Toronto buzzing for Scarpetta and Chef Conant
550 Wellington Street West Toronto, Ontario (416) 640-7778 Website _____________________________________________
The ultra chic Thompson Hotel is seeking to provide Toronto tourists and locals a form of luxury never seen in Toronto. By being the first five-star hotel to open in Toronto since the Hazelton Hotel, and the primary competitor to soon- to- open Ritz-Carelton, Trump International, the new Four Seasons and the Shangri-La the Thompson group knew everything had to be perfect.
One of the key strategies for the Thompson Hotel is to not only have luxurious rooms but a flagship restaurant that adds to the hotel experience. When Thompson Hotel opened up in New York City, they lured Toronto super chef Susur Lee to open up his first NYC restaurant. Coincidentally, the Toronto hotel has nabbed one of New York City’s top Italian chefs, Scott Conant, to open up a location in Toronto.
The opening of Scarpetta comes with a great amount of fan-fare as this is the first time a star chef has opened up a location in the city of Toronto. Over the years, there have been rumours of celebrity chefs looking to open up high-end restaurants in Toronto, but there have always been question marks surrounding the desire of Torontonians to pay top dollar for a meal.
Scarpetta, which is the restaurants third location throughout North America was slated to open in Mid-June and then got delayed to the end of July after several constructional hiccups due to the gas line. After Scott Conant’s open letter to Toronto, came off as being condescending more than “cool”, things weren’t looking good for the New York native. Although Chef Conant may not be that great with words, I had to make sure to check out his new restaurant.
On August 13th, I made my way to Scarpetta for a 9:30 reservation. Scarpetta is on the ground-floor of the hotel, and a bar stands right outside of the restaurant. For anyone who wants to try some of Conant’s dishes, the bar will be serving food in the near future. Right from the beginning there was something different with Scarpetta compared to other restaurants within the city. The best way to describe the culture of this restaurant is perfection. From the hostess, to the waitress, to the busser there is a sense of professionalism and pride throughout the whole restaurant.
The restaurant was packed and talking to one of the managers it seems they are reaching full capacity on a regular basis. We were placed at a corner table that barely had any room for anything more than two plates. The side window provided a great view of the CN Tower.
To start we were provided a basket of different breads with three different toppings; chunky eggplant camponata, citrus-infused olive oil and a butter-mascarpone spread. At Scarpetta, the breads go further than the traditions of an Italian meal as the restaurant is named after the Italian-slang la scarpetta, which means to soup your pasta sauce with the bread. The breads were fresh and the mascarpone spread was thick and rich.
Prior to even glancing over the menu, I knew I wanted to taste some of his signature dishes including the creamy polenta with a fricassee of truffled mushroom ($15). The dish was delicious and I clearly understand why this is one of the more popular items on his menu. The polenta was rich and provided a great sweet creamy aftertaste upon each bite. This dish was eaten in whole in less than five minutes and now I understand why polenta is more popular than pasta in some regions of Italy.
The second dish that we ordered was the Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil ($23). This is probably the most distinguished dish on Chef Conant’s menu and has received rave reviews over the years.
The dish can’t get any simpler and there isn’t any secret to his recipe as he openly shares his recipe on his website and is posted on SeriousEats as well. When first served the pasta, the first thought that came to mind was “Is that it for $23?” as there didn’t seem to be a large portion, but as you take the first bite it is obvious the pasta is a bit heavier and the portions are actually perfect. The pasta is made fresh and it is explicitly clear as the noodles are a bit rougher than I’m used to. This was the dish I was most excited to try as it seemed to get the most accolades from food critics in New York City and Miami. Although I found the dish to be perfectly executed, I also felt a bit let down as I was hoping this simple dish would have a little something that would take it to that next level. Perhaps I set the bar too high for this dish, but for $23 a plate I was expecting to be wowed and after the excellent polenta I thought the pasta would have blown me away.
To end the meal I had the Coconut Panna Cotta ($11), another one of his recipes that is openly shared on the Scarpetta website. I didn’t think that the coconut and guava would work very well together but it provided a very vibrant flavour and made a great way to end the meal. We also ordered the Chocolate and Vanilla Parfait with a hazelnut milkshake and biscotti ($11), which had layers of flavours and wasn’t overly rich.
I was astonished that I came into a highly acclaimed restaurant and chose to eat all vegetarian-friendly dishes. Unfortunately many finer dining establishments overlook this group, but its obvious Chef Conant is not afraid to create refined dishes that are meatless.
It is obvious that Scarpetta is at another level compared to many of the Italian restaurants in Toronto, its my hope that the restaurant will get even better as the years go on, and the competition starts getting more fierce.