March 14, 2012

Scarpetta shines at modern Italian cuisine

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Travel at 7:44 pm by dinaheng

A long, thin bar runs the length of the entrance to Scarpetta in Las Vegas, parallel to a series of semi-private cubby-hole tables set into the opposite wall. It’s a cool, contemporary look that sets the tone for the menu and dining experience at celebrity chef Scott Conant’s home for Italian cuisine in Sin City, located on the third floor of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

Like the other four Scarpetta restaurants — in New York, Beverly Hills, Miami, and Toronto — the Vegas rendition offers a modern interpretation to Italian classics, starting with Conant’s signature spaghetti with tomato and basil, served al dente with lots of basil and a hint of red chili flakes.

About a third of the menu is comprised of Conant staples, with the rest of the offerings created around what’s available locally. Vegas may be in the desert, but the restaurant imports fresh produce and meat from neighboring California.

Bread lovers will swoon over the four Italian bread offerings — filone, a classic yeast bread similar in texture to the French baguette; a whole wheat foccacia, stromboli filled with meat and cheese, and ciabattini. But don’t fill up too fast because there’s so much more to savor.

Primi piatti standouts include the roasted chestnut soup ($15), a delicious fricasse of black truffle mushrooms with polenta ($17), and Executive Chef Dan Rossi’s roasted sea scallop with cauliflower, bottarga, chili and caper salmoriglio ($18).

The one small disappointment amidst the pasta offerings was the short rib agnolotti ($25), which was more gamey in taste than expected. Entrees range from roasted organic chicken ($31) and black cod ($32) to a 24 oz. beef ribeye ($62). Meat lovers will be happy with the Colorado lamb loin ($40), which came nearly rare, accompanied by eggplant, artichokes and pearl onion.

Wine connoisseurs will appreciate the restaurant’s extensive wine collection. However, it’s a shame that the odd-shaped dining room, which offers a splendid view of the Bellagio water fountains and Strip, is so dimly lit with a monotone feel. Food so delectable should be served in a more distinctive setting.

For dessert, don’t miss the coconut panna cotta ($11) with coconut sorbetto, guava soup and pineapple. The Amedei chocolate cake, with toasted almond gelato and salted caramel sauce ($11) is a close second.

A signature tasting menu ($110 per person) with two appetizers, pasta, two entrees and dessert will leave diners more than satisfied.

The service here is impeccable, with a wait staff that anticipates when you need more water in your glass, or a new fork for the next course. But traditionally stuffy this place is not.

“The trend in fine dining is refined, but approachable,” explains Executive Chef Dan Rossi, who joined Scarpetta after serving as executive chef of the former David Burke Las Vegas restaurant in the Venetian Hotel down the Strip. “We offer incredible quality at a reasonable price. You can come here in a t-shirt and jeans and feel comfortable. It’s the new wave of fine dining.”

Rossi, who favors wearing a black chef’s coat and jeans, is passionate about the dishes he and his staff of 26 create. He credits his boss with creating a restaurant concept that’s easy for foodies to love.

“Scott is very down to earth and knows what he wants,” Rossi says. “The food is straight-forward, so it was a natural fit for me. Italian food is genuine. It’s very rustic and peasant-like, but we have a certain sophistication here. Scott calls it modern Italian.”

Rossi, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, started cooking at 14 years old, and did his share of washing dishes and prep work in an Italian family restaurant before attending the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute in Pittsburgh. He’s studied with a number of notable chefs, including Alessandro Stratta, working at four of his restaurants.

“I knew I wanted to do this at a young age,” Rossi says. “I’m a perfectionist in the kitchen. Sometimes I’ll raise my voice, or throw something, to get things moving. But I want people to have a great memory of their experience here. I’ve worked at a lot of great restaurants, and what people get here is incredible.”

Buon appetito!

For hours and menu information, check out http://www.cosmopolitanlasvegas.com/taste/restaurant-collection/scarpetta.aspx on the Internet.

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