I am a fan of Scott Conant‘s cooking and I have followed him around over the years. First at L’impero, Alto (closed), and Scarpetta in New York and Miami. He briefly had another restaurant in New York called Convivio – also closed. Then there was Corsair in Miami. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Scott, he’s a celebrity chef and a regular judge of the Food Network’s show, Chopped.
His cooking has always impressed me. Having had the privilege of enjoying his cooking over the years, I was eager to try his new restaurant Impero Caffé, at the brand new Innside Hotel in the Chelsea/Nomad area of New York. It’s located at 132 West 27th Street. It’s a quiet street, albeit a little seedy, between 6th and 7th Ave – a no man’s land location for most tourists. The 73 seat restaurant is located downstairs from the lobby, accessed by a glass staircase. It has an unfussy look, with soft grey and brown tones. The decor is modern, clean, lines and very relaxed with sky-high ceilings, dangling fixtures, wooden tables and banquettes. The decor doesn’t blow me away, but it doesn’t offend either. It has a hotel feel to the ambience. But, I didn’t come here for the decor, I came here to eat. I have always enjoyed patronizing his restaurants because the food can be outstanding, and he and his staff are always hospitable.
Well, Scott is back in the kitchen and you can taste it on the plate. So you can forgive the location and the non-scene and dig in and have the pleasure of eating some damn good food.
I am happy to report that many of Scott’s signature dishes are on his menu.
His assorted bread basket which you may recognize from Scarpetta is still great, with his Stromboli bread, potato bread and a rustic bread and he serves it with two dips, olive oil and Parmesan and an eggplant, artichoke and tomato dip. This is highly addictive but you must leave room for his food. We started with a hamachi crudo in a light but tasty citrus sauce with pistachios, ginger, and chili. It had all the right balance of flavours. The octopus was outstanding. It was poached in olive oil, with tomatoes, capers and fingerling potatoes. If we had more room we would have tried another signature dish, the creamy polenta with maitake mushrooms in a truffle sauce. I have had this dish many times before and let me tell you it doesn’t disappoint.
But it is Scott Conant’s pastas that remind you of why he became famous in the first place. His Pasta Pomodoro is a signature dish. Such simple ingredients but it is the best tomato pasta you might ever have. I believe he stirs in some butter right at the end. I think I may have even preferred his cavatelli pasta more this particular evening. It was paired with braised duck, peas, and a delicious black truffle sauce. We decided to try one more pasta, and believe me, it wasn’t an easy choice. We ordered the Torchio, a dish made with porcini and sausage ragu. All the portions are generous, flavourful, and bold.
We never made it to the main courses, but one could chose from: scallops, sea trout, chicken or osso bucco.
David, the manager oversaw everything and gave us some great suggestions. We washed this all down with a bottle of Slingshot from Napa.
For dessert we had an unbelievable creme fraiche panna cotta with fresh fruit and raspberry sorbet. This was also one of my all-time favourite panna cottas.
All in all, we really enjoyed our meal, and we had a great carb load.
It is always a pleasure to support Chef Conant’s restaurants. The food is always wonderful, and he is such a great guy that we have been lucky enough to meet on several occasions.
Scott also runs the upstairs lounge in the hotel, a traditional Italian coffeehouse with espresso and pastries, at night a bar with bar snacks. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner.