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Del Posto


Jason Perlow
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. . . .
I don't think he can (fairly) review Del Posto again for more than a year - not when so many other important places haven't been reviewed for much longer than that. That would be too much of a bias.

As far as I know, Alain Ducasse is the last relevant precedent. William Grimes awarded three stars on November 1, 2000, and four stars just barely over a year later, on December 19, 2001. A similar precedent is Daniel, which received two stars from Marian Burros on July 30, 1993, and four stars from Ruth Reichl on November 11, 1994.

Critics choose their review subjects based on newsworthiness. A new four-star restaurant is simply more newsworthy than a neighborhood trattoria. Jean Georges hasn't had a rated review since June 6, 1997, but we can find any number of restaurants that have had two, and even three reviews since then—Ducasse being one of them. That doesn't necessarily reflect a bias against Jean-Georges Vongerichten. It could simply mean that Reichl hit the nail on the head in 1997, and none of her successors have seen the need to revisit the topic.

There's a stronger Daniel precedent. I think Grimes' four star re-review appeared far less than a year after his three star initial review. Boulud's official and behind the scenes response to the first review was interesting and, I think, revealing. I ate there rather frequently at the time and both my daughter and son-in-law were working at the restaurant. In public, Daniel was quite humble and I don't think I read or heard a word of either disappointment or anger. The disappointment from those further down on the totem pole was something else, particularly from those intending on having a four star restaurant on their resume. All that Daniel said was that they'd have to work harder. From inside however, I noticed very little in terms of food changes that weren't part of the normal progression of things in a restaurant where the chef/owner is a restless sort and always prone to revise, refine and improve a dish. Even the dish most reviled in Grimes' first review stayed on the menu, and I might add, continued to be ordered by regulars who couldn't have cared less about opinions of the NY Times critic. What Daniel Boulud did do, was to fuss with the interior. In my opinion, about two thirds of those changes were for the worse, at least temporarily, but most were still in place when the four star review came out if I recall correctly. Most of the negative changes were still rather short lived fortunately. Nevertheless, Grimes quickly returned and praised the improvement in the food, citing any number of new dishes or those that evolved as proof. He omitted any reference to the one dish he noted as being inferior to what one could expect at any local trattoria in Italy and the one dish that hardly changed at all. I've always been of the opinion that Grimes, who the week before the first review was published, was quoted in a magazine (TONY, New York?) as saying that if the Times wanted a critic knowledgeable about food, they would have hired Daniel Boulud, arrived at Daniel with an agenda and then sensed his opinion was not being respected after his three star review. I'm not sure Bruni cares if he's respected. That would of course, make his voice extremely independent, and perhaps irrelevant as well.

Although I was not fond of my main course at Alto, I left with the sense it was operating at a three star level overall, but needed some time to iron out a few dishes. Personally, I think the media reviews restaurants much too quickly. Most professionals tell me not to expect a great restaurant to come near hitting its stride anywhere within the first three or four months of operation. Unless a restaurant is opening with prices far below what they might charge, the first six months are not going to offer value meals. Del Posto has little appeal to me, less than Alto, at any rate.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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There's a stronger Daniel precedent. I think Grimes' four star re-review appeared far less than a year after his three star initial review.

Nope. The three-star review appeared on June 2, 1999. The four-star re-review appeared 21 months later, on March 14, 2001.
I did get the impression that Bruni has cut Mario and friends a lot of slack that he doesn't generally give to other restaurants.

I would have to agree. JohnL and others have forcefully argued that Bruni compromised himself by writing the Del Posto preview piece before the restaurant opened. Although I don't find any ethical concerns with that piece, its existence is probably what's creating this perception. That piece amounted to an announcement: "Attention! Important Restaurant Ahead!"

Now, there's nothing wrong with informing readers in advance of trends he happens to spot, as that's part of Bruni's job. And Del Posto is an important restaurant, whether it succeeds or fails, given who's behind it and what it's trying to achieve. But when you publish such a "preview piece," it might seem like backtracking if you later have to write the review announcing that the experiment failed. In that sense, Bruni may seem to have a dog in the hunt, rather than offering a detached assessment from his perch as an independent critic.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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There's a stronger Daniel precedent. I think Grimes' four star re-review appeared far less than a year after his three star initial review.

