In tomorrow morning’s Times, Sam Sifton awards four stars to Del Posto, the Batali–Bastianich Italian fine dining temple in Southwest Chelsea.
The review accomplishes one thing: it sounds extraordinary—exactly what a four-star restaurant is supposed to be:
Mr. Ladner’s pastas are insanely good. After a wintry appetizer of warm, soft cotechino in a lentil vinaigrette, his spaghetti with Dungeness crab, sliced jalapeño and minced scallion arrives like the sun. It is a dish that speaks directly to Mr. Ladner’s genius, to a view of Italian cooking that allows for both jalapeño and Dungeness crab. His cooking is not about recreating Italy on a luxe scale so much as it is about recreating the Italian spirit on the grandest scale imaginable.
The problem is that four-star reviews gain value from the company they keep. There are six other four-star restaurants in New York: Daniel, Eleven Madison Park, Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, Masa, and Per Se. I know of no other critic—amateur or professional—who has suggested that Del Posto is on their level.
To the best of my recollection, each of the last three restaurants to receive four stars—Per Se, Masa, and Eleven Madison Park—had received a considerable amount of critical acclaim, blogger and food-board love, before Frank Bruni confirmed what all of us, basically, already knew. This review comes out of nowhere.
I am not saying it couldn’t be true, only that it lacks the usual indicia of truthyness.
Sifton has not had much opportunity to file high-end reviews. That’s not his fault: in the haze of the post-Lehman Brothers, post-Bear Stearns era, new restaurants of that caliber are a bit thin on the ground. Of the opportunities afforded him, he got it fairly close to right with Marea (three stars), but whiffed on Colicchio & Sons (vastly overrated at three) and SHO Shaun Hergatt (the opposite, with two).
Restaurants change. My 2½-star meal four years ago is, I admit, dated. But I am not yet ready to invest in another meal there on Sifton’s say-so. One thing this review will surely do, is whip up more attention for Del Posto. If a few more reviews confirm Sifton’s assessment, I’ll give it a try.