Foodie Call #4 took place on Friday, February 12, 2010. To celebrate Kate’s birthday the previous week, Gary thought it’d be a great idea to go to Del Posto for their prix fixe lunch special. Gary would pay for the meal which Kate agreed to but only if she got to take care of the drinks. With their propensity for drinking, would this actually be Gary’s treat or would it be a wash?
Gary: No discussion about Del Posto can start without acknowledging the gamble Mario Batali took to eliminate the more affordable enoteca section of the restaurant in attempt to get that fourth New York Times and third Michelin star. From the comments on several food blogs, you could just sense the rage directed at Del Posto for putting personal ambition above best serving the customer. Perhaps it’s more of a populist sentiment but such decisions made in the midst of a recession have a tendency to draw that sort of ire.
What I overlooked though was that there was a $29 prix fixe lunch menu. It’s not that I didn’t know it was there but more that I was bothered that the last remnants of affordability would be confined to lunch. Months later, however, I’d stop being a populist ass and realize that this was an opportunity to try a prospective four-star restaurant at a pretty affordable price. So with that in mind as well as several glowing reviews from trusted foodies, I made the suggestion to Kate that we go there for her birthday.
The moment I walked into the restaurant, I was impressed. The space is magnificent and large, reminding me of a lobby of a very nice hotel. We’re talking grand staircases, lovely floors (marble and carpeted), and beautiful decor – effectively, the whole package in terms of looks. Now if the food could match the atmosphere, we’d have a winner. If the ridiculously thin and air-like wisps of potato chips they serve as a bar snack was any indication, this was going to be a good time.
Gary: Before our aintipasti dishes came out (actually even before we ordered – I can’t recall for sure), we were presented with a tray of amuses – Stracciatella (soup with chicken broth and eggs), Saffron rice Suppli (crunchy ball of saffron risotto), and Mortadella in Pastella (meat-filled puff). They also came out with another vegetarian amuse for Kate but I’ll let her tell the tale on that one. All the amuses were great but I’m a sucker for salume so the Mortadella in Pastella was my favorite.
Kate: Yes Gary, the amuses did come out before we’d ordered. Anything. We were drinkless– (how can you not remember?) It wasn’t a big deal, but I remember because it took awhile after that even for our server to take our drink order. After being seated (at a beautiful table, there isn’t a bad seat in the house) we weren’t greeted for a few long, thirsty minutes.
Before I go on, I should say a couple of things about service and my perspective: 1. I am in the service industry meaning that I can be a bit overly needy (it’s my turn to be served–finally! I want it to be juuust right), and then make up for it with constant politeness and gratitude and most importantly, a very heavy tip. 2. My last nice restaurant experience (and actually best meal I’ve ever had) was at Eleven Madison Park. A Danny Meyer restaurant. And you know what they say about Danny Meyer restaurants. The service is so competent and nice (but not in a fake or over the top kind of way) that they almost ruin you for all the other restaurants. It’s like porn and guys who watch too much of it. Maybe I had some unrealistic expectations. Maybe I expected Del Posto to have boobs that sat up on its chest in defiance of gravity, an absence of cellulite, and precious little pubic hair. It could be.
Anyway, the extra vegetarian amuse that they brought out (very nice of them, yes. Too bad I felt like a bit of an asshole the way our server plunked it down. Yes, it is my bad. I totally should have called ahead and told them that I’m a veg, but I forgot. And to be embarrassed for putting your server out is not exactly the way you want to start your special occasion lunch), the fresh mozzarella dipped in unsweetened chocolate was as fresh and as moist as mozzarella can be, and the chocolate was an interesting touch although I would have rather just had a dusting of nice salt. My favorite were the golden risotto balls. The saffron really stood out nicely.
Gary: I really should have mentioned that there would be a vegetarian in the party but it totally slipped my mind. Thankfully, they did come out with and additional vegetarian amuse even if was underwhelming. Points, however, for using chocolate as a spice. Oh, and the bread. Man, the bread here is excellent. There’s just nothing better than sinking your teeth into a crusty, chewy baguette. Nothing, that is, unless you can spread whipped lardo on it. Yes, lardo. ‘Nuff said.
