Montage Beverly Hills
225 North Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dining date: 10/19/13
It’s been two years since my last visit to Scarpetta (it really doesn’t seem that long ago at all) and three years since my first opening night visit – still one of the more memorable dining experiences of my life. Scott Conant is still the face of the restaurant, but day-to-day oversight of the kitchen has transitioned to new executive chef Freddy Vargas as of May (who took over from the short tenure of Alex Stratta). This past weekend, I was invited back into the restaurant to get a taste of what’s new. This would be my fourth visit overall.
The dining room is huge but the best seats in the house are the five at the end of the kitchen. Dubbed the ‘Chef’s Counter,’ it offers a front row seat in the kitchen and interaction with the chefs. As one can assume, it’s a completely different type of experience. My understand is that this isn’t tasting menu-only; a la carte is possible…but some sort of tasting would seem to be the best way to get the full experience.
Scarpetta’s bread basket was memorable during my first visit and it’s still one of my favorites in the city. The whole wheat focaccia and mini ciabatta are both very good and served warm. The difference-maker for me is the stromboli – warm layers of dough stuffed with salami, mozzarella and cherry tomatoes. Eats like a meal and a terrible appetite-spoiler. Oh, and there’s also a citrus olive oil, mascarpone butter, and eggplant caponata to accompany the breads.
COTECHINO rosemary, braised lentils, quail egg
Rich housemade sausage and quail egg flavors were grounded by a hearty lentil and tomato base for this amuse. This dish clearly foreshadowed some bold flavors to come.
RAW YELLOWTAIL olio di zenzero & pickled red onion
BIG EYE TUNA CRUDO heirloom tomato vinaigrette, melon cucumbers & calabrian chili
A duo of crudo was next. Both showed off the delicate texture and flavors of the fish, complemented by some sweetness and acid.
SNAKE RIVER FARMS WAYGU CARPACCIO ricci di mare, crispy sunchokes & white Alba truffles
Wagyu, sea urchin and white truffles? Reading like an all-star lineup of ingredients, I feared that these flavors could clash. My fears were unfounded as I found the flavors to balance pretty nicely. Beef, sea and earth flavors were all prominent, while the crispy sunchokes provided some welcome delicate texture. A beautiful plate.
DISTEFANO’S BURRATA spiced pears, ﬁgs & walnuts
Going a little bit lighter with this dish, creamy burrata was paired with grilled slices of peara. The spices lent savory notes to the sweet fruit, while whole walnuts and a walnut tuile provided differing textures.
Chef Freddy Vargas plates our next dish.
CREAMY POLENTA fricassee of truffled mushrooms, truffles
A signature item at the restaurant, I’ve loved the polenta since my first visit here. The polenta was as smooth and creamy as I remembered with a very savory sauce (the chicken broth reduction is key, I think). There was already a lot of depth here; the truffles just made it that much better.
TAGLIATELLE sausage sugo, ceci beans, tuscan kale & whipped ricotta
The chew of the tagliatelle was a welcome feel, bathed in a rich and peppery sausage-based ragu. The strong pepper flavor was tempered by the whipped ricotta, which also provided a creamy richness.
SPAGHETTI tomato & basil
Speaking of pasta, I was happy to see this one. It’s Conant’s most famous and popular dish and for good reason. Still the best spaghetti in tomato sauce I’ve ever had, by far (though I rarely order this in restaurants, always opting for something that sounds more “exciting”).
IMPORTED TURBOT wild mushroom purée, brussels sprouts & hazelnuts
Moving into the more protein-based dishes, I believe this is one that just recently came onto the menu. The turbot was a denser and meatier fish, complemented by the mushroom puree and crunchy hazelnuts.
HONEY GLAZED DUCK BREAST chestnut spätzle, braised cabbage, truffles
This was a beautiful slice of duck breast, moist and succulent with a crispy honey-scented skin. I liked the delicate chew and nutty flavor of the chestnut spatzle, and I never shy away from more truffles.
We capped off dinner with a foursome of desserts to try. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture full descriptions of all of them, but I think the jist is here.
VANILLA CARAMEL BUDINO gianduja chocolate sable cookies
CHOCOLATE TART sweet potato butter, sesame brittle
LEMON PUDDING shortbread, yuzu curd, fig
We had a wide variety, but my favorite was probably the budino. I liked the layers of flavor and the cookies, while on the side, were pretty tasty on their own. The chocolate tart was another highlight, with seasonal sweet potato flavor complementing the chocolate pretty well.
Pumpkin macarons were a nice take-home sweet.
This was an excellent meal, showing off the autumn season and the kitchen’s range. A diner could have a really low-key meal here focusing on the bread basket, spaghetti and a meat dish. However, the kitchen has the ability to put together what I think is a Michelin-star level tasting. The execution of the refined Italian menu is strong and the plates straddle both comforting and interesting. Add to that the kitchen counter experience, and this is one of the more unique and exciting special occasion dining experiences around.
Note: This was a hosted meal.