Walk into Scarpetta on any given Saturday and it's obvious that magic is happening. The charmed Nina Compton is responsible for it. The executive chef recently made it to the Top Chef: New Orleans finale, only to lose to Nicholas Elmi at the very end in an unusual twist. And by twist, we mean completely screwed-up series of events.
We're not just saying that because we love Nina, although we do -- who can help it? She was consistent throughout the competition and didn't blame anyone for anything. The same can't be said of Elmi, who lashed out at the staff that led him to victory in the finale. Elmi may have gotten the final win, but Nina walked away with lots learned and the title of fan favorite. To show local fans her appreciation for all the support, the Saint Lucia native is giving diners a glimpse of her experience on the TV show by offering a six-course meal of dishes inspired by those she cooked on Top Chef. From now through the end of March and possibly extending into April, you can get a taste of the action for $125 per person. Short Order was invited to try it.
See also: Nina Compton on Life After Top Chef
Head sommelier Zarko Stankovik will gladly pair your dinner with a variation of wines. All you have to do is ask. He'll also walk you through everything from region and taste to how the climate and terrain affect that particular grape.
In Episode 12, "Mississippi Mud Bags," chefs were given the challenge of creating a dish that highlighted two types of seafood for the Louisiana Seafood Festival. Nina served 200 people marinated wahoo with salsa verde, tonnato sauce, and pickled vegetables. We got to taste the refreshing rendition and got to understand why she was one of the top three during that round and why she chose it for the beginning of our meal. It was a perfect amuse-bouche and cleansed our palate for what followed.
In Episode 7, "Jazz Hands," the quickfire challenge was dubbed musical chairs and saw the chefs rotating in stations picking up on one dish where the last chef left off. The chef who finished it was the chef who was judged for the dish. Brian may have taken the win for his Asian-flavored duck and mussels, but the judges raved about Nina's spiced liver with serrano chilies, celery salad, and coconut curry mustard sauce. As a tribute, Nina has made a spiced roasted lamb belly (because no one really wants to eat liver) with a tomato mostarda and Brussels sprouts.
Straight from the finale, Nina has taken orecchiette with moist roasted baby goat and concentrated tomatoes from Maui to Miami. On the day of service, Nina found her goat was chewy an hour before service, which she somehow fixed for the judges' tables. The judges raved about how the pasta and goat were perfectly cooked. We had the same consensus regarding this flawless dish topped with a dollop of whipped goat cheese. It was our first time trying goat, and it certainly won't be our last.
Nina's favorite dish, as well as the one that weighs the most significance for her, is the trout from Episode 15, "Leaving a Mark on NOLA." Emeril Lagasse leaves a mark on her when he cooks a trout the evening before the elimination challenge, inspiring Nina the following day. For her, this dish embodies the robust flavors of New Orleans. In the episode, she forgot a component of the dish, malfatti, and faced questions from Tom on where it was, but Andrew Carmellini backed her up by saying she could do without it. At the end, Nina and Shirley had the favorite dishes of the evening. Our taste of the trout came accompanied with crosnes and a cauliflower emulsion. The decadence of the sauce was a perfect complement to the delicate filet of trout.
In Episode 10, "Like Mama Made," the chefs need to create a dish that features Dunkin' Donuts coffee. Nina made a comment that would make any Miamian proud on how on any given day she can drink 15 espressos by herself. One of those for sure happens at 3:05 cafecito time. To get your kick of coffee and them some, this 28-day, dry-aged rib of beef with charred leeks and foie gras will be sure to do the job.
For the grand finale, Nina has chosen to end the evening the same way she ended the show, with a zeppole. A Nutella center reveals itself with one bite into the doughy puffs topped with toasted coconut. Don't forget to dip in the passionfruit anglaise. Talk about a bittersweet ending.
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The six-course Top Chef menu is available at Scarpetta through March for $125 per person.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha