Entries in Del Posto (4)


Del Posto

Del Posto isn’t a four-star restaurant. You already knew that, right? Sam Sifton of The Times is the only critic to have made that claim. Of the city’s  four-star restaurants, Del Posto has the fewest supporters.

Bloomberg’s Ryan Sutton gave it just two stars, which errs in the opposite direction, but Sutton recognizes an an essential truth: a four-star restaurant needs to make you say wow! Not after every bite (which would be impossible), or even every dish, but at least sometimes.

There wasn’t much wow in our meal at Del Posto, which is not a complaint, just a reflection of where Del Posto stands, when soberly assessed. Almost every dish we tried, with exceptions I’ll note later on, was extremely well prepared. A careful, competent craftsman is at work here: chef Mark Ladner. Not many Italian kitchens in New York could produce a meal like this.

But a four-star restaurant needs to be a “category killer,” and the food at Del Posto is not. It is roughly on par with the better three-star Italian restaurants, like Marea and Babbo. Del Posto, of course, differs from them stylistically, but the gustatory pleasure it delivers is about the same.

What sets Del Posto aside are the atmosphere and service. Critics may sniff that the grand dining room feels like it belongs in Vegas, and even in Italy itself one probably wouldn’t encounter such a setting. No matter. For an elegant Italian meal, there’s nothing in the city more comfortable, or more relaxing, than Del Posto.

The service, too, does a passable imitation of high-end French models, with its armies of runners, sauces poured tableside, purse stools for the ladies, and so forth.

The wine list is superb, as it is at all of the Batali–Bastianich restaurants. The sommelier steered me away from the $115 Barolo I had chosen, to another bottle he considered a better choice, that cost $10 more. Decide for yourself if that counts as upselling, when you’re already on the hook for half a grand.

But he ably performed the whole decanting ritual far too seldom encountered in these days, and his recommendation was indeed very good.

Del Posto was always very expensive, and it has gone up considerably since Sifton gave it the fourth star. Almost immediately, the à la carte menu was dropped. A five-course prix fixe (now the least expensive option) jumped from $95 to $115, the tasting menu from $125 to $145.

Reservations, which were once plentiful, are now a bit tougher to come by. Four weeks in advance, I could do no better than 6:15 p.m. on a Friday evening. They don’t rush you, though: we were there for over three hours.

There was a trio of amuses bouches (above left). I don’t remember them individually, but they were very good. Bread service (above right) came with two spreads, the latter (on the right) made from lard (pig fat).

On the five-course menu, which we had, each diner chooses an antipasto, a secondo, and a dessert. Of the appetizers, I was more impressed with Lidia’s Lobster Salad (above left) with tomato and celery, which had a good, spicy zing. In comparison, an Abalone Salad (above right), with grilled asparagus and ramps, tasted flat.

I believe our first pasta was the Ricotta Pansotti (above left) with black truffles, probably the best dish of the evening. But that was offset by the evening’s only dud, a Lobster Risotto (above right), which was too soupy and over-salted.

Both entrées struck me as uncomplicated, although skillfully prepared. I thought that Sliced Duck Breast (above left) was sliced too thin, but my friend loved the dish. I had no complaints at all with Grilled Pork (above right), served with a hearty accompaniment of smoked whey, white asparagus, fava beans, and pickled cherries.

The desserts were superior. This being a birthday, the kitchen sent out cake, then wrapped it up for us to enjoy the next day.

I’m afraid we didn’t take note of which desserts we ordered (above), but we loved them. They were the strongest part of our meal at Del Posto. I believe the one on the right is the Butterscotch Semifreddo.

The evening ended in the usual blaze of petits fours (above left) and a wonderful chocolate sculpture (above right) that I felt quite guilty about not finishing.

No other Italian restaurant in New York can deliver an experience like Del Posto—assuming that its full-on embrace of unabashed luxury is your cup of tea. Many diners today find such meals oppressive. If it’s just the food you are interested in, you will eat about as well at Marea or Babbo, at Ai Fiori or Felidia, all of which offer à la carte menus that put you in much greater control over how much you want to order, and how much it will cost.

We werent’ really wowed by anything we tried. The best dishes were certainly excellent. Maybe I would give four stars if there were another one or two dishes as good as the pasta with truffles and the desserts; and if there were no duds like the lobster risotto; or flat-tasting dishes, like the abalone salad.

I’m glad that the owners, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, gave a four-star Italian restaurant their best shot. It is certainly much improved over our first visit, when I gave it 2½ stars. It doesn’t quite deserve four, but New York is better with Del Posto in it.

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

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


Sam Sifton Awards Four Stars to Del Posto, but Can I Trust Him?

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.


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


Posto Envy

It’s the hottest new restaurant of the season—this year’s equivalent of Per Se. Yes, it’s Del Posto. Once upon a time, it would have been madness to open an upscale restaurant anywhere on 10th Avenue. Now, it’s the home of Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich’s “out-and-out bid for four-star recognition in a town where, as far as Italian restaurants go, three’s the max.” A $29 valet parking charge is the only nod to the restaurant’s out-of-the-way location.

Frank Bruni had a preview piece in the December 7th Times. The restaurant wasn’t open yet, although with a swipe at the overlong menu, the setup for a three-star review is in place:

Expect $240 rack of veal, $220 shoulder of pork and a $200 whole king salmon for four to eight people, to be carved within view of the table, in a flourish of high ceremony from the Old World.

