355 West 14th Street (@ 9th Avenue)
2:15 a.m., somewhere around 1996: I’m drunk at The Village Idiot. Flash forward to 2006: as 14th Street gentrifies with its neighboring sisters in ‘mo town, the lowly gin joint upgrades to Gin Lane, a fashionable big boy’s club. When my steak arrives, it’s only adequate. Dale DeGroff’s drinks are better. But everything is overpriced and I’ve the sneaking suspicion that the boys in question are really just playing dress up. Gin Lane goes down quicker than an olive in a blisteringly dry martini. Cut to present day: the marvelous Scarpetta has newly taken residence, and Scott Conant (Alto, L’Impero) is the master behind the Italian fare.
My foodist friend and I were seated in an intimate cozy corner, and from the onset we were simply agog. We ordered fine Classic Negronis ($12) straightaway, made with Bombay gin, vermouth, and Campari. Wholly traditional, it’s a delight to see Negronis popping up on menus all over the city. We are mad for them! Soprasetta bread arrived with extraordinary mascarpone butter, as did luscious eggplant and tomato caponata.
Vibrant Raw Yellowtail ($16) was duly enhanced by a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt. Fantastic! Tuna “Susci” ($16) with preserved truffles was also highly festive fish. An order of Burrata ($15), that staggering orb of mozzarella and cream with a soft middle was wonderfully paired with marinated eggplant.
We split our gloves applauding the supple pockets of Duck & Foie Gras Ravioli ($25), served in an unlawful butter sauce. The simple Spaghetti ($24) was also incredible, a perfect coil of homemade pasta with tomato and basil.
News struck that they had run out of the Hampshire Pork Chop ($28)! We opted for the Moist-Roasted Capretto ($28) instead, with peas and fingerling potatoes and an order of Creamy Polenta ($15) with truffled mushrooms. My pal loved the stewed goat more than I did, but as she pointed out, it was a much quieter dish than what we’d just experienced and naturally might seem a come down. However, we were in total agreement about the divine polenta, as well as our love of Scarpetta.