The service at this point (heck, the entire time we were there) can be described as aloof attentiveness (sorry for the alliteration). Our server knew to come by as needed by there was a level of detachment bordering on active disengagement that was completely off-putting. I did manage to order a cocktail, the San Palazzo, with plenty of gin and citrus. It was great, strong but well-balanced by all the citrus and the zest of lemon, lime, and orange. When it came time to order a wine, the sommelier helped me get a red to complement my meal and made an excellent choice for me.
Kate: Drinks – where to begin? I started with a glass of sherry (I read an article about sherry on Chow last year, how more restaurants are putting it on their wine lists, and I wanted to try it.) It was not to my taste. After trying Gary’s delicious cocktail, I decided to order a cocktail myself and put the sherry aside for when my taste buds had, uh, relaxed a bit, so to speak. I ordered the cocktail made with fresh pear and pear brandy (probably due to the rapture it had me in, the name escapes me) and was delighted. I’m not normally into sweet drinks but this was the essence of pear in a glass. Smooth and fruity but not overly sweet, with the texture of ripe pears and the color of honey. It was as if a pear and cloud had had a love child and then poured their sweet offspring into a large chilled martini glass. Still, I wanted wine with my meal. So after a few sips I put it aside (to join the sherry) to have for desert, and ordered (with the sommelier’s competent and pleasant help) a glass of white wine. I asked for something dry with some minerality and body. It was perfect.
Gary: For my antipasto, I went with the “Seared Lamb Tenderloin with Sea Cucumbers Mare e Monte.” Thin slices of lamb tenderloin (cooked rare) over cucumbers and a refreshingly light white sauce drizzled all over it. A nice, well-executed dish and a good start.
Kate: Choosing my first course (antipasto) was easy for once. The “Roasted Autumn Vegetables with Robiola Sformato & Truffled Hazelnuts” called my name and I answered. It was amazing. There was every sort of autumn vegetable under the sun delicately roasted and generously seasoned and artfully plated. It was as beautiful to look at as to eat. I was giddy!
Kate: I did not have such luck with the second course. There was only one vegetarian option listed under Primi (none for Secondi), and that was Pasta e Fagioli. Gary sweetly inquired to our server if there was anything else and he said there was: pumpkin ravioli. I was on the fence. I love pumpkin ravioli but I wanted to see what such an upscale restaurant could do with such a humble dish as a pasta and bean soup. I asked our server what he thought and he said the soup was outstanding so… I went with it. Oh how I wish I had ordered the ravioli! The soup disappointed. The broth (poured over the few beans and veggies and small ribbons of pasta sitting artfully in the bowl) was thick and creamy (the texture a departure from the traditional dish) and flavorful but could have been warmer. It wasn’t cold, but after I gave Gary a taste we both agreed… it… could have been warmer. Bummer. I sopped it up with the homemade bread spread with plenty of sweet italian butter and wasn’t exactly in pain. But I did steal some wistful sideways glances at Gary as he happily ate his beautiful looking pasta with his hands.
Gary: Kate puts it best when she says that my dish was “beautiful looking pasta.” The “Del Posto Agnolotti dal Plin with Parmigiano-Reggiano”, tubular ravioli filled with veal, pork, and mortadella, is served in a white napkin alongside a plate of Parmigiano Reggiano to dip into. Imagine my surprise when the server came over to inform me that this dish was intended to be eaten with my hands – a white tablecloth restaurant where you get to play with your food! Well, I was all too happy to play along, eagerly (and messily) dipping my ravioli to get as much grated cheese onto it as possible. The pasta was perfectly, absolutely perfectly cooked and when you have grated Parmigiano Reggiano bringing the sodium to the party, who needs sauce?
