Sunday, May 29, 2011

Del Posto

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Don't expect baked ziti, eggplant parm or spaghetti and meatballs at Del Posto. There are plenty of other restaurants in New York offering those stereotypical red sauce dishes. Del Posto is different - a theatrical, elegant bastion of Italian cuisine that commands your attention the moment you walk in the door and are transported to another place, another time.

image The curvaceous balconies make you feel like it's intermission at the opera. Close your eyes and the the cabaret style tinkling of the ivories will have you thinking you're at The Carlyle. The multicolored tile floors wouldn't be out of place in Siena's cathedral.

And the food - which is after all, the reason to be here -- well, the food is refined without being precious, and every bit as delicious as you'd expect when the owners are Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich and her son Joe.

Starting with the best bellini I've had this side of Venice, the evening continued on an upward climb, with little flourishes throughout that showed just how serious Del Posto aims to please. Even the bar snacks were noteworthy, especially the crispy fried ziti dusted with cheese.

 image And where else does every female get a cushioned stool for her handbag so it doesn't have to be sullied on the floor? Need to take a trip to the powder room mid-meal? No worry, your food will be warm when you return thanks to a silver dome that a waiter will quickly don atop your plate.

image But I digress. It's the food we're here for - the food. And the parade of dishes began with complimentary bocconi (little bites) from the kitchen: tramezzini (little triangular sandwiches) filled with lobster salad; prosciutto coiled around sauerkraut (a nod to Lidia’s region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia) and small china cups rimmed with toasted breadcrumbs and filled with a tomato and olive oil broth. An auspicious – and delicious start to the evening.   image Just when you thought the real meal would begin, out came another round of goodies courtesy of the house: from left are fried olives, chickpea fritters and arancini – small rice balls oozing with cheese, crisply fried and topped with a speckling of gold leaf.  It was hard to say which was best, because they were all great teases for the main event (well, maybe the gold leaf gives the arancini the edge). In any event, I could happily have continued with just more of these small bites and a few more bellini for the rest of the night.

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But who am I kidding? Everything on the menu sounded tempting and the wine list was lengthy. We were ready to forge ahead and indulge - no arm twisting necessary. We didn’t have have a favorite wine in mind, or a degree in oenology, considering the 64 page wine list, but the waiter was helpful in narrowing our choice to a red that was rich in complexity, but not too heavy – a 2008 Graci Etna Rossa from the eponymous Sicilian slope.

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A waiter set down a basket filled with a variety of warm breads – really good and crusty warm breads, along with plates heaped with an unsalted butter from Emilia Romagna and some whipped lard perfumed with the fragrance of prosciutto.

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We all opted for the five-course menu, and that included two pasta courses. For the antipasto, I ordered a lobster salad alla Catalana with tomato & celery, which was the closest anyone ever got to a red sauce that night. This was decidedly a nod to Spain though, rather than a truly Italian dish - light, a bit piquant, flavorful, crunchy and silky all at the same time.  If this is fusion cooking, I’m definitely in favor of mixed marriages. 

image All four of us at the table sampled each other’s plates and judging from the other appetizers I tasted - abalone carpaccio with grilled asparagus and young  ramps, and fried calamari with spicy capers – they were equally delicious.

Next it was on to the pasta. Everyone at the table had to agree on which two to choose.  It wasn’t easy,  given the variety of choices. Our first selection -- pumpkin-stuffed cappellacci in brown butter, really hit the mark and demonstrated that someone really knows his way around a mattarello (ok, so maybe it’s a pasta machine but these were so toothsome and delicious, who would know?) The nutty, sage-infused sauce was a perfect accompaniment to the plump pasta pillows.

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From here on in,  the light was beginning to fade as nighttime descended. If you can’t tell from the photo, take my word for it that the dish of handmade orecchiette with lamb sausage, crispy morels and minted edamame beans was a flavor explosion in the mouth. I am going to learn how to duplicate that minty sauce if it’s the last thing I do. Any tips from Chef Mark Ladner or others in the kitchen greatly appreciated. Lidia, Mario, Joe – are you listening?

