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First Look: PJ Calapa's New Flatiron Italian Destination, Scampi

The Ai Fiori star explores rustic Italian seafood
December 7, 2017
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by Margaret Sutherlin

Photos by Evan Sung

The gist: PJ Calapa has had quite the year. After departing Michael White’s Ai Fiori in 2016, he’s finally ready to debut his second new restaurant of 2017 (his first was a partnership with BUA Group on the hot gastropub, The Spaniard) called Scampi. “Growing up on the coast in Texas, I have always been obsessed with seafood. I traveled to southern Italy about five years ago and fell in love with the culture and the cuisine. Scampi is a humble tribute to the southern coast of Italy and the island of Sicily,” Calapa tells Zagat.

Scampi mafaldini with butter, lemon and parsley

The food: Calapa kept the focus on traditional, rustic Italian classics. There’s a mix of large and small plates, and there’s a big focus on Italian seafood and other regional dishes here. There are several crudo options including tuna with Calabrian chiles, tomato and cucumber; and Razor and Manila clams with fennel, prosciutto and chives. Off the grill expect dishes like swordfish with fennel, clams and chickpeas; branzino with broccoli rabe and chiles; and hearty meats like rib-eye.

Notably, the classic shrimp scampi, long ago bastardized by chains like Olive Garden, gets resurrected by Calapa in imaginative and seasonal interpretations. The classic version with parsley, butter and lemon is on the opening menu, but look for future variations with burrata or asparagus.  

“The idea of scampi is different to a lot of people. We want to have fun with what the dish actually means — is it shrimp? or is it just butter, lemon and garlic?” says Calapa. “I grew up going to a restaurant called Scampi('s) in South Padre Island. It gave me my first taste of ‘fine dining' and has always had a special place in my heart.”

​Octopus with gigante beans, radicchio, mushrooms and pancetta

There are some handmade pastas too (which Calapa is best known for from Ai Fiori), including mezzaluna with braised pork ragu ravioli and pomodoro, or lumache with Manila clams and tarragon pesto.

Pastry chef Laura Sanson (Ai Fiori, Ristorante Morini) crafted a variety of sweets with Sicilian roots, like cannoli and a cookie plate, plus a housemade sorbet and cassata semifreddo.

Cannoli

The drinks: Wines are served by the glass and bottle with a big focus on southern Italian wines, and curated by star sommelier Kimberly Prokoshyn (Rebelle, Pearl & Ash). Amaro also is a big focus of the cocktail program.

Inside Scampi

The space: The space blends a homey, chic vibe with textured walls, warm woods and earth tones paired with eye-catching, retro-modern light fixtures. Dramatic oak arches set off the bar area, which is also accented by brass and rustic wood accents. In the dining room there’s a mix of banquette seating and a communal table, plus a private dining room that fits 30.

The details: 30 W. 18th St.; 212-888-2171; Monday through Wednesday, 5–10:30 PM; Thursday through Saturday, 5–11:30 PM. Lunch coming soon.

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