The funny thing is that I actually didn’t originally intend to order the agnolotti. I was set to order the orecchiette with lamb neck sausage but then our server asked if I was okay with ordering two lamb dishes. I hadn’t realized that I had done so and, given the out, called an audible, ordering the agnolotti instead. I’ll never know if I made the better choice but I certainly do know that I made a great choice.
Kate: Enticed by what seemed to be large bowls of ice cream topped with a waffle-cone-like cookie being carried out around us, I ordered the Gelati e Sorbetti del Giorno. I was in the restroom when it arrived and didn’t get to hear what the four flavors were. Luckily in the time that had passed between the soup and desert, I had drained the the sherry (the wine was gone with my soup) and was making headway on that pear martini. So the slight softening of the edges of the room around me made the game of “guess that gelato flavor” with Gary all that much more fun. I settled in for some sleuthing. The results: chocolate mint, coconut, carmel popcorn, and mystery flavor. They were all good individually but didn’t compliment each other very well. And they weren’t as good as Gary’s Chocolate Ricotta Tortino, Toasted Sicilian Pistachios & Extra Virgin Olive Oil Gelato, of which I snagged two spoonfuls.
Gary: I loved my dessert. Chocolate. Ricotta. Toasted pistachios. Olive oil gelato. Seriously, what’s not to love? Rich and dense, the cake pretty much finished me off but not until I managed to finish it off (with help from Kate). And if that wasn’t enough, there was also the box of tiny desserts for us to work through. My favorite was the chocolate covered ice cream popsicle – a very fancy Eskimo pie. Also nice was the candied grapefruit which was definitely sour but not as much as you would expect (that’s what sugar is for).
Kate: Although there were some very high highs (the antipasto, the cocktail and wine, the ambiance), there were also a couple lows (my entree, the slightly snooty service). I can’t entirely blame Del Posto. I should say that I’m still getting used to being a full vegetarian. I stopped eating meat just two years ago and finally quit the fish fairly recently. Although I’m happy with my choice for ethical reasons, it is taking some adjusting in certain areas, such as dining out. A seasoned vegetarian would surely have gone with the ravioli. (Right? Or was it just bad luck?)
I told a friend who has been to Del Posto two times from dinner (and adored it) about my experience, explaining that I was a bit disappointed with my entree. She looked at me like I was a little special and said “Honey, you don’t go to Del Posto for vegetarian.” Touché, Donna. Touché.
Also our server wasn’t great. And I really don’t think I’m being overly critical–every time I asked for something (super politely of course) I felt sort of bad about it, like I was putting him out. (“May I see the wine list again? I know, I’m so sorry I’m about to politely order a $12 glass of wine from you and further bump up the check, how dare I?”) Was it just me Gary, or did you not get the feeling that lunch service (to two dorks with their cameras on the table no less) was a mere inconvenience on the way to the real deal, dinner service? We were so excited and happy to be there, ridiculously polite, were spending some significant bucks on drinks, and the whole time I felt like we were annoying them for being there. As someone in the service industry, I certainly have my off days, I’m only human. So it would be hypocricital for me to condemn our server or to judge the restaurant based solely on one experience. These are just my thoughts on exactly that, my one experience. And my soup kinda sucked. Everything else rocked– the drinks, the antipasto, the bread, oh the bread! But maybe that’s what I get for ordering soup.
Gary: I totally got a less than enthusiastic vibe from our server – it was the absolute inverse of our generally convivial mood throughout the meal. He came off as a stuffy white guy, giving me the impression that I didn’t belong there (I have issues, I know). It’s a shame really because everyone else we encountered was pleasant and helpful. My meal was great (the luxury of being a meat eater) and my cocktail was excellent. I’m not sure they’ll get that fourth star from the New York Times (maybe they’ll have better luck with the service and, let’s face it, they will because they’re the New York Times) but I’m happy that they’re not content on sitting on their laurels, happy to rake in the dough from tourists choosing ambition instead. One of these days when I’ve got the scratch, I’d like to come in for dinner just to get the full effect of that ambition.
By the way, we spent more on alcohol than we did on food so it only seemed fair we split the check. What can I say, we like to have a few drinks with our meal.