Culinaring Through NYC: Day 6, Del Posto: Where the Godfather Meets Batali
Courtesy of NY Eatery
Mario Batali is a big, celebrity chef with a restaurant portfolio as lively as his orange-colored hair. His Food Network name is branded across 17 restaurants, not to mention Eately, a giant market on 5th Avenue that would probably overwhelm even the hungriest of Italian grandmothers.
Del Posto is his fancier, more well-known restaurant (second to Babbo) and last year was elevated to four stars in the New York Times thanks to the new critic Sam Sifton. In 2008 Del Posto was downgraded to one Michelin Star from two and this year failed to earn that second star back even in light of the NYT upgrade. But all this back story aside, how does Mario Batali do Italian food?
Del Posto is a formal place, the kind that subconsciously urges you to stand up when a woman approaches the table to sit down. The interior could easily pass for a restaurant in Batman’s Gotham City: high-ceilings, steps at every corner, metal railings lining walkways, marble floors, dim yellow lighting to match the scores of candles in the bar area. It’s a dark, brown place filled with tall Italian waiters and their slicked-back hair and short, also Italian, busboys wearing the traditional white jacket and white pants, a uniform that reminds me of a small-town doctor.
Amuse Bouche of fried saffron risotto, chicken consomme with egg yolk, and puff pastry with ham pate (I think? Can’t remember).
Jean-Georges demonstrated that an amuse bouche should be lively and well-rounded, two qualities this opening act lacked. A greasy risotto ball and a heavy puff pastry did little to wake up the palette. Only the chicken consomme — the clear soup fortified with strong herbs and stock — belonged on the table.
Roasted Winter Vegetables with Robiola Sformato & Truffled Hazelnuts
The first appetizer was one of those delicate moments, a time when flavors and feelings come so seamlessly and quickly that to stop chewing at any moment would ruin the experience. I do not know what was used in this cold appetizer of vegetables except that somewhere in between the squash and a beet, there was smooth, creamy cheese and perhaps genius itself.
Zampone with Lentil Vinaigrette & Salsa Verde
Zampone is spicy sausage wrapped in pig trotters, here paired with a lentils spiked with an acidic salsa verde. The lentils packed more energy than I expected and the spicy sausage less so. Enjoyable and a tad on the heavy side, but not nearly as remarkable as the roasted vegetables.
Yesterday’s 100 Layer Lasagna alla Piastra
Del Posto likes its Italian waiters who take pleasure in spewing a string of Italian words to describe a dish before backtracking with an English translation. Maybe this is why it was at times confusing to know what I was eating. Regardless, this lasagne redefines its sloppy, casserole throw-it-together image with a finely-tuned superior that seems about as labor intensive as a Chinese sweat shop. Fifty (!) paper-thin sheets of lasagna with cheese and sausage hiding in-between — the layers in this dish mean something and with every bite another dimension, another flavor presents itself. In wine terms, this was dish that kept going and going.
Seared Duck Breast, Apician Spices, Savor alla Francescana & Lovage
The seared duck beast is an Italian winter on a plate. Tender duck is oaky and spiced, paired with a pumpkin-apple-pear jelly. The entire plate, though, could have used more of that savory and salty to balance with the sweet.
Sfera di Caprino with Celery & Fig Agrodolce & Celery Sorbetto
Boy does this dish work on the most unexpected of levels. Celery sorbet? Yes. Absolutely yes. It’s an icy cleanser that hits right before the sweetness from the figs balances with creaminess from the cheese. A buttery crunch from the crumbs around the cheese. This is dessert with inspiration and precision as its parents.
Spezzata di Castagne Warm Plum Macedonia, Crushed Chestnuts & Yogurt Gelato
I’m a bit hazy on this one, but I do remember loving the wintery plums and the buttery cake.
Del Posto was an interesting experience, one that was intentionally the way it consistently was. The servers, for one, were a serious bunch who never smiled but never frowned. They presented themselves not as a group intent on creating the best experience but one that aspired to be purgatory in nature, facilitators between the customers and the kitchen (we’re assuming the kitchen is not hell). As for Del Posto’s cuisine, it’s creative, fine-dining Italian that brings with it as much tradition and warmth as a plate of spaghetti and meatballs.
85 10th Ave
New York, NY 10011