My son and I dropped in on Scarlatto the other night. It was an unplanned visit: we were in the area and were hungry.
The space used to be Pierre au Tunnel. I believe I dined there once. It closed in 2005 after a remarkable 55-year run. I remember it as a somewhat drab and faded space, as those old French bistros tend to be. The Scarlatto team spruced it up nicely, with comfortable chairs, exposed brick, and black-and-white photos of movie stars on the walls.
Alas, those movie-star photos are just one of the many theater-district clichés that Scarlatto fails to avoid. There’s the slightly grimy menu with multiple inserts that look like they’ve passed through too many hands, and the gruff service by staff conditioned to get patrons to their shows by 8:00 p.m. You get that same service, even if you tell them (as we did) that you have no deadline.
But the food is considerably better than it needs to be, in a neighborhood where most of the Italian restaurants follow a standard playbook. Chef Roberto Passon doesn’t take many chances here, though a few items (stewed rabbit, sautéed chicken livers) go beyond the Little Italy classics.
We went for old standards and were pleasantly surprised. Veal Osso Buco ($36) was as good a rendition of that dish as I have ever had. My son, who is not easily pleased, gave Veal Scaloppine ($16) the thumbs-up.
Aside from the Osso Buco, which was a daily special, prices are quite reasonable. Appetizers are $8–14, salads $7–10, soups $8, pastas $10–19, entrees $15–21, side dishes $5–7. The pre-theater three-course prix fixe is $29. I didn’t order wine, but I noticed that the wine list, too, had plenty of inexpensive options.
The critics all ignored Scarlatto, as they do most theater district restaurants. Had the identical restaurant opened in the Meatpacking District, it would have warranted at least a mention. For pre-show Italian that is a cut above most of the neighborhood, Scarlatto is worth a look. If you’re not going to the theater, I’d recommend waiting until 8:00 p.m., after the crowds have departed.
My son, who just turned 13, is already getting the hang of how the stars work. He said, “My guess is one star, because even though it’s good, there are lots of other places doing it.” True enough—though not in the theater district.
Scarlatto (250 W. 47th Street between Broadway & Eighth Avenue, Theater District)