First there was an open letter from chef Scott Conant to Torontonians. Several weeks later, Amy Pataki fired back her response. And despite these two highly talked-about writings of chef and critic, there has been surprisingly little chatter about Scarpetta itself. Though I hadn’t planned to visit so soon, an out-of-town friend gave me the necessary (but feather-light) push to make a late Sunday night visit. Keeping in mind that the restaurant had only recently opened, we went in eager to try highly-lauded signature dishes and to suss out other possible treasures on the menu.

Despite the hour, we still had to wait a short spell for our table in the hotel lobby (pictured above). I’d sum up the lobby decor as trendy and mod, and where people go to be seen. I felt a twinge of regret, not being more dressed up to match our surroundings. But just a twinge.

We are soon shown to our booth and we slid into our seats. Looking around, I took in the sleek room done up in dark wood and electric-blue hues. Tables were well-spaced throughout, and an undulating wave of booths snaked down the centre of it all.

An order of spaghetti and an order of polenta were already on my hit list before I even touched my menu. They had high expectations stapled to them, and I was hoping they wouldn’t disappoint. We added two more pastas, two appetizers and a main to our order and we were good to go.

Polenta. Not my favourite thing in the world, but considered one of Scarpetta’s signature dishes and nothing like the fried puck I had been expecting. It was, however, the mushroom sauce that made this dish. A really fragrant and rich broth spooned upon a yellow bowl of creamy cornmeal – a delicious mouthful indeed.

The Fritto Misto was executed quite well and included zucchini, eggplant, and calamari. A light hand with the batter was deftly at work here. The fried parsley was an excellent addition.

A very different twist on the standard, the Waygu beef tartare had peanuts, truffle oil, cumin, sumac, coriander, and fennel. I felt it was too aggressively spiced and it drowned out the flavour of the beef.

Moist-roasted capretto with rapini, pancetta, and potatoes. I wanted this to have a stronger goat flavour, which is likely the unpopular opinion. I also didn’t find this as moist as I’d thought it would be.

The highly touted spaghetti is done simply with tomato and basil. While decent, I can’t say that this was the best I’d ever had. I have a different profile of this dish in my mind and felt the sauce was too sweet, and the pasta just a little too soft, for me.

The Red beet and smoked ricotta casonsei came in a poppy-seed sauce. An interesting pasta with a little hit of sweetness.

Black tagliolini with Nova Scotia lobster, tomatoes, and basil bread crumbs. Very tasty and visually appealing. I liked the flavours melding and clinging to the delicate bands of black pasta. I would order this again.

Originally paired with another dish, I requested a separate order of the burnt-orange caramel gelato to try. Lighter in flavour than I was expecting it to be – I think I wanted something with a darker sugar taste that bordered on bitter.

On a whim, I ordered the goat cheese cheesecake sided with mango granita and pistachio brittle. The cheesecake was nice and not as “goaty” as I feared it might be. But the brittle, by far, was the best thing on that plate. I could have eaten more of that.

The Amaretto Flan was sided with a rosemary roasted apricot and marsala zabaglione gelato. Somehow, I was picturing a light-coloured flan, so this almost chocolate-looking cube surprised me. I do not recall any specific tasting notes on this dessert.

Service on the night we went seemed a little nervous – one server in particular seemed like they had had too much caffeine. Not a huge deal in the whole scheme of things, but notable in such an upscale environment. Still, they were just newly opened and it was a Sunday night – all things to factor in.

While I was sad the spaghetti didn’t live up to my expectations, I did find the polenta surprisingly delicious. I enjoyed my meal in good company and the food was certainly of good quality. Still, I feel there are many other places to explore and revisit before I would make a return to Scarpetta.

More at Scarpetta

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