NEW YORK, NEW YORK
When you walk into a restaurant in New York City and don’t feel like you are in New York City, one begins to wonder if this is a good or bad thing. Located in the currently very fashionable meatpacking district of NYC, Del Posto, the Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich and Joseph Bastianich restaurant with Chef Mark Ladner in the kitchen, is a collaboration described as an “Italian luxury dining experience.” That statement alone begs one to ask where exactly in Italy does one dine like this?
Lynn, my dining companion for the evening, walked into the space and thought the cab had time-traveled us to Epcot in Florida. I, on the other hand, felt when we walked in that we had landed in some big old hotel dining hall somewhere in the Midwest. The two-level dining room is spacious but decorated in strange brown and orange hues. Lynn thought perhaps the designer was trying to carry on the god-awful Mario Batali orange crocs thing? While the tables are spaced comfortably apart and there are quite a few booths, something wasn’t quite right. There’s a piano player towards the back of the room who was tinkling the ivories and adding a bit of “atmosphere” to the joint and a bar that runs pretty much the entire length of the restaurant but somehow Del Posto felt out of place in New York City.
Arriving a few minutes early for our dinner reservation, we settled at the bar for some cocktails. Since the website had stressed a dress code of “jackets preferred” coupled with the aforementioned “luxury dining experience,” I elected to wear the sexy black dress number complete with high heels for the evening. Imagine my surprise when everyone else around us was amazingly dressed down. When we were seated after a few minutes at a table in the main dining room, the male half of the couple sitting next to us was in a plaid shirt (not nice plaid but the kind of plaid you go outdoors to cut a log or two in). But enough about the space and the lack of other customers dressing up for the party, let’s talk about the meal.
Dining at Del Posto is expensive. A four course prix fixe starts at $95 per person with some supplements. You could of course order a la carte but when I did the math, the numbers were even more staggering so prix fixe it was.
Water was offered and four different kinds of bread — rosemary, baguette, whole grain and delicious bread sticks were brought to the table with a dish of butter and a small bowl of creamy white lard for smearing on the bread. (We ate the lard first.) Because many wine lists these days can be daunting, I had done my homework ahead of time, picking out at least six choices from the exclusively Italian wine list. I believe our waiter was impressed with my “cheat sheet” (a day-glo sticky from the office) because he steered me in the right direction with the first wine we ordered and when the second bottle came around, he surprised us with a vintage that was nearly $30 less than my original choice. With wine in our glasses and bread on our plates, we were now ready for the antipasti.
The antipasti at Del Posto is not your average peppers, salami and a slice of cheese thrown in. Del Posto has some interesting takes on roasted vegetables, hot and cold salads and dishes that I would classify as “entree-like” since they are pretty substantial. Lynn and I started with nearly rare slices of lamb plated with watercress, crunchy cucumbers and a dollop of Greek yogurt and an additional lamb dish with a faro accompaniment. The lamb was pretty damn good. Our pastas were next. Prior to us deciding which pastas we should get, I had a conversation with our waiter about my experience with the spaghetti vongole a few weeks prior at Osteria Mozza in L.A. Again, I was eyeing a rendition of spaghetti with dungeness crab but frowned when I saw the sliced jalapeno ingredient. After listening to my story, our waiter didn’t even hesitate, “you don’t want to get that,” he said. Instead, we ate the orecchiette with lamb sausage in a very tasty broccoli rabe sauce (nearly pesto-like) and a pumpkin cappellacci which was unfortunately very sweet and the filling so mushy I felt like I was eating baby food.
After the antipasti and our primi, we were up for our secondi, namely entrees. When we sat down, I had seen what looked like the old “cheese rocket“ floating around the dining room. This in fact was the steam table they were wheeling from table to table, serving customers the special of the night — bollito misto — the classic Italian boiled meat dish. Since I hadn’t seen bollito misto since we were in Verona a few years back, I was more than tempted. Now, this was real Italian cooking! Slicing the lamb sausage tableside and fishing pieces of pork shoulder and lamb tongue out of the broth was lovely to behold. The portion, while not particularly generous, was delicious (although I would have liked a little bit more broth in my bowl) and it was served with three dipping sauces — spinach, horseradish cream and a pungent red pepper. Lynn’s entree, a lovely piece of duck that was spicy and sweet at the same time, unfortunately was a bit cold by the time we got around to eating it since we ate the bollito misto first.
Meanwhile, the table next to us had already turned twice. The first couple (with the guy wearing the plaid shirt) were nearly finished when we arrived, eyed the dessert menu but decided not to order anything, barely talked to each other, then left. The second couple (also dressed down) looked at the wine list, then the menu and seemed to struggle to find something to eat or drink. When their food did arrive, they picked at the pasta listlessly, ate about half of their roasted rack of lamb and also skipped dessert. Their unhappiness made me wonder was it the space? The menu choices? The high prices?
We finished our second bottle of wine and moved on to dessert. There are lots of sweets on this menu. I was interested in the savory so we ordered a dish that was composed of celery, fresh figs, a celery sorbet (which tasted a lot better than I thought it would) and some marscapone cheese. I absolutely loved this dish — the textures, composition and taste were spot-on. We had also ordered a classic chocolate tartufo with a mixture of dark chocolate and coffee filling. While we thought we were done, our server had taken a liking to us (perhaps because the other tables seemed so unhappy, or maybe because he liked my day-glo “cheat sheet”?) but he brought out a third dessert of pineapple crostata — basically, perfectly cooked chunks of fresh pineapple in an enveloping dough crust.
Did we enjoy the meal? Yes. Was it overpriced? Yes. Was this “authentic Italian cooking?” With bollito misto on the menu, definitely. Would we go back? Probably not. On second thought, if they revamped the space, I would definitely go back.