Nope. The three-star review appeared on June 2, 1999. The four-star re-review appeared 21 months later, on March 14, 2001.

. . . .

Fascinating that I recalled it as a shorter period. Given my association with staff at the time, I would have expected the time frame to have seemed excruciatingly longer. I guess time flies when you're having fun.

Regarding seeming to have a "dog in the hunt," it's one thing to be a cheerleader or champion of a certain restaurant, chef or even style of food, it's another to let it interfere with objectivity. I'm not necessarily saying Bruni did in this case. I have no problem with a critic who announces that a restaurant sucks, but still has great potential. If you believe a restaurant has the potential to be world class, it must hurt to have to honestly give it a poor review with the knowledge that such a review might well kill its chances to survive and achieve its potential greatness. I don't know that any of that applies to Bruni or his review of Del Posto. The issue here for most of us is whether we believe Bruni is capable of leading us to a restaurant we believe is world class. I don't believe any critic will do that universally.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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May I take the liberty to sum up?

The owners make it public they are seeking four stars and unabashedly seek out the NY Times critic for said mark.

The restaurant opens to uneven reviews with most complaints about the prices, pretentiousness and lack of a top entree.

There are many empty-table sightings in the restaurant.

Del Posto earns three stars from a NYT food critic who is favorably disposed toward Batali. Even he mentions the pasta menu is the best and isn't overwhelmed by any of the entrees.

The critic seems to go out of his way to defend Del Posto against its critics, both professional and members of the public - even stating that New Yorkers are not as open minded as they think.

The owners claim to be ecstatic with the review. Though it can be said there was no other choice when standing behind a $12 million investment and the need to draw more customers. Take the three stars as a gift and try to build on it may be their mantra.

The critic suggests a fourth star is attainable and the owners publicly state they will work harder at it - hoping for a re-review in about a year.

This entire episode suggests owners who have run amok and need to re-focus their energy within the walls of the restaurant, stop worrying about stars and do what they have done best in the past - serve quality food with top-of-the-line ingredients in pleasant surroundings and make people feel at home. And above all, let the stars take care of themselves. It's very easy to become full of yourself, it's much harder to rid yourself of that characteristic.

What does eveyone else think?

Edited by rich (log)

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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This entire episode suggests owners who have run amok and need to re-focus their energy within the walls of the restaurant, stop worrying about stars and do what they have done best in the past - serve quality food with top-of-the-line ingredients in pleasant surroundings and make people feel at home.

Rich's summation is excellent until he gets to this point. He presumes that "worrying about stars" is inconsistent with "serving quality food.....(etc.)."

In point of fact, all of the current four-star restaurants (with the possible exception of Masa) are also extremely popular restaurants. The things Rich mentioned, if done luxuriously, are what four-star restaurants do. It's not as if there are two separate objectives here, and only by dumb luck do they coincide.

Moreover, all of the current four-star restaurants were also, like Del Posto, very obviously built from the beginning with that objective in mind. Three of them achieved that goal right out of the gate. Daniel, like Del Posto, stumbled initially (in the critic's opinion), before being elevated to four. No one gets four stars these days without very carefully planning for it.

It's true that none of those other restauranteurs made the blatant public statement that Batali and Bastianich did. But had they kept their mouths shut, I doubt they would have done anything differently in the restaurant itself.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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This entire episode suggests owners who have run amok and need to re-focus their energy within the walls of the restaurant, stop worrying about stars and do what they have done best in the past - serve quality food with top-of-the-line ingredients in pleasant surroundings and make people feel at home.

Rich's summation is excellent until he gets to this point. He presumes that "worrying about stars" is inconsistent with "serving quality food.....(etc.)."

Upon re-reading, I didn't express myself clear on that point. My intention was not that worrying about stars is inconsistent with quality food, but rather to overly focus on stars may take some attention away from the food.

By that I mean, it appears the Del Posto owners (I haven't been there, so I'm taking this from what I have read and electronically seen) spent a great deal of time, effort and money on the restaurant's trappings. It appears they knew of the critic's penchant for ambiance and went overboard (in my opinion) on the physical and somewhere along the line, didn't pay quite as much attention to the items on the plate.

