Del Posto

IMG_399285 Tenth Avenue
New York, New York

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Entrees $20-$130 (several entrees that serve two), 4 course price-fixe menu$95, 7-course tasting menu $125 (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Elegant, upscale, special occasion grandeur
Cuisine- Gourmet Italian
Hits- Incredible decor, very strong service

Restaurant Week: two for two.
This  year is really restoring my faith in Restaurant Week.
I met my friend Liz for a “business lunch” today in the heart of the Bastianich-Batali empire: Del Posto, and from the moment we entered, the prevailing attitude was something like this,”You’re here! We’re so glad you’re here! We’ve been waiting for you!”  Hospitality at its finest.
Walking in from the hot city streets, we were approached by one of the hostesses (there was a small fleet, really) who communicated our presence to her colleague as she walked, so there was literally no wait time as she looked us up on the computer.  We went straight from door to table without pausing.  Fascinating.
The impressive foyer exuded sumptuousness and splendor: four majestic pillars, two elaborate wrought iron and marble staircases, rich tile work, too many white tablecloths to count, a Tiffany-style lamp, a silver vase of stunning purple aliums (one of my favorites!)…
Suddenly, it seemed that our waiter, Piero, and an armada of white-clad support staff were at our immediate disposal… as if we were the only people in the restaurant (although in truth, it was filled to the gills with sophisticated, urban luncheon-types).  We were treated to complimentary fresh fruit bellinis: peach puree and prosecco (and then treated to seconds when Piero discovered that my family roots were approximately100 kilometers west of his hometown in Matera, Italy.)
Just as we had ordered and the bellinis started going to my head (don’t judge me- they were my breakfast), the armada delivered a basket of crusty breads in three varieties -focaccia, olive, and multigrain- with a tray of warm, green olive oil and a dollop of butter from Emilia-Romagna.
Liz and I ordered to share, so we each tasted a little bit of everything.  Our first course was an insalata di pomodoro: red, orange, and yellow heirloom tomatoes nestled in a shelled-out onion half with local  mint and a smear of pepper-sprinkled mozzarella creme.  The presentation was lovely although I wonder if they didn’t skimp a bit on the tomatoes, which (while ripe and beautiful in color and visual appeal) weren’t the tastiest I’ve had.  The seasoning was fabulous, a bed of light tomato water at the bottom of the bowl belied some fennel flavors and a surreptitious but mild and pleasant spiciness.  The mozzarella creme, which I nearly missed, was really the star of the dish: an original, creamy, and fresh spin on a classic Italian appetizer.
Our other appetizer, speck di alto adige, was served with arugula and fresh shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano.   This moderately salted and seasoned ham is savory with juniper, garlic,  and pepper flavors that match perfectly with the nutty-pepper taste of arugular.  The combination was straightforward, simple, and common but lovely nonetheless.
Our unfortunate miss was a minestrone freddo, a tempting, cool summer vegetable soup with arborio rice and basil pesto.

Timing was noticeable at Del Posto.  No sooner than we retired our appetizer forks to our empty plates, our entrees arrived.  First was handmade garganelli (quill-shaped) spinach pasta with bolognese sauce (listed on the menu as “Mario’s favorite”).  As someone who makes her own pasta, I always admire the love and craft that goes into fashioning each piece.  The green garganelli were tender and served al dente with a truly meaty bolognese: chunks of tender, savory meat, a whisper of cheese for flavor, and the sauce actually very subtle and light.
We also shared slow-roasted loin of Heritage USA Berkshire pork (“pork arista“) with a charred onion salad.   Juicy, soft, and perfectly cooked, the lean pork had a thin strip of seared and delightfully flavorful fat at its edge.  The onions mounded on top were tender but had bite, spice, and a balsamic kiss to enhance their natural sweetness.  Fresh basil and tarragon rounded out the plate.
For dessert, we shared a ricotta cake with local strawberries infused with a subtle second layer of orange flavor.
Then came what I can only describe to my adult readers as a mouth-gasm: chocolate budino, a pudding, served in a round glass and topped with a layer of caramel, almond halves, crisp chocolatey spheres, and croccanti misti (a crunchy confection usually flavored with almond, hazelnut, or chestnut).  The croccanti were buttery and crisp with a taste like toffee, or like the unmatchably rich brown-sugar-and-butter caramel made in one’s own kitchen.  The chocolate, the caramel, the textures of crunch and silky creaminess (we’re talking 10,000 thread count silk here), the butter… oh my.
My blood orange, pear, and green tea was poured for me and served with brown and white sugar.  I thought it picked up the orange in the ricotta cake nicely- and purely coincidentally since the citrus flavors in the cake were unexpected.
It was hard to say good-bye to Piero, who seemed like a friend at this point, and who seemed to have developed quite a crush on Liz.  He checked in with us but waited genially for us to request our bill.  If I had any criticism at all, it would be that there seemed to be such a flow to the pacing of the meal, with one course immediately preceding the next, that I wondered whether the service was just flawlessly efficient or pushing us to have the table ready for the next Restaurant Week conoisseurs.  To his credit, Piero did ask us if we were on a lunch break and if we needed to hasten our meal.  I wouldn’t say the meal ever felt rushed at any point, but there was a brisk, businesslike expediency to the service.  I’m sure this phenomenon is inherent to Restaurant Week and the high table turnover.

Exiting in grand style down a staircase that made us feel like we were on a Fashion Week runway, Liz and I agreed that it was definitely a must-return.  In fact, I have visions of sugarplums dancing in my head; in my starry-eyed fantasy, I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful place Del Posto would be for a wedding.
The hostess interrupted my reverie to hand us each a black-ribboned parting gift: a pair of light, crisp, fluted-edged cookies that tasted of butter, sugar, and poppy seeds.  Like the complimentary bellinis and charming hospitality, these touches were totally unnecessary but welcoming and refreshing– like hotel pillow mints, nonessential but a hallmark of excellent service.
It’s easy for restaurants to throw their hands in their air and go with easy dishes and casual service as they entertain the masses during Restaurant Week.  But I’ve always subscribed to the philosophy that Restaurant Week is a prime way to introduce new patrons to the quality of your product, to wow them, and to build a new and faithful client base.  Apparently, Del Posto does too.

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