On a recent Saturday night, a crowd of eager diners—empty nesters, young families, weekenders and couples—packed Market St. in Rhinebeck inside and out, making Gianni Scappin’s new Italian eatery the “it” restaurant of the moment.
My husband, Christopher, and I observed that the restaurant, housed in the former Millhouse Panda restaurant space, was fully booked by 6:30pm and a long waiting list continued to build. Were we in Rhinebeck or the Hamptons? In that moment, it felt like one and the same.
Barely two months old, Scappin’s latest venture has been a draw from the get-go. Market St. heralds Scappin’s successful return to Rhinebeck, where he originally opened Gigi Trattoria in 2001 with then-wife Laura Pensiero (now the sole owner of Gigi’s).
Scappin was literally born into the restaurant business: His parents owned a small trattoria in the Veneto region of northern Italy (about an hour and half outside of Venice). After attending Recoaro Terme Culinary Institute in the province of Vincenza, Scappin worked at different restaurants throughout Italy—and abroad. In the mid-1980s, he arrived in New York City as head chef at Castellano, where he made his mark introducing uninitiated New Yorkers to truly traditional Italian dishes. From there, he successfully navigated the upscale Italian restaurant scene — including BICE, Le Madri and Coco Pazzo — before moving upstate with Pensiero in the late 1990s to make Red Hook their home.
Scappin began teaching Italian cuisine at the Culinary Institute of America’s Colavita Center, where he remains a chef-instructor today. In addition to Gigi’s, he also opened Cucina, located in a renovated farmhouse, in Woodstock.
There’s no question that Scappin demonstrates a talent for setting up and running restaurants that attract a crowd.
Market St.’s whitewashed interior is attractive and bright, sporting a minimalist, rustic sensibility—blond wood tables, hanging pendant lights and comfortable booths, with tables accommodating large parties in the back, as well as a bar in the front and back.
The atmosphere is bustling and convivial, but orderly. A team of mostly young servers, dressed casually in a “uniform” of white tee-shirts and jeans, patrol their sections with an eagle eye, ready to take and expedite orders, while the kitchen turns out Scappin’s wide-ranging menu with speed and efficiency.
When our server set down the bread basket, we simultaneously reached for the rosemary focaccia. Warm and pull-apart soft, it was perfect for dipping in the accompanying spicy, green olive oil.
There’s a lot to choose from on Scappin’s extensive menu: small plates, salads, cheese, salumi, pasta and risotto, Neapolitan-style pizza made in a wood-burning brick oven, meat entrees and daily entrée specials.
Because it was a chilly evening, I started with a classic Tuscan ribollita kale soup ($9). Ribollita means “reboiled”, and, in Tuscan tradition, ribollita is a thrifty way to give new life to leftover vegetable and bean soup by adding dry bread (to thicken it) and Parmesan for flavouring. Scappin offers a vegan version of ribollita (no butter, cream or cheese). The broth, while thinner in consistency, is abundant with a fine dice of vegetables—carrot, butternut squash, parsnip, onion and celery—as well as kale, beans and brown rice. Less robust than the classic, it is still tasty and had the desired warming effect.
Christopher began with a salad of shredded kale, pine nuts and currants, topped with thinly sliced rounds of radish and shavings of Tuscan pecorino ($11). “The flavors and textures are nicely balanced,” Christopher said, noting the contrast of the crunch of kale with the sweet-tart currants, the nuttiness and cheesy richness of the pine nuts and pecorino, and a citrusy vinaigrette.
For the main event, I had a hankering for red meat and ordered the daily special—braised short ribs ($29). When the server set it down before me, it looked almost too pretty to eat…the ribs in a rich red wine sauce, garnished with a lovely matchstick salad of carrot and apple, and served with creamy polenta. Eagerly anticipating fork-tender, falling-off-the-bone short ribs, I was as ready to dig in as any Paleo caveman! Unfortunately, Christopher and I had to concur: as beautiful as the short ribs looked, the meat was only fork-tender in some spots, while overcooked and dry in others.
On the other hand, my husband ordered what I would consider the perfect meal to enjoy at Market St.: the porcini risotto with parsley and Prosecco ($21) with a glass of Tinto Agricultura, a rustic Portuguese red wine ($8) “on tap” (poured from a barrel). Risotto is a regional specialty of the Veneto, and Scappin has an unusually fine hand with it. Is it a special stirring technique that begets its rich, creamy texture while highlighting its earthy, uniquely fungi flavor? Whatever Scappin’s secret, it works. Christopher savored every bite, and I dipped in frequently.
Our server was pleasant and efficient. Throughout our meal, our water glasses were refilled. Bread appeared, then disappeared. Dishes arrived and were promptly removed at last bite—in a few instances, before we were actually finished.
For dessert, we debated our options. Once our server told us that the butterscotch budino ($8) was “not too sweet,” our fate was sealed. As it turns out, the butterscotch budino is THE most popular dessert at Market St. Rich and creamy, this rum-infused butterscotch custard has a slight sweetness offset by savory flecks of sea salt and coconut, and is served with a pair of tiny fennel-pistachio biscotti.
I predict Market St. will be a fixture in the Rhinebeck dining scene, but if you plan on snagging a table in the near future, don’t leave home without making a reservation!
19 W. Market Street (Garden)
Mon-Thurs: 5pm-9:30pm; Fri. & Sat.: 5pm-10:30pm; Sun: 5pm-9pm
Sat. and Sun: 11am-3pm