I didn't really get it - from all accounts, there weren't any luxury ingredients added - no truffle, no caviar, no champagne sauce or exotic shellfish. Supposedly the beauty is in the simplicity - and skillful execution using highest quality ingredients. I do love fresh pasta and was extremely curious about that spaghetti, given all the rave reviews - but just couldn't bring myself to throw down that much cash for noodles with tomato sauce. Then along came dineLA.
The bad news? They weren't offering the dineLA menu on either of the Sundays, and I wasn't ready to commit to a $44 dinner for the same menu items I could try at lunch for $28.
That's when I realized the event I most wanted to avoid that week - a visit to the dentist - was really a blessing in disguise. The dentist office was only a short drive from Scarpetta. I was already going to take time off work for the appointment - couldn't I just make a 'quick' stop as my late lunch hour? Afterall, it's probably a good idea to eat before I potentially lose the ability to, for a few hours.
For just a little while, I could live the fantasy of being a lady who lunches. Whenever she wants to. Even late in the afternoon. The serene, mostly empty dining room fueled my imagination, and the servers kindly played along, offering the lone diner a magazine for entertainment, while they prepared my meal.
I of course went straight for the Creamy Polenta with fricassee of truffled mushrooms. It's so hard to find a place that knows how to do polenta right (it's often too rubbery, or too mealy) - but Scarpetta serves theirs pitch perfect - living up to its name in lush texture and rich flavor. Loved the generous portion as well - you could almost fill up on it alone. This one could be a strong contender for 'the one dish I would choose, if I could only eat one dish for the rest of my life'.
And then it came - the long awaited Spaghetti. I didn't know what I thought it would be like, but hype by nature builds up unrealistic expectations, and stacks the odds against the object to deliver on them. Like the feeling you got when you were 12, and totally crushing on that cute celebrity who has been giving you smoldering looks from your Tiger Beat pullout on your wall, for like, ever - only to find when you finally meet them in person that they're 'not all that', or not very nice, or have all the personality of a paperweight (*ahem* hypothetically speaking).
I wanted to be dazzled - and mulled over bite after bite, second guessing my taste buds, challenging them to find the magic. But at last, it just wasn't there. Taste is obviously subjective - I love fresh pasta but this just didn't do it for me. Personally I found the noodles to be too thick, tough and chewy, so that it felt like I had to put a lot of work into eating it. The sauce was fantastic - clean and well balanced with the ratio of noodles, and just a hint of acidity - you could still taste the sunshine in the tomatoes, and smell the fragrant, fresh basil in its folds. This was indeed one of the best sauces I've ever had (with giant caveat that I've never actually been to Italy) - but the dish just wasn't $24 good. But I was glad I got to try it during dineLA, when I could feel like it really didn't cost as much - with the $28 being spread across three courses.
I knew I would not have time to brush my teeth before going to my dentist - she was going to take one look in and shake her head in disgust. But the budino left me no choice - it lured me with its creamy sea salty sweet caramelly pie crust crunchy crumbly deliciousness!
The portions for each of the courses were very generous, and I had to take a few deep breaths at the end of the meal before I could polish off the two sable cookies. A nice deal for lunch, I think. As the items I ordered are all on the regular menu, you can see that the dineLA deal saves you an estimated $20 per person for these dishes.
So, Scarpetta is actually an Italian colloquialism meaning 'little shoe', which is the shape that bread starts to look like, when you use it to scoop up sauce on your plate. I love that visual of a happy diner relishing the last few bites of their meal.
And even though I think this will be my first and last "$24 spaghetti", as I scooped up the last of the crumbs from my three course meal - I was glad I got to try the spaghetti while it's 'on a deal'. (For my money, I prefer the more inventive pastas of Osteria Mozza - and their 3-course prix fixe, almost any mozza bar starter+pasta+dessert+glass of wine now $42 per person Sundays-Thursdays). I did enjoy it well enough at the dineLA price - and now I can say "di fare la scarpetta" - I've done the Scarpetta.
[For photos from other meals / deals from dineLA Fall 2011, check out the album on my Facebook page]
On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 4.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $$$$ (4 bite marks regular menu)
Probability of return visit - 90% (for polenta & other dishes)
Montage Beverly Hills, 225 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
dineLA - $28 lunch, $44 dinner
Parking: Self-parking in structure next to hotel - 2 hours free
OpenTable: Look for reservations