Chef Scott Conant had never thought of opening a restaurant in Toronto, but when he was approached by the Thompson Hotel group and asked to do just that, it seemed like a logical step for him and his now-famous brand, Scarpetta. “I have so many clients from Toronto who visit my New York and Miami restaurants, it just seems like a natural progression,” says the James Beard Award winner. “To expand on the east coast also means it’ll be easier to travel between the places, since a flight from Toronto to Miami is only three hours. It just made sense. Toronto is an alpha city, and it’s great to be a part of it.”
Scarpetta, which takes its name from the Italian term for the shape bread takes when soaking up sauce, already has two locations: one in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District and another in Miami’s Fontainebleau Hotel. Both have found fame by being lauded by critics and through Conant’s celebrity status—he’s been a judge on Top Chef and Chopped!, and now hosts 24 Hour Restaurant Battle on the Food Network.
Just like the New York location, Toronto’s Scarpetta features the chef’s dexterity with pasta dishes, such as tomato and basil spaghetti ($23), and duck foie gras ravioli ($23). Raw yellowtail comes drizzled with oil di zenzero and flakes of sea salt ($16). Conant’s famous buttery polenta is also on the Toronto menu as a primi, served with truffled mushrooms ($15). “What I wanted Scarpettta to be was rustic Tuscany meets urban Milan,” says Conant, adding that he was blown away by the food at one of King West’s other Italian hot spots, Buca.
The menu is old-school Italian, but the decor, designed to match the Thompson aesthetic, is contemporary and sleek. Designed by New York’s Studio Gaia, Scarpetta is spacious, with giant S-shaped booths occupying the centre. When darkness descends outside, the windows glow, courtesy of colour-changing LED lights. The only remnant of old Italia is a wall of wines.
The challenge here is to establish Scarpetta as a stand-alone spot rather than simply a hotel restaurant. Either way, there is no denying the excitement among Torontonians as they welcome this piece of New York to Wellington Street.
Scarpetta, Thompson Toronto, 550 Wellington St. W. (at Bathurst St.), 416-601-3590, official Web site.