Before passing a written food test to become a waiter at Scarpetta (What's a sirloin? Name Italian varietals?), Ricardo Medina graced the floors of Lure Fishbar, Lever House, and Asia de Cuba. He took a break last year to create his own show called Isn't Life Delicious, "an uptight New York cooking show … on the edgy and racy side." (Look for Medina shirtless in the online pilot.) We asked the waiter-slash-producer about Scott Conant's side gigs, and what it's like to work in a hot chef's restaurant.
How did Scott's old job at L'Impero influence Scarpetta?
We thought we were going to get a solid two stars, and what Scott brought over was this fine dining in a super-casual way. Scott wanted to bring more of his personality out than he could at L'Impero. One of our assistant managers and one of our sommeliers came over. And then we've seen a lot of regulars from those restaurants.
Are you trained to recognize critics?
Definitely. I had waited on Bruni at Lure Fish Bar; we knew who Platt was. Everybody there knew who Ruth Reichl was. If somebody here doesn't know somebody, four or five other people definitely know who they are.
Did the stellar reviews change who comes in?
We already had this nice eclectic mix of high-end customers and customers who aren't so high-end but who are foodies.
What’s this low-end foodie following?
This whole new Internet thing. The first week we opened, we had people coming in and there was already a big buzz about Scarpetta and what Scott had previously done. We have people who have found out about us through a place like Grub Street or Restaurant Girl. I've never really seen that component on the level that we have at Scarpetta.
Do customers tailor orders to the reviews?
Oh, completely. People like to bring in their clipping of whatever review they might have. I get people who order verbatim whatever they heard in a review. Depending on what their tastes are, I try to steer them in the right direction.
Do guests splurge for all of the courses?
It's pretty varied. We don't do half-portions of pastas but we're able to split, so we'll tend to do a family-style thing. We do tasting menus of everything on the menu if diners request it. We just have to go downstairs and ask the chef. The only thing we've had off the menu is white truffles, but we wanted to get grounded before serving specialty dishes.
What's the kitchen vibe?
Scott likes to make jokes, and he's pretty funny. He definitely likes to talk.
Know any of his favorite jokes?
I do. But more often than not we're boys working in a kitchen, and I can't really repeat it in print.
Does Scott have groupies?
He has his following of people who like to be around him, so I guess they are foodie groupies. Chef just came out with a new cookbook, and people are purchasing it at the restaurant and of course they need to get his autograph or ask for a photograph. I'm working with this celebrity: He just did an episode with Top Chef coming out this season; he just got named in Japanese Harper's Bazaar, profiled in Nightline as well.
Do women ask if he's single? [He's not.]
I had this older woman who had heard about him for the longest time and she had eaten at L'Impero and Alto and chef walked out, and she was, I think, from Long Island (she had an accent). "Oh my God! He's so attractive! He's like a movie star! Can I get a picture with him? Can he come and talk to me?" So of course I had to pick on the chef after that.
Do you know anything about Scott working at Lugo?
I don't know if he's actually going to be the chef, just that there's been a lot of time spent over there on that property.
Is he working on any other restaurants?
We are slated to open another place with the Fontainebleau hotel group in Miami and then one in Las Vegas. I don't know if they're going to be Scarpettas. I think they already have the space in Miami.
Related: Scott Conant, Steakhouse Consultant?