Pasta lovers shed a tear when it was announced that Nina Compton would be leaving Scarpetta. Since the swank restaurant opened almost six years ago at the Fontainebleau, Scarpetta's kitchen has bid farewell to two great chefs: first Michael Pirolo, who went on to open Macchialina, and recently Compton. But as they say, the show must go on.
To make the transition seamless, Scott Conant appointed Marlon Rambaran, whose resume includes time at Le Cirque and Tallievent, as saucier and sous chef at Le Bec, and as chef tournant at Restaurant Daniel. Most recently, he was sous chef at Gotham Steak.
For the last few months, Rambaran has been working on the menu, which he's now ready to introduce."We're trying to stay away from the classics," he says. "Everyone knows the spaghetti and basil. We want to reinvent the wheel if you will."
Short Order was invited to a preview of this new wheel of dishes, which starting next week, you'll be able to order.
See also: Nina Compton Leaves Scarpetta (Video)
It's not an easy feat to stray from such popular classics as the ones found on the Scarpetta menu. The spaghetti and basil has been coined the best spaghetti not just in the city, but the country. And while it is a permanent fixture on every Scarpetta menu, along with the polenta, each market and chef de cuisine is tailored to its clientele.
"There are certain confines that everyone has to stay within," says Scott Contant. "I want all the chefs to have creative input, however, they need to stay within the framework of what the Scarpetta idea is and what people have come to expect from the Scarpetta experience."
That experience starts and ends with the signature bread service, which includes a stromboli. "That bread basket is indicative the entire experience," says Conant. "Before we ever opened, one of the initial driving forces was that bread basket, because with a name of a restaurant like Scarpetta you want people to sop up the plate so all those things come into play. And these are the things I talk about with chefs when they are coming up with new dishes."
Rambaran's new dishes include a plethora of pasta, as one might expect. Ricotta and truffle ravioli with black trumpet and parmesan brodo was light and delicate.
Suckling pig casoncelli is roasted with braised raisin inside and finished with squash, chestnut, sage, brown butter, amaretti, and lemon zest.
The broad range of flavors from every pasta dish was impressive, especially with the rock shrimp scialatelli, which has been bathed in milk, basil, and black cracked pepper, and is laden with preserved lemon, shaved bottarga, and basil bread crumbs. The rock shrimp, marinated in thyme, red pepper, and red mullet bottarga adds a whole other layer of flavors to the dish.
Off menu, you'll want to order the truffle tagliatelle with English peas, wild mushrooms, preserved truffle oil, and a fonduta of cheeses. The truffle party is finished tableside with fresh pecorino and Parmesan, a truffle sabayon and shaved truffles. Tis' the season for truffles, and if there's anywhere to celebrate, it's certainly Scarpetta.
But perhaps the best pasta dish of the night, and highlight of the entire meal, was the squid ink tagliolini with braised octopus that's been tempered with four ways before hitting the table, tomato, lots of basil, garlic, and oregano and finished with basil blossoms. Spicy, saucy, and simply perfect, if ever there was a dish that could rival the spaghetti and basil, this is it.
There's more to Scarpetta than just pasta though. Take the fish, which is brought straight up from the Fontainbleau's underground "Water World" where fish is pretty much kept alive right up until dinnertime. Catch is brough in fresh daily, courtesy of the Bleau Fish boat.
Monk fish with venetian rice, lava bean and octopus soffritto.
Olive oil poached swordfish melted on the tongue like butter. It was beautifully accompanied by artichoke, fennel, smoked fingerlings, coriander and fennel spice.
Whole grilled orata with Florida corn, leek caponata, and salsa verde.
Carnivores can relish in autumn-spiced Long Island duck with sweet potato figs, swiss chard, and fegato sauce.
Or go for the other white meat: veal medallions. These breast nuggets are similar to scaloppine and have been hung and dry aged in the Fontainebleau's locker to get extra flavor. The sauce, wich guanciale, wild mushrooms, and caper jus is reminiscent of a piccata.
For dessert, a coffee semifreddo gets an atypical matching with lemon sorbet. Also: anise cream and crystallized hazelnut.
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Amedei chocolate cake with salted caramel and toasted gelato.
Unfortunately, if you want this strawberry napoleon layered with caramelized feuille, balsamic macerated strawberries, ricotta cream and a dollop of balsamic gelato you're going to have to go within the next couple of weeks, as it will be removed from the menu shortly thereafter. Fortunately, it gives you a reason to go to Scarpetta and try all of Rambaran's new creations. Maybe still get the spaghetti for old time's sake.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha