A breadbasket is a breadbasket, right? Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s not so good. But even in its lowlier moments, you willingly dive into it upon sitting down at a restaurant knowing there’s nothing warm or crusty that can’t be fixed with a little helping of butter or olive oil. At least this is the way I thought before opening the breadbasket at Beverly Hills’ Scarpetta and finding the prototypical pre-meal ritual elevated to a religious experience. At the bottom of its cloth-lined berth beneath the toasted foccacia cubes and exquisitely dense French loaf sat four thinly sliced pieces of heavenly Stromboli. Like a pearl at the bottom of an oyster it was unexpected and generous. It also tasted like a gourmet sliver of soft, doughy, pepperoni and cheese-laden heaven. It was also accompanied by a savory eggplant caponata … and this was only the beginning.
Scarpetta has been on my dining wish list for a while, ever since first encountering owner Chef Scott Conant’s warm and comforting wisdom as a judge on Chopped. I figured his Italian food restaurants of large nationwide acclaim would be great if they were mirrors of his personality. The Cute Gardener confirmed my assumptions as he had dined there shortly before we met and was still hankering for their appetizer polenta with mushrooms. We even snuck into their swank bar for a delicious cocktail one night before meeting friends for dinner across the grassy courtyard at Bouchon so it was high time we finally made it there a few weeks back.
If the Stromboli hadn’t of sealed the deal for me, the aforementioned polenta with mushrooms certainly did – it was the most decadent and creamy version of the staple Italian peasant food that I’ve ever had. It didn’t matter that the wait staff that evening was a bit off – it was after all a busy and boisterous Friday evening in Beverly Hills in a large fancy space meant for seeing and being seen amongst a myriad of the rich and beautiful filling the dining room with the clang of high heels, gold, crystals, and a bevy of faux body parts. It didn’t matter that we were seated near the kitchen and could see the smoking patio with all of its inhaling denizens just outside our vision. It wouldn’t have mattered if the walls had fallen away around us in the middle of a snowstorm for that matter. All that mattered was the food –every plate was special: perfectly cooked, flavors expertly coaxed, and portions just enough to tease you into wanting more yet sating you completely by the last lick of complex sauce off a fork.
Roasted scallops came with a caramelized char and then dimpled inward towards a creamy middle. The tiny summer squash melee was spiked with brightness that oozed into the miniature halves of juicy cherry tomatoes creating a tangy sauce.
A quirky spinach pici, or thick hand rolled spaghetti, was extremely fun to eat with varying widths and nodules that soaked up the earthy morels and braised duck leg meat that tenderly splayed between its strands.
A dark chocolate cake came like my favorite dark chocolate bars – bitter, dense, and chock full of cacao that was soft on the outside and hot in the middle. Burnt orange gelato made me miss my time in Sorrento when I had stayed at an equally posh hotel as the one I sat in now albeit overlooking a sea and sipping limoncello.
This dinner occurred with friends so we didn’t have our usual intimate, mealtime banter over each dish which gives me an excuse to encourage the CG to keep Scarpetta on our dining list so that we can do it up romantic style on another trip to rekindle my flame with my newly beloved Stromboli.