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Judging from the fuzziness of this next picture, you may think I was a little tipsy, but I assure you it was strictly the deficiencies of shooting in low light with a point-and-shoot camera.  Excuse me, could you pour more wine? Oh, sorry.

What you’re looking at was another lagniappe from the kitchen. (For those of you who’ve never been to New Orleans or ignored those Readers’ Digest “It Pays To Increase Your Word Power,” columns, let it be known that a lagniappe  - pronounced lan-yap - is an unexpected gift.)

And what a gift it was – creamy, unctuous, perfectly cooked lobster risotto made with radicchio and Valpolicella wine. It’s a safe bet this was never on the menu at Mamma Leone’s.

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With such a winning streak of great dishes, the main course was almost an anti-climax. But not really. I ate every morsel of this lamb dish, cooked for so many hours it nearly fell off the bone,  just the way I remember eating abbacchio many times in Rome.  But in the Eternal city, it was never served with garlic yogurt, a tangy and most welcome complement to the meat.

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We each ordered a different main dish, and as good as my lamb was, the consensus at the table was that the duck breast, served with beer-braised endives, almond & laurelled melons was the hands-down favorite. Unfortunately, my sub-par photo of the dish makes it look like twisted snake tongues (note to self – take photo classes), so I’ll spare you the photographic evidence. Otherwise, I’d have posted it. But trust me (well trust all four of us actually), that duck just melted in your mouth. 

The portions thankfully, were not gargantuan. Which to me is a good thing. Otherwise, we’d never have had room for dessert. Again, I hate to keep apologizing for the bad photos, but this really doesn’t do justice to this dish. Please know however, that I practically licked the plate clean of my butterscotch semifreddo with preserved melon agrumata,  crumbled sbrisolona and caramel sauce.

image Another dessert that may sound a bit unusual but worked on every level, included a celery sorbet topped with strands of  marinated celery, served with balls of goat cheese rolled in crunchy bread crumbs and segments of figs that are at once both sweet and sour. Strange, I know. But very refreshing, and very good.

For a better photo of the celery dessert and a New York Times article about it and Del Posto’s pastry chef Brooks Headley, click here. image

Just when we thought the meal was over, a waiter delivered a wooden box cheese grater. Arranged on top and tucked inside the drawer were small little sweet treats. My stomach was saying no, but my eyes said yes, so what I can tell you - we polished off all of them – from the doughnut-hole-like filled bomboloni, to the crunchy-covered chocolate lollipops to the caramel-ly nibbles that arrived with their own edible wrapper.

There was also espresso, vin santo and lots of joy at the table that night.  And on the way out – four hours later - a gift box containing two of the most decadently delicious dark chocolate truffles I’ve ever eaten. I don’t usually like chocolate truffles but after eating the ones from Del Posto, I might be tempted to commit a few venial sins in exchange for the recipe. (Just kidding, Monsignor Nolan.)

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Dear Lidia, Joe, Mario, Mark, Brooks, wait staff, bar people and everyone else responsible for making this Italian dining experience truly memorable - “I’ll be back.”

And a special grazie mille and abbraccione to my dear friends Lynn and Richard who treated me to a much-welcome spot of brightness at Del Posto last week, amid some very dark days in recent months.

Linda

20 comments:

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A lovely place that serves wonderful food.

Cheers,

Rosa

Lucia from Madison said...

Oh my! It sounds and looks like an amazing adventure. I ate at Momma Leone's back in the day! I like the domed cover on the food, nice touch. I am looking forward to your duplicating that sauce the the minted edamame beans. Yum!

Stacey Snacks said...

