What’s happened to Del Posto? Back in March last year, I really, really wanted
to go, tantalized by the prospect of dishes like this:
Pici, a sort of fat Tuscan spaghetti, with coxcombs, chicken livers, duck
testicles and, for conventional decadence, black truffles.
Compare that to the menu now:
POTATO GNOCCHI with String Beans, Wax Beans and Cress
It’s like the menu has had all the excitement and personality surgically removed.
It probably makes sense, from a business perspective, to replace the $140 pork
loin for four with a $28 pork loin for one. But on the other hand it does mean
that the restaurant loses some of what made it unique – and without that,
it’s not entirely obvious why anybody would actually want to go there.
The food is very good, but it’s not great. I wouldn’t necessarily say that
I’ve had better Italian food in New York, although I’ve certainly had more enjoyable
Italian food here. And I’ve certainly had much better Italian food
in Italy: Del Posto is probably fair-to-middling by Bologna standards, and can’t
hold a candle to somewhere like Cibrèo, in Florence.
Michelle and I had a houseguest last week, who, reasoning that she would otherwise
have spent $400 on a hotel room, offered to spend that much money on dinner
for three. We did wonder for a minute whether we’d be able to eat at Del Posto
for that kind of money, but we decided to risk it.
I arrived early, and ordered a whiskey sour at the bar. It turned into easily
the most elaborate whiskey sour I’ve ever seen made: fresh fruit and egg whites
and shakers and all manner of mixological pyrotechnics went into this thing
– which emerged smooth, a little bland, and not in the slightest bit sour.
It was a sign of things to come.
When the other two arrived, we went straight to our table, a nice one, in the
corner. (Del Posto probably has more space between tables than any other restaurant
downtown.) The main thing we wanted was a good red wine to warm us up from the
bitter cold oustide – and that’s where things started to go wrong. The
wine list did arrive, large and impressive, with surprisingly small markups
for such a grand restaurant. But the sommelier had a lot of tables to cover,
and annoyingly spent ages at the table next to us walking them through various
madeiras, only to disappear off in a completely different direction before we
could order our single simple bottle of red.
In the mean time, our heavily-accented waiter had already come to take our
food order, so intimidating our vegetarian houseguest in the process that she
ended up ordering nothing at all as a first course, since she was so unclear
on what was what. (There’s lots of Italian on the menu, and it’s pretty tough
Eventually, the sommelier turned up, and recommended a $65 bottle from Sardinia.
OK, we said – and immediately our appetizers turned up. Mine was delicious,
a small skewer of foie gras and perfectly-cooked sweetbreads, although I was
disappointed with the piece of hard and uninteresting liver in the middle. But
it was exactly the sort of thing which the wine would go perfectly with –
and there was no wine in sight.
I’ve never eaten so slowly in my life, trying to draw out this small little
dish while waiting for the wine to pair with it. We asked a couple of people
where the wine was, and eventually a completely different wine waiter turned
up, apologizing for the delay. He said that he’d looked all over the cellar
in vain for the wine that the sommelier had recommended – so here was
a similar wine (same grape, same region, same price range) we could have instead.
There wasn’t much we could do at that point, so we took the alternative wine,
which turned out to be a little uninspired, and which certainly didn’t have
the kind of earthiness I’d specifically asked for. The delay was bad, the switch
of wine waiters was bad, and the fact that our original wine waiter specifically
recommended a wine he didn’t have was just plain weird.
In general, we were served by simply way too many people: the person who took
your order was rarely the person who brought you your food, and the person who
checked that everything was OK was different still. There were apologies for
the wine delay, but they didn’t feel particularly genuine, and at no point did
we get a hint of friendliness behind the formality. If I had one message for
Del Posto, it would be this: when it comes to service, quantity is no replacement
Mains were good, desert was a bit boring, the cart of petit-fours at the end
was a cute touch, but there was nothing spectacular on it. And then the bill
came. They charged us $65 for the wine (I have no idea what the list price was),
and the total was a mere $220 for three, plus tip. OK, we had a vegetarian on
board, but still – for that kind of money it’s really easy to find a very,
very disappointing meal in much less grand surroundings elsewhere in New York.
Obviously, if you choose the $175 tasting menu, with the optional wine pairings
at another $125 per person, you’re going to spend a lot of money at Del Posto.
But one big surprise of our visit was that Del Posto doesn’t need to
be very expensive.
Del Posto does have a lot of swankiness to it: live muzak, soaring ceilings,
formal service, that sort of thing. Everything, in a word, that you don’t
associate with Mario Batali. If you want the Mario Experience, Babbo is still,
clearly, the place to go. Del Posto was Batali’s attempt to open a three-star
restaurant (Michelin scale), and I’m mosty disappointed that he didn’t have
the balls or the imagination to try to reinvent what a three-star restaurant
could be. Right now, Del Posto is a restaurant serving quality Italian food
at high-but-not-exorbitant prices to a well-heeled corporate crowd: it is not,
by any stretch of the imagination, a Foodie Destination. For any given budget,
I would always rather go to Casa Mono than to Del Posto, even though I prefer
Italian to Spanish wines. Only if I were entertaining some very conservative
guests would I play safe and choose Del Posto.
And the fact that Del Posto is the "playing safe" choice is the most
disappointing thing of all. New York didn’t need another "playing safe"
Italian – it’s got dozens of them already. Now it has a particularly grand
one at the bottom of 10th Avenue. Big whoop.