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Dinner at Del Posto 9/24/11 - a review

biondanonima | Sep 28, 201109:47 AM

Finally, after four glorious days of fine dining in Manhattan (Tocqueville, EMP, Public and Degustation), my parents, DH and I arrived at the fifth and final stop on our foodie tour, Del Posto. My father is obsessed with Mario Batali and they have enjoyed trips to Lupa, Babbo, Esca and Casa Mono on previous visits. However, those places are much more casual, and we were all eager to see how Mario would put his unique personal touch on “fine” dining.

First impressions: Del Posto is a breathtakingly beautiful restaurant. I read a post here from someone who is having their wedding there, and I cannot think of a nicer spot for it - the grand staircase, etc. Just lovely. Live pianist was a very nice touch. We were promptly seated and given menus and the enormous wine list, plus a choice of water (they make their own sparkling water with the Natura process, which I prefer to their other option, Pellegrino).

After a few minutes, we were presented with a set of amuses along with a suggestion as to the order in which we should eat them (which I found slightly pretentious, but no big deal). First was the tiny cup of chunky tomato bread soup, which everyone other than I enjoyed. It was a bit too much like drinking pasta sauce for me. Next was a cube of robiola cheese coated in crisp saffron rice and dusted with edible gold. I don’t think I’ve ever been served an amuse so delicious and addictive - I could have eaten a whole plate of these. The cheese was warm and melty and just pungent enough, the rice a perfect crunchy counterpoint. Also, I was actually able to taste the saffron, which I don’t think I’ve ever been able to do in any of the many saffron-broth based dishes I’ve tried. Finally, a thin slice of speck wrapped around sauerkraut as a nod to northern Italy - again, delicious (and I got two, since I traded my tomato soup for DH’s speck!). The sauerkraut was just tart enough and the speck nicely salty.

A sommelier dropped by to see if we had any questions about the wine list, so I gave him our preferences and budget and had him choose something for us. The wine list at Del Posto is long, and expensive bottles dominate - I just don’t know enough about Italian wine to make an informed decision. I also generally feel that a good sommelier will do a much better job of choosing something I’ll like than I will myself if I give them a good description of what I want, and that definitely proved true at Del Posto. He suggested a lovely Nero d’Avola that was plummy and lush, fruit-forward, with a hint of spice - just what I was looking for.

As we perused the menu and watched the sommelier decant and pour the wine (quite a ritual here!), we were served a basketful of breads that would make Dr. Atkins turn over in his grave. Ficelle, thyme focaccia, whole grain with pine nuts and olive rolls, with butter from Emilia-Romagna and whipped lardo with rosemary, which is quite possibly the greatest thing ever invented.

Once we ordered, the food started coming in at a leisurely but reasonable pace - it left us plenty of time to savor and discuss each course before moving on, and to enjoy more bread and wine as we chatted. Our first courses were calamari, insalata primavera, abalone and carne cruda. A home run for everyone, IMO. The calamari (which I don’t necessarily think of when I think fine dining) were supremely crispy and accented beautifully by salty, vinegary capers and a hit of something spicy. My abalone had a hint of spice too, which I greatly enjoyed - spiciness in general is something that many upscale restaurants shy away from and I really wish they’d find ways to incorporate it more frequently. Anyway, the abalone was fresh, tender and a surprisingly nice combination with the vegetal flavor of the asparagus. DH’s carne cruda was probably the best iteration of tartare I’ve ever had, with perfectly seasoned, incredibly beefy beef, with a sublimely silky texture on the tongue. The insalata primavera was one of the most exquisitely beautiful preparations I’ve ever seen, with each tiny vegetable a burst of perfectly ripened flavor - and a delicious sheep’s milk ricotta dressing to boot. This was easily my favorite vegetable presentation of the trip (miles better than either the artichokes or cucumbers at EMP!).

We had more or less cleaned out the bread basket by this time, and to my surprise they brought us another without asking, along with more butter and lardo. Extra points for Del Posto here. My husband is constantly embarrassed at the amount of butter I can eat and asking for more can feel a little gluttonous - big thanks to Del Posto for just bringing it to me! We had also finished our first bottle of wine, and were visited by a different sommelier to see if we wanted to choose another. My parents wanted something a little drier and my father suggested Chianti, but the sommelier wisely steered us to something else based on the bottle we had just finished and our budget, basically saying that the Chiantis he had in our price range were a little less full bodied and that they wouldn’t drink well after the Nero d’Avola. Instead he suggested a very nice Lagrein from Alto Adige (which was indeed drier, but full bodied and with a nice acidity that went perfectly with the rest of our meal).

We had a little trouble deciding on the pasta tastes for the table, as my mother doesn’t eat fish and the rest of us weren’t interested in her preferred choices (i.e., things involving vegetables. I secretly think she just chooses vegetable options in these restaurants to set a good example for me, as if she still thinks I need to be told to eat my vegetables like I did when I was five.). Anyway, we eventually settled on the pumpkin cappellacci and the garganelli verdi al Ragu. The cappellacci came first - WOW. I’ve eaten a version of these in restaurants from here to Bologna, and I’ve never had any as good as Del Posto’s. Large enough to have the optimal ratio of filling to pasta, they just melted in your mouth in a sweet, savory, sagey, buttery explosion of flavor. The garganelli were equally good - perfectly silky pasta tubes that somehow stayed open to catch the rich sauce and chunky meat. I use Mario’s recipe to make my own ragu Bolognese at home, so I wasn’t surprised at how good the sauce was, but the pasta itself was really exceptional as well. Outstanding examples of two very classic pastas (that are often not done so well). I would have loved to eat four more bowls of each of these!

