MIAbites welcomes new contributor, Alex Beck for this mouth-watering recap of Scarpetta’s new and classic favorite menu items. You can read her full bio here.
In Italian, “Scarpetta” means “shoe” and lovingly refers to the act of using a piece of bread to scrape any remaining bits of saucy goodness from plates of food. It is seen as a sign of respect and gratification.
Aptly named, Scarpetta at the Fontainebleau accentuates Scott Conant’s culinary ‘chops’ and begs guests to scrape every plate thoroughly with fresh, house-made bread. In a “sea” of failed or mediocre celebrity chef restaurants that have come and gone on Miami Beach, Conant’s Scarpetta has thrived since 2008, with some of the best chefs at the helm, including Michael Pirolo and Nina Compton.
As invited media guests, our reception at the bar started with a San Remo cocktail. Reminiscent of the classic Negroni, the cocktail incorporates fresh citrus juices, St. Germain, sweet vermouth, bourbon and an orange garnish. The cocktail served as the perfect start to a meal with bright notes of fresh citrus.
As we approached our table on the terrace with a stunning ocean view, we were greeted with personalized place cards. The meal began with Scarpetta’s legendary house made bread basket featuring ciabatta, classic rolls, and stromboli swirled with fresh prosciutto. The accompaniments to fresh bread include citrus infused olive oil, eggplant spread, and mascarpone ‘butter.’
Fritto misto, literally meaning “fried, mixed,” is a classic italian starter that has been done a million times….but never like this. This dish is a plethora of fried goodness featuring seafood, vegetables, herbs and lemon. All fried. Often times, fritto misto suffers from overcooked calamari soaking up excess oil. Conant prepares the starter at Scarpetta with perfectly executed seafood and fried herbs that provide a fresh note to an often overrated dish.
One of my guiltiest pleasures in life is creamy polenta. I believe it is incredibly underutilized in Italian-American cuisine. As if a dish starring creamy polenta couldn’t get any better, Conant pairs it with a fricassee of truffled mushrooms. This appetizer balances a creamy consistency with a moderately more substantial texture provided by the mushrooms. In a chat with Conant, he admitted that his polenta has gotten him plenty of dates in the past….I’m not at all surprised.
Amidst the appetizer course, Conant approached our table and greeted each of us personally, welcoming us to enjoy ourselves. The newly appointed Chef de Cuisine, Neil O’Connell, originally from the United Kingdom, and most recently executive chef at Vida, joined him as servers brought an additional appetizer. The yellowtail with olio di zenzore and pickled red onions is vivid with an inviting smell; the taste is reminiscent of a deconstructed ceviche.
Our pasta course proved to be the best compilation of pasta I’ve eaten since I spent a summer living with a host family in South Italy. Conant’s classic spaghetti with tomato and basil is actually the stuff of dreams; like "last meal" worthy. Served under a glass dome, the aroma alone entices the palette for the course to come. Knowing his reputation for berating chefs on Chopped for improperly cooking pasta, I had high exceptions for this dish. The pasta is expertly cooked al dente and the sauce perfectly slithers and hugs to every strain of spaghetti and balances the bountiful sweetness and acidity of fresh tomatoes.
The eye catching squid ink linguine with seafood ragu, lemon and parsley further exemplifies the chef’s expert hand at pasta cookery. This black pasta balances the natural saltiness of the fresh seafood with a light lemon and parsley sauce that never detracts from the show-stopping squid ink linguine.
The final pasta dish of the course was the only stuffed pasta dish of the night and it did not disappoint. Scarpetta’s duck and foie gras ravioli is an exemplary representation of delicate lusciousness. While duck and foie may seem overwhelming stuffed in ravioli and tossed in a marsala reduction, there is a note of imported parmiggiano that shines through and provides an interesting reprieve from the richness.
The entree course featured a parsley crusted lamb loin served with fresh chick peas, roasted fennel and sun dried tomatoes. Between expertly seasoned and prepared lamb, licorice undertones from the roasted fennel, earthiness of the chickpeas, and the subtle acid of the sun dried tomatoes, this dish highlights varying tastes of Italy with a seamless harmony.
Branzino, the classic Italian dish, is prepared roasted and accompanied by artichokes, sea beans, anchovy and tomato dressing. Serving skin on seafood can be risky; there’s nothing worse than soggy fish skin. At Scarpetta, the branzino is executed flawlessly with a crispy skin balanced by a delicate, flaky fish.
I am a firm believer that no great meal is complete without a sweet ending. The dessert course featured a coconut panna cotta with caramelized pineapple and guava soup. What this dish lacks in a variety of textures, it makes up for in tropical flavors-- a perfect re-imagination of the classic dessert for the Miami setting. Warm apple tartin is served with spiced orange mousseline and rosemary gelato. The inclusion of citrus and herby undertones is a welcomed new take on a classic flavor combination further accented by fresh green apple garnishes.
A lemon olive oil tart is served with toasted marshmallow and blackberry-basil sorbet. This multi component dessert satisfies every dessert checkpoint: frozen, citrus, sweet, and crunchy. Chocolate was represented on our dessert tasting with Conant’s take on the Italian classic, zeppole. Served with a nutella center, vanilla anglaise for dipping, and garnished with hazelnuts, this dessert will satisfy even the most die hard chocoholics.
We concluded our meal with a sampling of house made limoncello prepared in the Sorrento style. Scarpetta’s version of the classic Italian after dinner drink is more approachable than its industrial counterpart. It stands up to homemade limoncello I’ve shared with friends in Italy to close out some of the most memorable meals of my life.
Hospitality can be a lost art at times. As a culture, we’ve evolved (or rather devolved) from pulling chairs out for guests and folding napkins when a seat is empty to drive thrus and sharing up-charges.
Scarpetta and Scott Conant are bringing back warm hospitality….and they’re doing it with grace.
4441 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach, FL