My conclusion - they designed Del Posto with the Times critic in mind (they certainly appeared obsessed with him on the Food Network show) and forgot that other people also travel down the yellow brick road.

Edited by rich (log)

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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...it appears the Del Posto owners . . . spent a great deal of time, effort and money on the restaurant's trappings. It appears they knew of the critic's penchant for ambiance and went overboard (in my opinion) on the physical and somewhere along the line, didn't pay quite as much attention to the items on the plate.
It is probably a mistake to guess about where the restaurant's owners and management spent their time. The Del Posto menu, which is unlike any other menu in New York, clearly reflects considerable thought. It is not as if they built a palace, and then someone said, "Holy sh*t, we gotta serve food, too!"

The comment that "they knew the critic's penchant for ambiance" leaves me perplexed. In his relatively meagre oeuvre, I can't find any indication that Bruni has a penchant for this type of ambiance. A lot of the trappings at Del Posto seem to have been copied from other four-star restaurants (e.g., the purse stools).

Let's leave aside, for the moment, that Batali and Bastianich made the unusual (and probably reckless) public announcement that they were going after a particular rating from the New York Times. I cannot recall any other restauranteur doing that, and based on this example, it's doubtful that anyone else will be doing so anytime soon.

Del Posto, like Per Se, Masa, Daniel, Jean Georges, Alain Ducasse, and Gilt, was clearly designed from the ground up to be a four-star restaurant. No modern restaurant with those aspirations achieves that rating without very consciously thinking about all of the required elements. It simply doesn't happen unless you focus on it. Some of those restaurants persuaded the critic on Day One that they had succeeded. Some of those restaurants did not. It isn't any more complicated than that. We don't need to psychoanalyze them.

My conclusion - they designed Del Posto with the Times critic in mind (they certainly appeared obsessed with him on the Food Network show) and forgot that other people also travel down the yellow brick road.

This comment is ironic, when you consider that Frank Bruni is a populist critic. He isn't a member of the foodie elite, but a feature writer for Consumer Reports. The things that go into a four-star restaurant are simply the things that people want in a luxury dining experience. Rich keeps writing as if there are two different concepts, and focusing on one necessarily assumes a lack of focus on the other. It ain't so. Edited by oakapple (log)
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...it appears the Del Posto owners . . . spent a great deal of time, effort and money on the restaurant's trappings. It appears they knew of the critic's penchant for ambiance and went overboard (in my opinion) on the physical and somewhere along the line, didn't pay quite as much attention to the items on the plate.
It is probably a mistake to guess about where the restaurant's owners and management spent their time. The Del Posto menu, which is unlike any other menu in New York, clearly reflects considerable thought. It is not as if they built a palace, and then someone said, "Holy sh*t, we gotta serve food, too!"

The comment that "they knew the critic's penchant for ambiance" leaves me perplexed. In his relatively meagre oeuvre, I can't find any indication that Bruni has a penchant for this type of ambiance. A lot of the trappings at Del Posto seem to have been copied from other four-star restaurants (e.g., the purse stools).

Let's leave aside, for the moment, that Batali and Bastianich made the unusual (and probably reckless) public announcement that they were going after a particular rating from the New York Times. I cannot recall any other restauranteur doing that, and based on this example, it's doubtful that anyone else will be doing so anytime soon.

Del Posto, like Per Se, Masa, Daniel, Jean Georges, Alain Ducasse, and Gilt, was clearly designed from the ground up to be a four-star restaurant. No modern restaurant with those aspirations achieves that rating without very consciously thinking about all of the required elements. It simply doesn't happen unless you focus on it. Some of those restaurants persuaded the critic on Day One that they had succeeded. Some of those restaurants did not. It isn't any more complicated than that. We don't need to psychoanalyze them.

My conclusion - they designed Del Posto with the Times critic in mind (they certainly appeared obsessed with him on the Food Network show) and forgot that other people also travel down the yellow brick road.

This comment is ironic, when you consider that Frank Bruni is a populist critic. He isn't a member of the foodie elite, but a feature writer for Consumer Reports. The things that go into a four-star restaurant are simply the things that people want in a luxury dining experience. Rich keeps writing as if there are two different concepts, and focusing on one necessarily assumes a lack of focus on the other. It ain't so.

