Photo by Cathy Pinsky
Rosa’s rear dining room, sporting chandeliers and a fireplace, is preferable to the more generic front room.
In a dining world delightfully skewed by foodies (those creatures so eager to squat on tiny plastic chairs on Saigon street corners, alternately inhaling bus fumes and the tastiest pho on the planet), people forget that diners visit restaurants for valid reasons other than to eat delicious food. Skinny big-spenders of my acquaintance are delighted to pick at overpriced greens with lean protein on the side if only they can rub elbows with A-list celebrities in a stylish room. Others don’t care much for celebrities, décor, or even delicious food: they only visit restaurants where they are greeted warmly by name. These diners are looking for some flattery and affection along with a meal. Which diner doesn’t deserve a favorite restaurant? Who am I to say?
By way of background, I’d like to point out that I was not looking beautiful on the evening of my first visit to Rosa’s La Scarbitta, the Mamaroneck offshoot of New Rochelle’s wildly successful Spadaro. In my defense, I was tapping away under deadline until 15 minutes before our reservation. Rushing out without makeup (or even freshly shampooed hair), I could hardly have been mistaken as “beautiful,” even on a foggy day.
Yet upon walking into Scarbitta’s small space across from the Mamaroneck train station, Rosa Merenda greeted me and proclaimed me “bella!” She took my arm, guiding me to our table under low acoustical tiles (only somewhat disguised by branches and Christmas lights), and, tapping her temple, said, “You’ve been here before? See, I remember!” Actually, I hadn’t.
The ensuing order-taking process was loaded with further touches of familiarity, including Rosa’s hand occasionally placed upon my husband’s shoulder. Though Scarbitta departs from Spadaro, and actually offers a printed menu with prices, Rosa Merenda makes it clear that the action lies in the long list of specials posted in winding script on a blackboard bolted to a rear sidewall of the restaurant. Few diners (including us, on each of our visits) can actually read it while seated. Instead, customers rely on the salesmanship of Rosa Merenda, who recites the specials in loving detail and makes suggestions. Not only will you learn the dishes, but Merenda misses few opportunities to compliment herself and her restaurant. In describing one steak dish, for instance, she dropped that she’s very particular about her ingredients; that’s why she offers no bistecca alla Fiorentina on the menu.
After listening to the spiel, we were surprised by the quality of ingredients in some dishes—like chili-studded, oil-cured olives; cubes of nondescript provolone; very pink prosciutto; and a few slices of run-of-the-mill salami in an antipasti Italiano priced at $16.95. And an otherwise tasty, if icy cold, $18.95 dish of burrata was presented on pointless slabs of January-in-New-York tomatoes, while a globe artichoke as big as a baby’s head arrived steamed until falling apart, served freezing cold, and apparently without any seasoning whatsoever. Good thing we had the consolation of a nicely priced bottle of Pichierri Primitivo di Manduria and the primal pleasure of Scarbitta’s amuse bouche: grilled bread, scattered with salt and a drizzle of oil, scraped by a garlic clove presented on the plate. Somewhere along the line, we learned of Rosa’s childhood cardiac illness by way of a boast that she uses no butter in her cooking and that she removes much of the fat from the cooking process.
Some honest, Northern Italian pork fat would have improved a salty and over-sauced gnocchi Bolognese, whose pellet-like size and toughness defied Rosa’s glowing description. And a fettuccini with prosciutto and fungi offered strange knots of pork and bland mushrooms presented in a floury cream sauce rendered gritty with grated cheese. Better was a rigatoni parmigiana—maybe not earth-shattering, but a tasty recovery. Also, hearty, American-style eggplant parmigiana is a classic red-sauce pleasure.
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Mains struggled, like a roasted branzino whose skin ventured past a rustic char into burned. We scraped aside the bitter black and ate its moist flesh, which was simply (and perfectly) anointed with lemon. Scallopine appear frequently on this menu—as veal saltimbocca, pollo Milanese, and pollo Scarbitta. They are pounded so thin that they taste more of breading and the pan than animal, but the crusty chicken is not unpleasant under parmigiano and lemon in pollo Scarbitta. Zuppa di pesce, served over linguine, was a standard pileup, though generous with fresh-smelling seafood and the acid of a well-poised, if not particularly memorable, tomato sauce.
To finish, a tiramisu was chalky with cinnamon powder, but a fat cannoli was crisp and lavishly cheesy. With a short espresso (maybe with anisette), it’s a nice way to end a meal. Here’s where it gets tough. Rosa’s La Scarbitta is not for foodies, nor is it a good option for star-seeking décor-obsessives (though the room boasts a pretty wood-burning oven). But for those who want to feel (often literally!) cuddled in an instant intimacy, Rosa’s La Scarbitta is a gold mine. You will emerge feeling fictitiously beautiful, if lighter of wallet.
Rosa’s La Scarbitta Ristorante: 1/2 â˜…
215 Halstead Ave, Mamaroneck
Hours: lunch, Tues to Sat noon-3 pm; dinner, Tues to Sat 5-10 pm; Sun 2-9:30 pm
Appetizers: $8.95-$18.95; entrées: $17.95-$33.95; desserts: $5.95-$10.95
â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…—Outstanding â˜…â˜…â˜…—Very Good