The proposed menu lists nearly 20 antipasti. It has more than a dozen pasta dishes, one with a jalapeño pesto, another with a tripe ragù, another with partridge.

And there will be more than 15 other entrees, including duck wrapped in porchetta; guinea hen with pumpkin; squab with wild arugula.

One can see where Bruni is coming from: none of the current four-star restaurants has so many items on the menu. Common sense suggests that when the kitchen is trying to do so many things well, there will be a few clunkers. Here’s an early look at that long menu (hat tip: chowhound):

Antipasti —
COTECCHINO with Lentils and Aceto Tradizionale di Modena 18
CARCIOFI alla Romana 13
FUNGHI MISTI with Puntarelle 15
SEAFOOD SALAD with Seaweed 19
SWORDFISH CARPARCCIO with Lemon and Borage 17
RUCOLA with Shaved Goat Cheese and Three Frichi 14
SALUMI MISTI with Erbazzone 18

Primi —
SPAGHETTI with Crab, Scallions, and Jalapeno 27
RICOTTA and CHARD NUDI with Caciocavallo 21
AGNOLOTTI dal Plin 23
BUCATINI alla Gricia 18
RAVIOLI di Brasato with Brown Butter and Thyme 23
PICI with Cibreo and Black Truffles 30
FRANCOBOLLI di Sugo Finto with Tripe alla Toscana 23
GNOCCHI with Passato and Pesto 19
ORECCHIETTE with Fennel Sausage and Swiss Chard 19
PENNETTE with Skate and Fiorentina Tomatoes 19
PAPPARDELLE with Wild Boar 21
TAGLIATELLE VERDE al Ragu Bolognese 20
BIS Two Tastes of Pasta Shared by the Whole Table 21/person
TRIS Three Tastes of Pasta Shared by the Whole Table 25/person

Risotto for 2 or more —
RISSOTO with Pumpkin and Lardo 50
RISSOTO with Porcini
RISSOTO with Lobster
RISSOTO with Barolo and Castelmagno

Secondi —
ORATA in Cartoccio with Salicornia, Sweet Potatoes, and Puntarelle 27
CACCIUCCO del Posto 29
SWORDFISH Trapanese with Wild Spanish 28
COD with Hake Mantecato and Clam Salad 28
SQUAB with Wild Arugula and Sagrantino Vinegar 30
DUCK in Porchetta with Savor and Celery 29
RABBIT with Peppers Agrodolce and Eggplant 28
GRILLED PORK CHOP with Cipolline and Cardoon Puree 28
CALVES LIVER alla Veneziana with Polenta, Onions, and Brovada 27
LAMB THREE WAYS Roman Style 30
LAMB’S KIDNEYS Trifolati with Porcini, Scorzonero, and Hot Peppers 27
GRILLED ROMBO for 2 with Stuffed Onions Briciolate 70
STINCO DI VITELLO for 2 with Spaetzle and Krauti 70
VEAL RACK for 2 with Chestnuts, Shiitake, and Black Truffles 85
COSTOLETTA DI MANZO for 2 with Cesare’s Beans and Escarole 100

Per il Tavolo —
LEG OF LAMB with Carciofi, Almonds, and Rutabagas 210
PORK LOIN al Arista with Wild Fennel AND Fig Conserva
MIXED GRILL from the Macellaio for 6 with Chicory Salad 230
SALT-BAKED ARCTIC CHAR with Cauliflower Ragu and Panelle 220

Dolci —
Chocolate-Hazelnut, Caramelized Pears, Creme Schlag

BUDINO di Fichi 15
Warm Fig Pudding, Pomegranate Sorbetto, Zabaglione, Salty Caramel

Semolina Mousse, Celery Marmellata, Celery-Apple Sorbetto

Chocolate Tart, Orange Buttermilk Gelato, Cardamom Spuma

Almond cake, Brown Sugar Meringue, Apricot-Moscato Brodo

STRUDEL for 2 30
Cranberry and Apple Strudel, Stracchino Gelato, Apple Cider Concentrate

SPUMONE al Caffe e Cioccolato 15
Amaretto Crumbs, Coffee and Chocolate Cream

Chesnut Crepes, Persimmon Semifreddo, Rum Glassato

GELATI e SORBETTI del Giorno 12
Three Tastes of our Housemade Gelati or Sorbetti

There are also two tasting menus at $120 each. I’d love to try that $210 leg of lamb, although it’s apparently a portion for six.

Gotham Gal says:

First of all, the restaurant is incredibly beautiful. You feel special the minute you walk in the door. The only other restaurant that has the intense warm high class feeling is the Four Seasons Grill room. Warm colors, great light. Everyone will look beautiful. There are few things that they did which were very clever. There is a large foyer down the middle of the restaurant which leads to a staircase and behind that is a glass enclosed kitchen. I would bet that 200 people could cook in there at the same time. It’s enormous. On the right hand side there are tables for groups of 2-4 people. On the left side of the restaurant is the bar area which has sweet couches and a long sweeping bar. Up the stairs, on the left is seating for parties of 6 or more. In essence, the loud parties can’t bother the intimate dinners for 2-4. Very clever.