What a nice treat!
We sat right next to Lidia the last time were there. The food is so good, as was the wonderful service, especially the lardo that we ordered to swipe on bread. Yummy, you are making me hungry. They so deserve their NYT 4 star rating.
(My only gripe is that you can't eat at their beautiful bar!).

janie said...

Amazing-thank you for sharing this feast with us.

Chiara said...

Lidia Bastianich was born near my town,she the best! A warm hug Linda!

Lorraine said...

Ciao bella!
I like your blog.
I am from an Abruzzese / Calabrase background.
Will you please visit my humble blog?
Un abbraccio,
Lorraine

Proud Italian Cook said...

OMG, I'm having heart palpatations just reading your descriptions! I want to eat there, I love the atention to detail, the domed cover all the little goodies, the wooden box, not to mention the crispy fried ziti dusted with cheese? China cups rimmed with toasted breadcrumbs filled with tomato and olive oil broth, I could feast on all those small bites and I would be happy as a lark! No wonder they won 4 stars, I hear they have a 100 layer lasagne that's phenomenal.

Claudia said...

A meal for the heart and soul. Indeed I would have been happy with the beginnings - my mantra of "I'm not hungry, I'll just pick." But then the idea of the lamb with a spiced yogurt sauce - sigh. Minted endamame beans - two sighs. I never seem to save room for dessert but would here. A truly gracious dinner - shared by good friends.
P.S. Your photos are heads above mine.

Emily@VitaNostra said...

I have always wanted to eat here.... now even more so! Your descriptions are heavenly... what a wonderful experience. Thank you so much for sharing.

A Feast for the Eyes said...

Wow. While I love my piece of heaven in California as "home"... we just don't have places like this to dine. I enjoyed your experience vicariously with your photos and descriptions. I can only dream...

Daniela said...

grazie del bellissimo reportage, Linda! viene voglia di fare un salto in NY solo per andare a cena li!
Bacioni
Dani

Gracie said...

My mouth is watering right now, salivating on my keyboard....

Bridgett ~ La Bella Cook said...

Wow, now that is a place that would life anyone's spirits. The food looks incredible and the atmosphere makes it all the more divine. So glad you experienced it all.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Oh wow! I'm so impressed. That place looks beyond elegant. I have only ever been to two B&B restaurants - Lupa and Tarry Lodge (the latter being local to me). Both are much more casual restaurants. I would die for a bowl of WHIPPED LARD on my bread. Wow!

Barbara GF said...

Wow, I am speechless, Linda. This looks like dining as it should be. And what an assortment of dishes. I think I would be sated with the bellini and the bar snacks! What a nice touch to have your meal covered and warm upon your return.

Paola said...

Drool!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Oh I am so sorry I missed this post because of a very busy Memorial Day weekend (and beyond, as I am helping my daughter prepare for her upcoming move..sigh..and still dealing with eye pain)

I have yet to dine at Del Posto and now it is at the top of my list as the place I want to go to celebrate a very special occasion. I truly love gourmet Italian cuisine and very rarely indulge, as the often good "red sauce" restaurants are more affordable for our budget (we call them the same, Linda, and I smiled when I read that as many friends don't understand why we call them that!)

I would have ordered that delicious lobster appetizer and risotto as I love lobster, and I'm sure my husband would like the orecchiette, as he would love that combination of flavors. Everything sounds divine!

I can't believe all the superb extras they treated you with! I'm curious -- did they know you are a food blogger, or do they treat every guest this way?? Your really should be a professional restaurant critic, Linda! You food writing is so wonderfully descriptive!

The Food Hunter said...

Even fuzzy it all looks delicious...on my must try list.

Lori Lynn said...

Sounds like you have some wonderful friends Linda.
Del Posto is definitely on my list. Thanks for sharing this adventure!
LL

lisetta said...

Brava! This is by far the most descriptive and appealing review I've read of Del Posto yet! Everything looks delicious, even fuzzy. :) You've inspired me to make it there this summer. Thank you!