My parents visited New York last week, which meant that dinner reservation planning began at least a month prior. They generously took Kevin and me out to Del Posto one night, and I have to say: if you are looking for a grown-up, elegant-without-being-stuffy, downtown-but-not-sceney dinner, Del Posto is an excellent place to start. It's hard to pin down the vibe, exactly, and there's an element to Del Posto that seems contrived -- the food, after all, is not fussy, so things like purse stools and valet parking seem a bit over the top, but I think that's the point. Del Posto wasn't created to be the new Babbo or Lupo; it's something else entirely.
First of all, it is huge. Huge. There are three levels in the cavernous, high-ceilinged space tucked under the high line tracks on 10th Avenue. Having not lived through New York in the 1950's I can only say that the decor of Del Posto captures the way I picture it; dark wood, amber lights, heavy linens, round tables facing out towards more marble than I have ever seen in any restaurant. Despite the retro decor, however, thee menu doesn't feel dated in the least.
Del Posto describes its dishes as "Cucina Classica" which, as best I can tell, means simple Italian dishes from several regions of Italy, interpreted and updated with green market ingredients. The menu looked lighter and more balanced than that of Babbo -- or less rustic, at least. Before ordering, the table was served an assortment of antipasti bites -- pickled radishes, fried mushrooms, fennel and grapefruit soup...and at least one other item that I am forgetting, but what I do remember is the creamy rosemary lardo (why does "fat" sound so much better in Italian?) that came alongside the breadbasket.
Our table opted for the five course modified tasting menu option, which was more of a screamingly good prix fixe option than a true tasting menu (which IS offered, in seven courses): the five course option was $85 per person and included a first and main course of everyone's choosing, plus two "bites" (small plates, much more than just a bite!) of pasta, and a dessert. The only stipulation to this tasting menu was that the table had to select which two pastas we'd all be having; the other three courses were fair game.
I started with the yellowfin & tail susci, which was delicate and brightly accented with radish, fennel, snow peas and marigold petals. I love seafood in almost all its incarnations, but raw and lightly splashed with heavenly olive oil is possibly my favorite preparation; I want to taste the fish above all else, and the crunchy radishes and delicate flower petals let the crudo shine through.
Our pastas were the Agnolotti dal Plin in a brown butter sauce and the gnocchi with braised lamb shoulder. The agnolotti was rich and almost salty, and the gnocchi was gooey without being gummy. We were drinking a delicious Barbera D'Alba that was especially good with the gnocchi.
I went back to ocean for my entree, though -- there were actually more fish options on the menu than I anticipated. I had the roasted turbot with chanterelles and sweet corn, which was excellent. It wasn't fussy, and I'm not even sure it wasn't something I could have replicated at home, but the fish was fresh and meaty and mild, the corn was crisp and sweet...everything was just good. Mario Batali gets a lot of flack over his prices and over all the fanfare for what amounts to pretty simple dishes, but I'm sorry: the food is good. Simple is fine with me. I like a little fanfare now and then, and sure, I'm not going to spend $30 on an entree every night but there was nothing - nothing - to find fault with in any of the dishes we sampled at Del Posto.
Between my husband and my parents, the lamb and the pork were both covered, as was a nearly-transparent veal carpaccio starter; I heard nothing but happy mumbles as they ate their dinners.
My memory starts to blur around dessert (and the second bottle of wine). I had the affogatto fredo (espresso over vanilla gelato) which, quite honestly, was nothing to write home about but I was so full that I just wanted something simple (and, I always, always, always love a good vanilla gelato). My mother, we decided, won the dessert round; her Baba au Rum came in a silver tureen, involved a selection of rums poured over brioche, and I think there was also caramel in there somewhere. It was extreme.
Before the bill arrived (and yeah, it was a million dollars; Del Posto absolutely screams Expense Account), one of the many servers (...almost too many. The service was excellent but almost too visible, at times) brought over the petits four cart. Which is an entire cart devoted to all the little bites of sweet things you can imagine. I can't remember all of them, although I know my favorites were the teeny meringues, and the "fancy Reese's Peanut Butter Cups" were a hit with everyone else. I am a sucker for teeny tiny dessert items, and also for all the extras that restaurants now seem to throw at patrons in an effort to distinguish themselves, so the petits fours almost distracted me from HOW VERY FULL I was by that point (I made the strategic error of drinking too much water, I think) but I think I managed to sample at least three of the little sweets. And then I passed out.
Well, not quite. We made it home first, happy and full.
Del Posto (212 497 8090) is located at 85 Tenth Avenue and accepts all major credit cards. The restaurant begins accepting reservations exactly one month in advance.