I will start this one with the definitions…
Scampi – Langoustines, or small lobsters the size of a large crayfish found throughout the Mediterranean and Atlantic ocean. They are an expensive delicacy in the Mediterranean, and even more expensive here
Shrimp Scampi – A dish made of Shrimp, garlic, white wine poured over pasta. At least thats the classic way. There are many other variations out there
Bomba – Calabrian Chili paste consisting of.. you guessed it… Calabrian chili, EVOO, and pickled veggies in some variations
Scampi the Restaurant – PJ Calapa’s (Costata, Ai Fiori) dream restaurant in Flatiron heavily featuring the three above
The Infatuation – Still clueless!
The state of Italian dining in NYC is getting more interesting by the day. From Scampi alone I can walk a few blocks to Maialino for the Roman classics (another outstanding meal a few weeks ago). I can crawl to 13th street for the neighborhoody Da Andrea (I’m due). I can walk to Ulivo, Mercato’s more mature sister, for some Southen Italian (I’m due there too). Or I can just walk to Nishi (insert smiley with heart eyes here). There has never been a better time for Italian in the city. The wealth and depth of it makes everyone question, what is Italian food anyway.
But in order to stand out in NYC these days, you need to be creative. Whether that creativity comes from childhood memories, working at three Michelin stars, or whatever. PJ Calapa started in Texas, and worked his way through the ranks of NYC via Bouley, Nobu, and Michael White’s AltaMarea group. For me it was Costata (RIP) that solidified him on the culinary map. But Scampi feels like that dream restaurant.
The space is like a lesson in restaurant decoration and design. It can get loud at dinner times and very quiet and airy during lunch. The lunch bar seat closer to the front is my favorite seat in the house. One on night we endured the two seater next to the busy kitchen door where we felt the restaurant’s pulse. Our waiter, although clearly overworked, was ‘futuristic friendly’. The type you only see in Sci-fi movies.
The food rundown:
Bomba – This will be on your table when you come in. Its not meant to be for the bouquet of Grissini (bread sticks – nice touch), but to be combined with the dishes, especially the pastas. I was eating this stuff with the spoon. There are rotating pickled veggies mixed in (last time mushrooms).
Razor Clams – Reminiscent of a similar dish he created in Costata. Chopped clams mixed with chives and prosciutto. Unlike similar dishes we had lately like in Frenchette, this one worked, again.
Beef Tartare – Not particularly beefy, but nicely balanced and flavorful. There are quite a few ingredients here to make it happen including Parmesan, chives and the Bomba.
Mafaldini Scampi – This is their signature dish, featured on every table and every review (including sadly Infatuation. These guys rush to review every restaurant before hitting puberty). The Mafaldini has that wonderful chew and is a serious contender with Lilia as the best Mafaldini in NYC. But what makes the dish work is the crunchy toasted Filone breadcrumbs (toasted with garlic and more) featured in other pastas. The best way to eat this however is mix some of that Bomba midway. This is a must get
Langoustines – These better be perfect for $14 a pop and they are. As usual they come butterflied, and while there’s not a lot of it, the meat is glorious sea butter
Delicata Squash – One of the newest fall dishes. Nice and heavy, in a good way
Octopus – The lone meh! Slightly overcooked and forgettable when compared to the other dishes
Lumache – This is a hearty pasta dish. Its a snail shaped pasta (like elbows on crack) mixed with Tarragon pesto, clams, and those crunchy Filone crumbs I can eat with a spoon.
Cassata – If you like semifreddo, get this. If you dont like semifreddo, get this
Grillo by the glass – Its a bland, but a rare sighting of the Sicilian white. Its delicious.
30 W 18th St (5/6), Flatiron
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that.
Recommended Dishes: Razor Clams, Mafaldini, Langoustines, Lumache, Cassata