Monday, August 30, 2010

TRC does Scarpetta

As with every new restaurant opening in Toronto that has any kind of name behind it, there was much ballyhoo in the food world over Scarpetta's arrival.  All the major papers buzzed about it, bloggers tweeted about it and the chef behind it, Scott Conant, wrote Toronto a letter about it.  Well, it wasn't just about Scarpetta.  It was also about how Mr. Conant is kinda douchey.

Chef Scott Conant
"I don't know if you're into etymology or anything like that" ummm, no I'm not really into geeking out on etymology but I swear if I gave a shit enough to figure out what a word's history was I'd check it out on this thing called Google.  "Miami is really beautiful, T-Dot. You should check it out sometime." right, because after trips to Walmart and some huntin' in the back 90 I'm plum too worn out to get off my ass and see the world, let a lone South Beach.  "Anyway, then some other people came to me and asked me if I would ever entertain the idea of opening one of my restaurants in Toronto -- that's you." Ohhhhhh, THANKS.  I wasn't sure if you meant Toronto.  Since the letter was addressed to Toronto.  Or T-Dot as you've cleverly learned we looove to call it.

Anyway, enough about the letter.  It's really about the food.  Here goes.  Preface: I have been to Scarpetta in Miami, and despite being about 17 sheets to the wind, I do happen to recall the meal was delicious.  So I was looking forward to the same food delights on home ground.  I was mostly appeased.  

On a Wednesday night in August, 10 of us arrived at Scarpetta for our bi-monthly TRC dinner.  Service was slow from the get-go.  Menus were not delivered straight away (i.e. 10 or more minutes in), drink orders took a long time to be taken and then served, and our waiter had the personality of an inch worm.  We placed two orders of Fritto Misto ($17) as a precursor to appetizers, but despite being ordered well before the first courses, all of the first courses arrived together.

When everything did arrive, it was for the most part a success.  The cauliflower puree was well liked, though texturally was a bit thin.  The creamy polenta with mushrooms was incredibly flavourful; one diner felt it got a bit soupy but I personally didn't mind that part - the saucier the better.  And, as another diner proclaimed, the dish was real comfort food.  The braised short ribs with vegetable and farro risotto ($14) was a good combination of textures and flavours, though I would have liked the ribs cooked longer as they were a bit on the chewy side.  The diver scallop ($17) was fresh and nicely cooked but nothing overly special.  Oh, and the fritto misto?  Well, it WAS delicious ... though finding the seafood was like finding a needle in a haystack.  A haystack of delicious crispy-fried vegetables.
Cauliflower puree with oysters
Creamy polenta with truffled mushroom fricasee
Braised beef short ribs with veg & farro risotto
Our mains brought an overarching theme: salt.  Now, let me say first that I love salt.  I love how it can transform foods, I love how it contributes to the umami of a dish, I love how it tastes on my tongue.  But, there is such a thing as over-salting.  And regrettably, many of our dishes suffered from this.  The spiced duck breast ($34) was cooked rare, with a beautifully crisped skin.  It was a perfect portion size.  But - the organic radish flavour was indiscernible for salt.  I had the agnolotti with mixed meat (chicken, beef and pork I'm told) with fonduta ($22), which was a modest portion but bursting with flavour.  My one criticism was the flavours of this dish were quite close to my first dish - the polenta with mushroom.  The duck foie gras ravioli ($23) was incredibly rich, and the marsala reduction slightly tart.  All that could be said of the black tagliolini with lobster ($29) was that it was over-salted.  The ocean trout ($27) had a great depth of flavours but again - salty.  One of the stars of the evening's mains was the moist-roasted capretto - or milk-fed baby goat - ($29) which was wonderfully tender, well balanced, and perfectly rich yet not cloyingly so.  The pitfall of the goat?  The sauce was again over-salted.  The pheasant tortellini ($23) which is served in a brodo, or broth, was a nice light dish with fresh flavours.  A-OK on the salt front with that dish.
Black Tagliolini with Nova Scotia lobster
Duck foie gras ravioli
Agnolotti dal plin (FYI, plin means "pinch")
Finally, the desserts.  The goat cheese cheesecake with pistachio brittle was a wonderful balance of just enough savoury with sweet.  One could have eaten a plate of that brittle it was so delicious.  The coconut panna cotta was very light and flavoured with just enough coconut.  Finally, the chocolate cake.  It was disgustingly rich, warm and gooey - just the way you'd expect it to be.  It's flaw was the gelato accompaniment; it sounded good but its flavour was too weak to pair with the chocolate.
Goat cheese cheesecake
Chocolate Cake
Overall, the experience wasn't as stellar as I would have expected.  The service was slow and not attentive enough (we were in the back room, removed from the main diners but that shouldn't matter), and the food was over-salted.  That said, there were many other dishes on the menu I'd love to try.  And, the ones that were executed properly were absolutely divine.  So, would I go back?  Yes.  Let's just hope with a bit more time they get things sorted out.

Scarpetta is located at the Thompson Hotel on Wellington at Bathurst.  Average price per person is about $120.

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