Reasonable people can and do disagree at times. This will be marked down as one of those times. And the difference is fun to debate.

But hey, we're still friends and I'm sure they'll be other topics to discuss where we will find common ground.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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At this point in the evolution of the New York "fine dining" restaurant industry, most any restaurant that opens with two-, three- or four-star ambitions has that stated as a goal right in the business plan. The restaurant's team will likely work with consultants and publicists who develop strategies for achieving that goal. There is most likely going to be a critic seduction strategy in place and hundreds of checklist items that need to be attended to, and chefs' contracts often contain bonus provisions for getting a certain number of stars. It's not all they think about. Weeks may go by when they don't even discuss it. But it's part of the plan. It's the same with restaurants in France and Michelin. This is just how it's done. It's part of the DNA of a restaurant these days.

So there's no rational binary statement to be made about restaurants thinking about stars. They all do. It's a question of degree. At some point, the stars become ends in themselves. At that point, the restaurant has lost its way. And, fittingly, such restaurants are probably not going to get the stars they were hoping for.

Is Del Posto such a restaurant? I doubt it. I have no trouble believing it's legitimately a three-star restaurant with four-star possibilities. I suppose I could eat there and say "This place sucks!" but on paper, even when you look at the negative comments, there's little question that the infrastructure for the stars is there. The issue for me is that the only way Frank Bruni was able to get to the three-star review was by taking positions that are out of character for him -- save for the part of his character that is a Batali sycophant. Not that there's anything wrong with being a Batali admirer -- he's a tremendous talent and plenty of food lovers admire him, me included -- but usually you try maintain some consistency between your list of your favorite chefs and your actual taste in restaurants.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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So there's no rational binary statement to be made about restaurants thinking about stars. They all do. It's a question of degree. At some point, the stars become ends in themselves. At that point, the restaurant has lost its way. And, fittingly, such restaurants are probably not going to get the stars they were hoping for.

That was the point I made above.

Steve, you say you doubt Del Posto's owners lost their way by making the stars ends in themselves and certainly that's a real possibility. But so is the opposite.

I came to that conclusion for two reasons. The first was the obsessive nature the owners displayed about four stars both in print and on the TVFN special. Second, I've never seen as much criticism about Batali's food in any of his other restaurants. Everyone agrees the pasta is special, but most also state the entrees, apps, and desserts can be improved. For such a talent as Batali, that makes no sense unless there was something else on his mind. Maybe some of the other projects mentioned in the TV show played a role along with the stars - kitchenware, books, other restaurants etc. Or possibly, just the Bastianichs' personalities overwhelmed him. Or maybe the $12 million caused stress.

I too, have always enjoyed the Batali restaurants and think he is a tremendous talent. But there is only so much one person can handle on their plate.

I actually had a reservation for the first week in January, but cancelled after a friend (who has one of the world's best palates and is a huge Batali fan) said wait, it's not very good right now and needs time. He was also shocked at the price point and that from someone who is quite wealthy.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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I came to that conclusion for two reasons. The first was the obsessive nature the owners displayed about four stars both in print and on the TVFN special.

What I took from Steve's post, and he has made this point before, is that this concern is omni-present at nearly all restaurants that aspire to two stars or higher. He's had a window to this (thanks to the research behind Turning the Tables) that most of us don't have. This isn't unique to Del Posto. Batali and Bastianich took the unusual step of putting it in front of the cameras, perhaps creating the false impression that they were 'star-conscious' in a way that typical restaurants are not.

Failure to win the number of stars one had hoped for is not exactly an uncommon occurrence. In the luxury segment during Frank Bruni's tenure, you've got V Steakhouse, Cafe Gray, Alto, The Modern, Gilt, and Del Posto, all of which got a star or two less than they wanted. Among new luxury restaurants reviewed by Bruni that did receive the stars they were built for, I'd count Per Se, Masa, Cru, Blue Hill Stone Barns, Perry St, and Nobu57. So, you've basically got a 50% success rate.

(I am not counting re-reviews, and I'm also excluding the peculiar BLT Fish, which received 3 stars, but does not seem to me a luxury restaurant. I am sure they're delighted with their review, but I get the sense it was built for 2 stars, and the extra one was gravy.)

