Note: A Michelin star did Lo Scalco no good. It closed in mid-2006, giving way to Dennis Foy, which also closed. A promised midtown re-opening of Lo Scalco never materialized.
In the 2005 Michelin Guide, Lo Scalco received an unexpected star. The restaurant had been open for less than a year, and the media had largely ignored it. To date, there is no New York Times review. New York Magazine reviewed it after the Michelin Guide came out, praising the pastas but finding fault in other dishes.
The Chef/Owner is Mauro Mafrici, who once worked as executive chef at Felidia. The restaurant’s name is taken from a renaissance Italian word (now obsolete) that is approximately equivalent to maitre d’. A photocopy of an old book that used the word is on display in the vestibule.
The dining room is beautiful, serene, and refined. Service is leisurely, if a bit lazy. We puzzled for a while over the menu. We expected a server to wander over and utter the words any diner these days should dread: “Let me explain how our menu works.” Instead, they left us to ourselves, and we had to ask how it worked.
In an earlier incarnation, apparently the menu was organized by ingredients. The version we saw last night was organized by regions of Italy, listing an antipasto, first course, and second course for each. This wasn’t explained, although one might have guessed what was going on from the prices. This pattern is repeated for four or five regions. Then, there’s a list of chef’s specialties. If all of this is too confusing, you can order a tasting menu of 4, 5, or 6 courses, priced at $54, $66, or $78 respectively. With the tasting menus, you can choose your courses or ask the chef to choose for you. Got that?
If you order à la carte, the various courses are between $12-29 each. There’s a cheese tasting at $12, $16 or $20 for three, four, or five cheeses. Desserts are $12, or $9 for sorbet and gelati. It is not easy to find a wine under $50, although we lucked out with a selection barely under that, at $48.
We chose the four-course tasting menu, selecting the courses ourselves. Coincidentally, my friend and I made identical choices. We began with the homemade sausage, which is served with canellini beans and broccoletti. This was wondeful, tender, and tasty. We then had a risotto that is not listed on the website, but I believe it came with a pumpkin sauce, which was also terrific.
Alas, the meal tanked with our third choice, duck wrapped with suckling pig—one of the chef’s specialties. The duck was tough and dry. My friend’s portion had what seemed like gristle in one of the pieces; she found it inedible. Given the culinary fireworks of the first two courses, I would like to think this was an anomaly, but it was highly unfortunate, particularly as this was claimed to be a speciality de la casa.
We diverged on the desserts. I had the apple and caramel cake with pistachio ice cream, she the chocolate hazel cake with coffee ice cream. These were both strong finishers, although my friend found her cake a bit too rich (probably not the restaurant’s fault). At the end, we weren’t at all rushed to leave the restaurant. Had we not asked for a check, I think we might still be there.
In its style, ambiance, presentation, and culinary ambitions, Lo Scalco is a three-star restaurant. The staff needs to work on the consistency of the kitchen’s output to actually reach that level.
Lo Scalco (313 Church Street between Walker & Lispenard Streets, TriBeCa)