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Del Posto

In last week’s New York Post, Steve Cuozzo surveyed the scene on Tenth Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets, where three restaurants have opened to great fanfare in the last year — Del Posto, Morimoto, and Craftsteak — but all have had their troubles.

Craftsteak has been pummeled by the critics, after the peculiar decision to roast steaks instead of grilling or broiling them, as most diners prefer. Cuozzo reported that Craftsteak is “awaiting delivery of a broiler.” How anyone could open a steakhouse without a broiler utterly eludes me, especially when the owner is a savvy restauranteur like Tom Colliccio. About Morimoto I don’t have much to say, but it too has been mostly lambasted by the critics.

Reviews of Del Posto have been mixed. Frank Bruni awarded three stars — not the four that Mario Batali and his partners were hoping for, but better than it could have been. New York, as I recall, awarded only two, and that was on a five-star scale. Del Posto isn’t exactly hurting for business, but Cuozzo reported that a lower-priced Sunday menu has been quietly introduced. My friend and I had no trouble scoring a 6:15 p.m. table just a couple of days in advance.

Prices at Del Posto are all over the map. Some of the more ridiculously expensive items are now gone. The whole veal shank for $240 is no longer on offer, but risottos are $50–60 for two, which is ridiculous. All of the other pastas and main courses are far more reasonable. A special Sunday-only four-course menu is $49, while the chef’s tasting menu is $120 for ten courses.

Although it was the lure of Sunday bargains that brought us there, we chose the tasting menu. We were most impressed to find that a wine pairing was available for just $30. Many restaurants in Del Posto’s class would charge double that. To be sure, we got five small pours of relatively recent vintage, but the wines all worked well with the food, and at the price it was a bargain.

After an amuse-bouche of fried zucchini, our menu was as follows:

SALUMI MISTI with Erbazzone and Figs
Grilled SUMMER VEGETABLES with Ricotta di Buffala
Tocai Friulano, Bastianich 2004 Friuli

The house-cured salumi were one of the highlights of the meal, extremely fresh and tangy.

INSALATA di MARE with Prosciutto
PERCH with Truffled Green Bean Salad
Falanghina, Feudi di San Gregorio 2004 Campania

I found the seafood salad dull and rubbery, but the Perch was perfectly prepared.

GARGANELLI VERDI al Ragu Bolognese
RISOTTO with Funghi Misti
Morellino di Scansano “I Perazzi,” La Mozza 2004 Toscana

The pasta was just fine, although as my friend remarked, it was nothing she couldn’t have prepared at home. While eating the mushroom risotto, I couldn’t help but think, “This is what they charge $50 for.” It was a competent risotto, but fifty dollars? Give me a break.

Grilled RIB-EYE “Tagliata”
Vespa Rosso, Bastianich 2002 Friuli

I’ve had bad luck with beef on tasting menus, which often seems a pale imitation of what the better steakhouses serve. But Del Posto’s rib-eye was first-class: wonderfully tender, and with a crisp char on the outside. The cheese course was again a bit of a dud. It’s wonderful to know that the parmigiano has been aged six years, but I found it overly sharp to the taste, and the accompaniments weren’t much help.

CROSTATA di Cioccolato
Moscato d’Asti “Sourgal,” Elio Perrone 2005 Piemonte

I enjoyed the melon sorbet. I must admit I’ve forgotten what the final course was like, but at this point I was so full that I felt they’d have to wheel me out of there. A generous plate of petits-fours went untouched.

The room at Del Posto is gorgeous. The tables are amply spaced. Service was friendly, but there were some glitches. After I used my fork to eat the amuse bouche, a server replaced it at my side, instead of bringing a clean one. It’s a minor point, but no four-star restaurant would do that. Later on, there was a speck of dust floating in my wine (they replaced it without complaint). Another table ordered the grilled whole fish. We watched the staff struggle to fillet it for what looked like 20 minutes. By now, Del Posto ought to have the staff who know how to fillet in their sleep.

For a couple of courses, the server’s description was mumbled to the point of being incomprehensible. Luckily we had a postcard-sized cheat sheet to look at (and which I brought home with me). Still, I had no idea that what looked like apricot slices that came with the parmigiano was in fact horseradish.

We enjoyed our meal at Del Posto — make no mistake about that. But both service and consistency have a ways to go if the restaurant aspires to four stars.

Del Posto (85 Tenth Avenue at 16th Street, Chelsea)

Food: **½
Service: **½
Ambiance: ***½
Overall: **½

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