Second, I've never seen as much criticism about Batali's food in any of his other restaurants.
You could say that about most of the chefs of the places that did not get the stars they wanted. Edited by oakapple (log)
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I have an idea (and I hope and don't think this breaks any rules). A group of interested eG's should go to Del Posto (informally) on the same night, all sitting at their own table with their own party - then compare notes the next day.

It could be fun to learn the reactions from people at different tables served by differnt people, not knowing what anyone else is ordering.

Any thoughts?

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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what I find interesting is it seems that Bruni's major criticism of Del Posto was that the menu had too many entries. His criticism of Babbo was the rock music. It seems to me that if Del Posto simply adopted Babbo's menu, that would have done the trick.

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what I find interesting is it seems that Bruni's major criticism of Del Posto was that the menu had too many entries.  His criticism of Babbo was the rock music.  It seems to me that if Del Posto simply adopted Babbo's menu, that would have done the trick.

If you go back and read Bruni's Babbo review, you'll find that he criticized other things besides the rock music. That was merely the first of several points he mentioned.

You'll also find that Bruni never directly stated that, aside from the ambiance and service, Babbo deserves four stars. I believe it does not. And clearly, Batali and the Bastianiches concluded the same.

You've also, I think, somewhat trivialized Bruni's complaint about the length of the menu. In the first place, he believes that "At a restaurant this self-regarding and pricey . . . you pay in part to submit to expert judgment and you want more guidance." But, beyond that:

Such editing would improve the ratio of outstanding dishes to less successful ones. The veal shank, roasted and served with spaetzle, was dull and slightly dry, as was swordfish. Pappardelle with wild boar needed more kick, maybe because this particular pairing of noodle and beast has become so widespread.
He also says that "Del Posto needs more blockbuster desserts," and that the pastas are more "consistently impressive" than either the antipasti and the main courses. All of those points, beyond mere length of the menu, are issues Del Posto needs to address if it wants to be awarded four stars. Edited by oakapple (log)
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An out-of-towner point of view (read the review - where the 3 star conclusion didn't follow from what Bruni actually experienced). So Batali has now opened a restaurant more expensive than Babbo where nothing clicks except the pasta. I disliked Babbo because I thought it was an over-priced over-hyped pasta place - while I was expecting a high end Italian restaurant - and this looks like more of the same (except more expensive). On my next trip to New York - I will mark it "avoid". Robyn

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An out-of-towner point of view (read the review - where the 3 star conclusion didn't follow from what Bruni actually experienced).  So Batali has now opened a restaurant more expensive than Babbo where nothing clicks except the pasta.  I disliked Babbo because I thought it was an over-priced over-hyped pasta place - while I was expecting a high end Italian restaurant - and this looks like more of the same (except more expensive).  On my next trip to New York - I will mark it "avoid".  Robyn

That strikes me as a pretty harsh reading of what Bruni said. However, I would certainly agree that if Babbo didn't appeal to you, then you shouldn't bother with Del Posto.

It's funny how we (all of us) see in a review what we want to see. Blogger Felix Salmon found: "Reading the review, there's no nitpicking, no on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand. In fact, I've never read an NYT restaurant review which makes me want to visit a restaurant more than this one does. This is three-stars-verging-on-four, not two-stars-bumped-up-to-three. Del Posto is now officially The Restaurant I Most Want To Go To In New York, easily overtaking...Per Se."

My own reading of it is probably somewhere between Robyn's and Salmon's.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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My own reading of it is probably somewhere between Robyn's and Salmon's.

Mine too. I do want to try it, I may wait another month or two.

One thing is for sure - I WILL park my own car. Del Posto can charge anything they want for the food and wine, but they will not get $35 (29+6) to park the car. If I wanted to be raped, there are easier ways.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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Perhaps I'm reading too much into them - but these are the words in the review that put me off:

"Of the three savory chapters of the menu, which cover antipasti, pasta (and risotto) dishes and the main courses, the most consistently impressive is the second one...Del Posto needs more blockbuster desserts..."

