Food has become such a big part of our society to elevate the status of some chefs to celebrities who are instantly recognizable in media and our consciousness. I sincerely believe, however, whether a star chef can actually deliver in a restaurant setting is another matter. Some chefs may be more about talks on their “philosophy”, more interested in their appearance on TV shows than the actual quality of food they can prepare for people. Scott Conant has long been a chef who has seemingly avoided being labeled just a “star” chef who hasn’t proven anything. I have always loved Scarpetta in Meatpacking District that he helmed for a long time before a much publicized divorce with the place. A couple of years later, he shows up with a new Italian place at INNSIDE New York hotel; will he be able to deliver the same magic like he did at Scarpetta? Unfortunately no. Impero Caffe seems like just a copycat of all the menus at Scarpetta, only the execution didn’t quite deliver.
I was definitely expecting something different from Scarpetta at Impero Caffe, but it’s no exaggeration that the menu here is just like a carbon copy of the former place. That was OK with me as long as the place still delivered the same type of elegant food that Scarpetta was serving. I was floored by the mushroom with polenta dish at Scarpetta, but the almost identical smoked maikake mushrooms with polenta and truffle sugo didn’t have quite the same magic. Olive oil poached octopus with tomatoes, capers and fingerling potatoes was tasty, but I’ve had better octopus dishes elsewhere.
The signature spaghetti al pomodoro at Scarpetta is still one of my all-time favorite pasta dishes in the city, but the one at Impero didn’t have the same firm texture of the noodle or the elegant simplicity of the overall dish that I used to remember. Sea trout with peas, morels and salmoriglio was simply forgettable. An otherwise pedestrian dining experience at Impero Caffe was salvaged by the delightful crème fraiche panna cotta with orange gelee and rhubarb strawberry sorbet that my dining companion and I both enjoyed quite a lot. I couldn’t tell whether chef Conant was actually at the kitchen during my meal, but if he had been, I’m not sure whether he was actually “in charge” monitoring all the dishes. Impero Caffe just felt like a shadow of “star chef”, which was quite unfortunate given I know how much chef Conant can deliver.
Getting a reservation at Impero Caffe is relatively easy and I saw plenty of empty tables in the course of my meal even though there were outdoor spaces and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. Is it just because of this place’s status as a “hotel restaurant”? Perhaps it may be because the weekend I visited was the holiday weekend? I couldn’t tell. Anyways, the space didn’t have quite the classy vibe that Scarpetta had. There is full bar, but I couldn’t remember what wine I had. Impero Caffe is a prime example that a celebrity chef’s new opening is not necessarily the right place to eat. I have no idea how much time and energy chef Conant is putting into this restaurant, but wish the magic that I had experienced at Scarpetta comes back.
- Creativity: 7.0/10
- Execution: 7.5/10
- Ingredients: 7.0/10
- Flavor: 7.5/10
- Texture: 7.5/10
Address: 132 West 27th Street, New York, NY 10001
Telephone: (917) 409-5171