Monday, July 28, 2008

Del Posto

For my birthday, my wife took me to Del Posto for lunch. It’s a Batali/Bastianich enterprise located in NYC’s meatpacking district. The façade of the restaurant is rather unassuming and could easily be mistaken for an office entrance, which was exactly what we did when we walked past it and had to double back.

Walking on 10th Ave, we stopped a block away at Crafsteak’s to study its menu. It looked very appealing. I seriously considered jettisoning our original plan for a meal at Craftsteak instead. My wife expressed misgivings about such a late cancellation. I wondered aloud: Does Craftsteak have the same validation policy as Del Posto for the garage where we had parked our car? It is certainly plausible - the garage is the closest one around to either restaurant. However, between wrestling with the qualms of cancelling late, and the possibility of a parking validation disappointment distracting us from completely enjoying lunch, we decided to stick to Del Posto.

The doors opened into an impressive and opulent dining room. It looked like the interiors of a grand Italian villa, or at least what I imagine a grand Italian villa to look like - the closest I’ve been to Italy was a couple of trips to the Secaucus, NJ Olive Garden.

The food had hits and misses. We'd wanted a tasting menu but apparently it wasn't available at lunchtime.

Amuses were some kind of soup with honey (blah), what I'd call codfish nuggets but I'm sure they had a fancier name, and sunchoke chips with some creamy dip that tasted pretty good.

First impressions were that the presentation isn't a top priority at this place. Food looks carelessly tossed onto bowls, cups and dishes that were either too big for the portions, or otherwise inapproriately sized. No thought given to make the presentation attractive.

While the bread was pretty good on the whole, bread service was awful. When we'd clearly exhausted one of the bread varieties, nobody took the trouble to refill/refresh - maybe nobody noticed.

Of the 84 pages of wines they have on offer, I had the good fortune to pick one that was out of stock. Without checking with me first, the server produced a bottle that was "similar in style and at the same pricepoint". I had no problems with that - it was after all at the same pricepoint, so I won’t be getting ripped off any worse than I had planned for.

For first course, I had the lobster and cauliflower and my companion the salumi. The lobster was overcooked and chewy - but the flavor was good. The cauliflower was creamy and had a nice sweetness that complemented the sweetness of the lobster.

The salumi was a complicated multi-dished course consisting of several selections of cured meats, a spinach tart (erbazzone), and a couple slices of what looked like rabbit terrine. The cured meats were very good, but the rest of the course rather forgettable. The erbazzone had absolutely no flavor whatsoever, and reminded me of a pot pie I once ate at a diner. Parts of the rabbit were too tough - impossible to overcome despite sustained and enthusiastic chewing. I had no choice but to spit it out.

For mains, we had the grilled striped bass and the pork loin. I enjoyed the striped bass but I thought the dish overall was out of balance and skewed toward being overly sweet. I wish there had been some acidity to play against the sweetness of the fish and the cauli.

The pork loin dish was a stack of two gigantic bricks of pork - a portion I expected to see at the Olive Garden more than at a fine dining restaurant. The loin was cooked to a perfect temperature. The meat appeared moist and yielded easily to the bite. The only complaint with this dish was again its sweetness and one dimensionality. The candied figs and the caramelized stuffed onion all sang the same sugary tune.

I don’t remember much about the desserts, except that it was chocolaty and it was pretty good.

All in all, it was an okay meal, but for the money, there are better choices in Manhattan. I don’t know if it’s us, but we don’t seem to have any luck at picking Italian restaurants.

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