Now 3 stars in the NYT is supposed to mean "excellent" - and to me - that means 4 excellent courses - not 3 that are perhaps so-so to very good - and one that's "consistently impressive". Especially at these prices. My impression at Babbo (which also got 3 stars from Bruni) is that while the pasta was 3 star - almost everything else didn't approach that level. So the two sentences above suggested that this restaurant was more of the same. I'll be interested to see what people think after they've eaten full 4 course meals here. Robyn

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Perhaps I'm reading too much into them - but these are the words in the review that put me off:

"Of the three savory chapters of the menu, which cover antipasti, pasta (and risotto) dishes and the main courses, the most consistently impressive is the second one...Del Posto needs more blockbuster desserts..."

Now 3 stars in the NYT is supposed to mean "excellent" - and to me - that means 4 excellent courses  - not 3 that are perhaps so-so to very good - and one that's "consistently impressive".

While he said that the pastas were "the most consistently impressive," he did not say that the rest of the menu was uniformly unimpressive. While he said that Del Posto "needs more blockbuster desserts," he did not say that none of those now on offer are any good. That's why I suggested that it's a mis-reading of the review to say that "nothing clicks except the pasta." Edited by oakapple (log)
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Perhaps I'm reading too much into them - but these are the words in the review that put me off:

"Of the three savory chapters of the menu, which cover antipasti, pasta (and risotto) dishes and the main courses, the most consistently impressive is the second one...Del Posto needs more blockbuster desserts..."

Now 3 stars in the NYT is supposed to mean "excellent" - and to me - that means 4 excellent courses  - not 3 that are perhaps so-so to very good - and one that's "consistently impressive".  Especially at these prices.  My impression at Babbo (which also got 3 stars from Bruni) is that while the pasta was 3 star - almost everything else didn't approach that level.  So the two sentences above suggested that this restaurant was more of the same.  I'll be interested to see what people think after they've eaten full 4 course meals here.  Robyn

I have had the full treatment at Del Posto (my reaction is posted earlier in this thread) and I think the idea that the non-pasta courses were not necessarily "3 star" is both incorrect and sort of misses the point. At least for me, I don't grade a restaurant dish-by-dish and, in my experience, most all of the dishes were executed very well. The thing is that the only exciting dishes (to me) were the pastas, and the overall experience was flat. To give an example, we ordered the leg of lamb for the table. It was cooked impeccably and was delicious. It wasn't thrilling, but it didn't need to be. Standing alone, that lamb would have fit in perfectly well at a 4 star restaurant (if it had been served at Ducasse, for example -- my stars, not Bruni's). But because it was part of an overall 2-star experience (my stars again), the lamb could only do so much. Again, it's hard to put my finger on what's wrong with Del Posto. To me, the whole experience was "off" and in a place of that stature (in price and aspiration), a 2-star experience is disappointing and would not draw me back. There are lots of other places I would rather dine.

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Hi Fat Al - Sounds like you liked the food more than Bruni did.

I think judging from your description that perhaps the placement of a "traditional Italian meal" in a "deluxe" (or attempt at "deluxe") setting) - just doesn't work - at least not in a city like New York. The best Italian meal I ever had was in a no-name village in a no-name restaurant in the Italian countryside that my husband and I just stumbled on. Patio with simple wooden furniture overlooking a lot of hills. Lightly dressed very fresh green salad. Huge bowl of wonderful pasta that almost floated out of the bowl (just spaghetti in simple red sauce undoubtedly made with fresh local tomatoes). Beautiful roasted chicken from the grill. Some wine of the region. No dessert (no room!).

I think that in general traditional Italian meals are pretty much like this (although you can upscale the ingredients for a more "upscale" meal). They are like California cuisine - where the emphasis is on the excellence and freshness of the ingredients as opposed to an exciting manner of preparation. And while I like this style of food very much - there are places where it "fits" and places where it doesn't. Would fit right in at a place that looks like Chez Panisse (especially if it were in California) - but it wouldn't fit at a place that looks like Per Se. And I guess it doesn't fit at Del Posto (have't seen the space in person - just the pictures of it - but it looks to me like an old stuffy 3 star restaurant in France - or a New York steakhouse that is trying to look like a stuffy 3 star restaurant in France :sad: ).

