By Sara Liss
The goods: You know Miami is doing something right when it starts attracting culinary talent like Scott Conant. The young chef is already a household name among food fans in New York with reputation-establishing stints at Alto and L’Impero. Earlier this year he opened Scarpetta, a modest spot that quickly earned critical raves for its rustic Italian cuisine. Now the chef has migrated south, opening a second location at the restored Fontainebleau hotel, offering Miamians a taste of his upscale yet homey cuisine exemplified by the restaurant’s name, which is Italian for "little shoe," or the shape bread takes when used to soak up a dish.
The restaurant’s Meatpacking District outpost is already a popular spot with gourmands and scenesters, and while the Miami location is decidedly less urban, the same warm atmosphere prevails. The spacious dining room is prefaced by a glossy lounge with low marble tables, navy and gray brass-embellished leather chairs and a mosaic-tiled bar that evokes cartographer maps. The main room captures the feeling of a classy ocean liner, where hefty wood columns clad in thick rope break up the space and antique chandeliers outfitted with filament bulbs shed a flattering glow. Floor-to-ceiling windows frame both pool and oceanfront views with ample seating available on the outdoor patio, raised a floor above the hotel’s pool level.
The grub: Italian soul food. "My cooking is from the heart. There’s an approachable elegance to it," says Conant. "I want the flavors of all the ingredients to shine through with simple, honest cooking." The menu is succinct, offering eight starters, a handful of pastas and less than ten mains. Prices are on par with the city’s upscale spots; starters range $13-$17, while mains and pastas are within the $20-$30 range. All pastas are made in-house by the restaurant’s resident pasta maker, relocated from New York.
Many of the chef’s signature dishes have made the transition to the Miami menu including a rich polenta topped with truffled mushrooms, the cod bathed in fennel and stewed tomatoes and the much buzzed-about trademark spaghetti with basil and tomato. Dinner starts with a basket of house made focaccia and a cheese and salami-stuffed Stromboli accompanied by a trio of spreads – mascarpone butter, eggplant caponata and citrusy olive oil. Begin the tomato-flecked odyssey with an appetizer of mozzarella in carozza, two slices of cheese breaded, lightly fried and set atop stewed baby tomatoes. Segue to a second course of ricotta raviolini with short rib ragu or the duck and foie gras ravioli. If you’ve got room for more, tuck into the slow-cooked capretto, a hearty goat dish, or the turbot with caramelized leeks and endive.
Desserts include pistachio cannoli and a summery coconut panna cotta in a guava soup. Chocolate junkies may need to save room for the Amadei chocolate lava cake, the kind of reinvention of a ubiquitous staple that will spur repeat visits.
The verdict: With the opening of Scarpetta Miami inherits the hip and hearty Italian restaurant impressing food fans in Manhattan and sure to satisfy beach-bound diners.
Scarpetta at the Fontainebleau, 4441 Collins Ave, 305-674-4660. Brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun; dinner 5:30 p.m.-midnight daily; lounge 5:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Tues-Sat
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