for quite the interesting mouth feel (heee).

After we ensured there was no food left on the table, we chatted about the usual, hair, makeup and boys until we decided to flip through the dessert menu. Knowing I was with a certain gal, I knew we were ordering two (yay!). We decided on the Chocolate and Vanilla Parfait with a hazelnut milkshake and biscotti along with the Caramelized Apple “Pie” with a polenta crust, black pepper-caramel sauce, & honey-vanilla gelato. Now let me be forward and say that in my experience, such a wonderful meal is usually followed by desserts that are a teensy bit disappointing but not so at Scarpetta. The parfait was sort of like a grown up, deconstructed Carvel ice cream cake with bits of chocolate cookie crumbles. Again, the texture was clearly thought out – the crumbles with the smooth, pudding-like parfait was perfect but then there was also the hazelnut milkshake (hi) and the dry biscotti which I dipped into the shake for extra love. The Caramelized Apple Pie was expected though the crust was incredibly light and smooth as it was made with polenta. What was incredibly and maybe the best I have ever had was the honey vanilla gelato. It was creamy but clean, sweet but just so, quite the flavor collabo.

I will be back here in no time. I know this. The food, the wine – it was all too good, too soulful, to relegate to the back of the NYC restaurant list. Scott Conant clearly brings refined Italian to a new level with his careful and thoughtful preparations. Viva Scarpetta!

Other reviews:

Platty’s Review

Bruni’s Review

Restaurant Girl’s Review

Wednesday Reviews: Nicely Done

– Bruni gives a very rare three stars to elegant mid-town seafood restaurant, Oceana and even calls it “Le Bernadin lite”.

– Ruth Reichl gets a sneak peek at the re-invention of L’Impero: Convivio and calls the pastas “extraordinary”.

– Platty three stars Scarpetta, calling Scott Conant‘s Italian fare “high minded, almost priestly”. It’s no wonder Conant has worked in the kitchen at Alto and L’Impero. Great, now I’m craving pasta and it’s not even 10:30am.

– Ed Levine finds new Spanish restaurant La Nacional the the “the best and quirkiest”. I’m going to try it ASAP. Two thumbs up for anything deemed “quirky” and Alex Raij of Tia Pol fame is the head chef. Done!