So I guess what I'm saying is that you have to integrate the food with the decor of the restaurant - and you also have to pick up at least a little of the "vibe" of the place where your restaurant is located. For example - while I thought that Per Se was technically an excellent restaurant - it didn't spell "New York" to me the way David Burke & Donatella did. So I enjoyed the meal at the latter more than the meal at the former. Ditto with Ducasse and the late Le Cirque 2000. Again - excellent meals at both. But Le Cirque was a lot more New York than Ducasse. I am going to Japan in a few weeks - and I have certain ideas in my head about what I'd like to see in restaurants there. What will spell "Japan" to me. And those ideas have nothing to do with recreations of 3 star French restaurants - or the Italian countryside.

You seem to have a vague sense of discontent about the restaurant - and I wonder if what I've said has anything to do with the way you feel.

Anyway - that is my point of view as someone who travels a fair amount - but doesn't get to any particular place very often. My views of particular cities and countries are all "thumbnails". Robyn

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And I guess it doesn't fit at Del Posto (have't seen the space in person - just the pictures of it - but it looks to me like an old stuffy 3 star restaurant in France - or a New York steakhouse that is trying to look like a stuffy 3 star restaurant in France  :sad: ).

Robyn, my impression of the space was that it seemed like I was at an upscale Las Vegas hotel. The Venetian, in particular. I think that description tells you all you need to know about the impression the space and decor made on me.

Al

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Al - Went back after I wrote my message and read yours back up in this thread. I am not very familiar with Las Vegas restaurants (have only been there once in the last decade). But I guess what you were saying is the place looked like the late V Steakhouse in the TWC (never ate there but I took a look when I went to Per Se). It was really an awful looking place. Kind of like a gussied up version of the most famous steakhouse in Tallahassee Florida. I don't think we even have places in Jacksonville FL (where I live) that look anything like that anymore (they kind of went out with men's diamond pinky rings).

I think I place more emphasis on how a place looks than a lot of people here - but when you're talking about the upper echelons of dining establishments - I think decor is a significant factor in the total experience. Robyn

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Del Posto finally has a four-star review—not the one they really wanted, but I'm sure they'll take it. Here's Bob Lape in Crain's:

Harking back to Italian palaces of 50 years ago, Del Posto--the brand-new restaurant of Mario Batali and the mother-son duetto of Lidia and Joe Bastianich--is a retro sensation.

. . . . .

The unparalleled quality of ingredients and careful, thoughtful cooking and presentation is evident every step of the way. It shows in the finest sources of fresh seafood and game, the Batali thing for offal--kidneys, sweetbreads and calf's liver here--plus intriguing desserts.

. . . . .

Del Posto is the most. Oh, I yearn to return.

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Seeking a way to kind of celebrate the end of the first half of a difficult semester and ease nicely into spring break, two friends and I tried out Del Posto last Thursday evening. Knowing they had a 1-month-in-advance reservation policy, I figured I'd call that afternoon and see if they might have any cancellations. The result? The nice receptionist offers a 9:00 table for four. Sweet.

Three of us arrive at the restaurant at around 8:45 (after quite a walk from the subway station, by the way...this place is not exactly the most accessible place I can think of). We wait outside for a bit, but our fourth has not arrived by this time, and is not answering his phone, so we decide to head inside. First thought: whoa, this place is big. On second thought, it's damn near massive. A staircase directly in front of us leads downstairs, the bar is off to our left, piano music comes from over by a second staircase that leads up to the balcony level. We stand there dumbfounded for a few seconds taking it all in before the hostess comes over to greet us. Telling her we are still waiting on the fourth member of our party, she asks if we would like to wait in the bar/lounge area for a bit until he arrives. Sure, we say. By the time 9:20 rolls around, we are getting hungry, so we ask to be taken to our table. Expecting to encounter a stern face and short speech about not seating incomplete parties, we instead receive a smile and are quickly led to our table. Water comes, wine list comes, the waiter kindly mentions that there is no hurry, as the table is ours for the rest of the night. 9:45 rolls around, the three of us are quite hungry by now, so we give up on our AWOL friend and ask the waiter for menus.

