Remember your high school english novel, A Tale of Two Cities? It begins with that classic line. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." Scott Conant, of course, makes me think of the famous Dickensian lines because of the tv show, "The Chopping Block". I was at the New York York Scarpetta awhile back, so naturally, I have to compare them a little. Do my own little chop...my own best of times and worst of times, if you will.
Sleek, sexy, and elegant. That's the dining room of S
carpetta Toronto. (Scarpetta New York has a modern yet rustic feel, and since it's in a townhouse, it really can't compare to the wide open space of the Thompson Scarpetta.) The devil is in the details, the saying goes. So far, even after all the delays, the buzz is really about the food and drink and who's making it.
I was quite enamoured with the San Remo cocktail ($15). In fact, it was the ab-fab favourite of the dozen or so I imbibed in the Big Apple. One key ingredient unavailable here is the Carpano Antica vermouth, which makes this cocktail a thing of beauty. It's still really good, but it needs that extra touch. Next best thing is the Verona ($15) cocktail.
As I've dined at Conant's New York Scarpetta and Faustina, in The Cooper Square Hotel, I can see the same attention to detail is matched with precision. From the entrance to the service, right down to the cutlery, care has been brought to absolutely everything. With many similar signature dishes from both the New York and Miami locations, Toronto diners get the most popular dishes too.
Take the polenta for instance; I expected old world rusticity. On delivery, a little domed lid comes up to reveal creamy, almost pudding like polenta, due to the infusion of mascarpone cheese. The second bowl elevates this with a heady waft of mushroom fricassee to spoon over the polenta ($15). The ritual only begs for requisite OMGs. It's deliciously identical to my New York dish, so I breathe a sigh of relief. It's the best of times. Oh, we had the frito misto ($17) too and that exceeded expectations.
Duck Foie Gras Ravioli ($ 23) is deftly light yet decadent and the signature Spaghetti Basilico ($23) is toothsome, fresh and summery. (All the pasta is made in house.) Yes, it's the best of times again.
The Veal duet is brightened up with a brush stroke of fresh green pea painted onto the plate. Melt-in-your mouth simplicity, especially the braised veal cheek beside the tenderloin ($33). Halibut ($28) is fresh and fabulous but the Sicilian Duck ($34) is not so lucky. New York version is rare and as tender as a baby's bum. My Toronto guest is having a time with the rawness and the chewiness. It's the worst of times for this duck lover.
Desserts are drop dead gorgeous as they should be. Coconut pannacotta ($11) bathed with guava sauce is light and undemanding. The Ricotta di Buffala on the cheese plate ($12) is another story all-together. If the pannacotta is light and innocent, then the cheese follow-up is purely sexual. Artisanal honey drizzled over a quenelle of cheese is topped with shavings of black truffle, giving this erotic appeal like nothing else. Paired with a glass of Nebbiolo, I feel like Sidney Carton at the end of A Tale of Two Cities, only I'm heading for la petite mort. "It was a far, far better thing I would do than I had ever done before...it was a far, far better place I would go to than I had before..."
Price: $140.00 with wine and up
Wheelchair Access: Yes
Hint: Polenta and Ricotta di Buffala are OMGs
Surprise, Surprise: Excellent cocktail list