As we were digesting our pasta courses, my husband went poking in the bread basket, only to discover that all the olive rolls were gone (I take no responsibility for the disappearance of said olive rolls). He said to me “hm, someone ate all the olive rolls,” and then selected something else. A couple of minutes later, a runner appeared as if by magic with a tray of olive rolls just for him, saying that she had heard him mention we were out and wanted to make sure he had everything he wanted. Talk about service!

Our mains were presented in a flurry of activity - several of them required finishing at the table, which they managed quite nicely. I chose the veal chop (which had a $20 supplement), despite the presence of broccoli rabe, which I usually abhor. The waiter said that the bitterness was kept well in check by the fontina and other ingredients in the stuffing, and he was quite right. This was probably the best piece of veal I’ve ever had. It melted like butter in my mouth but was exceptionally flavorful - more delicate yet somehow more intense than beef. It was also well worth the $20 supplement, as it was quite large enough to feed two. A good thing, too, since my mother made a HUGE mistake with her dish. She decided on a random whim to order the SALMON, of all things, even though she doesn’t eat fish. When I questioned her about it, she claimed that she liked salmon and that the preparation (with Le Virtu all’Abruzzese, a vegetable and meat stew) sounded interesting to her. Whatever Mom. The waiter even checked back with her to make sure she was sure about it, since she had told him at the beginning of the meal that she doesn’t eat fish, but she persisted that it would be fine.

Anyway, the salmon came and it was rare to the point of almost not being cooked (which is typical of fine dining salmon). Mom was not at all prepared for this and I could tell by the look on her face after one bite that she wasn’t going to be able to eat it. I suggested that she send it back to have them cook it further, but she refused, so I gave her half my veal chop and my dad and I ate the salmon, which was a super fatty, richly delicious and tender filet that tasted as if it had been oil poached (although the menu said charred). She did eat the Virtu, which was indeed a vegetable stew - I didn’t care for it, though (I’m not a fan of soft vegetables in general), and I thought it was an extremely odd pairing with the salmon. Dad added his portion to his Cacciucco, where it paired nicely with the other fish and scallops in a savory tomato broth. Excellent dish. DH’s duck was also quite wonderful, with crispy skin and tender meat. The beer-braised endives echoed some of the sauerkraut-type flavors of northern Italy and complemented the duck perfectly, although the little melon balls, though delicious on their own, seemed to have nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the dish.

As they cleared our plates, a runner stopped by to ask if we’d like to keep our bread or have it boxed up to take home. Um, home please! Another nice touch. Onto dessert, which I felt was by far the weakest course. Dad and DH chose the pineapple crostata, which I found very average. The pineapple itself was good (cooked down into almost a jam-like consistency), but it was inside a little volcano of rather dense, dry pastry. The champagne vinegar caramel and vanilla gelato were excellent, though. My dessert was also very disappointing - an extremely dry, crumbly chestnut cake with more chestnuts, plums and yogurt gelato (which was delicious). The menu description sounded wonderful but the chestnut cake was just awful and the chopped chestnuts were just too pasty to combine well with the other elements. I should have gotten the butterscotch or the carrot cake! Anyway, Mom had the tartufo, which was tasty if simplistic. I will say the presentation was cool though - instead of the traditional round ball of ice cream, they had a very irregularly shaped lump that, when dipped in chocolate and cocoa, really did look like a truffle.

We were stuffed to the gills at this point but managed to enjoy our mignardises immensely. I am not really into mignardises but I LOVED the selections at Del Posto. A tiny ice cream pop, an incredible crescent-shaped chocolate truffle (made with my nemesis, Valrhona chocolate, but they somehow managed to make it taste GOOD, a feat that no other restaurant has accomplished to my knowledge!!!!), a bite of what tasted like partially dehydrated grapefruit, a champagne vinegar caramel (these are amazing - I would kill for a recipe), vanilla cream filled bomboloni (like a donut hole from heaven), and a little cream filled tartlet with raisins on top. A wonderful way to end the meal. We picked up our bread from the coat check and were ushered out by a doorman, who offered to help us find a cab. Great service beginning to end!

Overall impressions: loved Del Posto and can’t wait to go back, especially for their bargain lunch deal. Having eaten so recently at Eleven Madison, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between the two. I preferred the food at Del Posto, but that is a personal palate thing - I just love Italian, and that flavor palette interests me more than that of EMP. From a purely technical standpoint, I might say EMP’s food was superior. Service was excellent at both restaurants, but a totally different style - at EMP they seemed to be constantly questioning and engaging with us to make sure that we were enjoying our experience, while at Del Posto they tried to anticipate our needs without asking. As with EMP, I am extremely surprised that Del Posto has only one Michelin star (I know they had two at one point). I will be very curious to see what next year’s Michelin ratings announcement (which should be happening soon) will bring for both of these wonderful restaurants!

Del Posto
85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

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