The menu is huge. Too big if you ask me. And for someone who dislikes as few foods as I do, it is an indecisive diner's nightmare. Several items on the Traditional Tasting Menu ($120) sound wonderful to me, but neither that menu nor the Del Posto Tasting Menu ($120) is an option due to my friend's dietary restrictions. So we decide to go a la carte. Here is what we had:

First of all, the bread. Oooh, the bread (1). Five or six different kinds of bread are brought out as we peruse the menus. Focaccia, semolina rolls, baguette, whole wheat rolls, and bread sticks fresh and hot from the oven. Add a bit of wonderfully soft butter and fluffy whipped lardo, and the meal is off to a great start. Mmmm lardo. :wub:

ANTIPASTI:

I ordered the Cauliflower Sformato with Skate Salad ($15) (2), which I enjoyed immensely. The sformato was a silky smooth custard. The grapefruit and vinegar that accompanied the skate offered a nice tangy and bitter counterpoint to the natural sweetness of that fish. Overall, I thought the flavors in this dish worked quite well together and were perfectly balanced.

One friend of mine had the Vegetable Fritto Misto with Bagna Cauda ($15) (3). I did not get a chance to taste this, as he loved it so much that he wouldn't part with a bite for the other two of us, but it looked wonderful. And luckily for me, he is not a big anchovy fan, so he passed on the bagna cauda (basically anchovy and olive oil) to me, which I enjoyed as a third bread accompaniment for the rest of the meal.

The other friend had Seafood Salad with Seaweed and Borage ($19) (4). This dish was not so successful. She did not come close to clearing her plate, and you could definitely tell by the look on her face that she did not particularly enjoy it. After trying a few pieces of it myself, I can't say that I blame her. I thought it was both bland and overcooked, not the greatest combination of attributes.

PRIMI:

I wanted to do the tasting of three pasta dishes for $27, but this option was only available to the whole table, and again my friend's dietary restrictions made this impossible. Oh well. Next time. Anyway, I had the Chestnut Ravioli with Partridge and Myrtle ($24) (5). This dish was merely mediocre, not bad but not great. The ravioli filling was smooth and somewhat sweet. The accompanying partridge meat was tender and flavorful. I didn't think the myrtle added much to the dish. Overall, I think the flavors in this dish were too one-dimensional. There was no real depth to the flavors. Every bite was the same. I think a little bit of spice, perhaps just a sprinkling of hot pepper flakes, would have elevated this dish nicely.

My two friends shared the Risotto with Barolo and Castelmagno ($50) (sorry, no pictures). Resting on a vibrant orange bed of carrot puree, the risotto looked tasty, but I did not get a chance to try it out for myself. They both seemed pleased with the choice, but it merited no particular raves from either one of them.

SECONDI:

Having the equivalent appetite of a normal family of four, I was the only one to opt for a secondo piatto in addition to all we'd already had. I was tempted by the Cacciucco, a seafood soup the waiter enthusiastically recommended as one of his favorite things on the menu. Yet, once I saw one particular item on the menu, I knew I'd have to try it....Bollito Misto with Traditional Condiments ($35) (6, 7, 8). I had never had this dish before, and had never even seen it on a menu, so I was excited to try it out. The meats were Veal Shank, Beef Short Ribs, Beef Shoulder, Pork Trotter stuffed with Zampone, Calf Tongue, and perhaps something else I am forgetting. The condiments were a very tasty fruit mostarda, salsa verde made simply with olive oil, garlic, and herbs, and horseradish based sauce that included diced pieces of pear. Also, before I knew it, the one of the wait staff had grated a generous amount of fresh horseradish (one flavor I HATE, by the way) all over the meat. Grr. I suppose I should've realized what was happening and just told him I'd prefer not to have horseradish, but what can ya do. Hindsight is always 20/20. Anyway, overall, I thought this dish was good but not great. The meats were juicy and tender for the most part. My favorite of the bunch was probably the veal shank, which was fork tender and full of flavor. Least favorite was probably the beef shoulder, which I found tender but largely tasteless. The rest of the meats were tasty as well, but nothing particularly stands out as being exceptional. I enjoyed the accompanying condiments on their own, but didn't feel the flavors worked particularly well when paired with the meats. I figure they are just a convenient diversion from the fatty richness of the meats. I am glad to have tried bollito misto, and I'd be glad to try out other restaurants' renditions, but I wouldn't be itching to order this dish again on a future visit to Del Posto.

FORMAGGIO:

Surprise, surprise, I am the only one of the three of us to opt for a cheese course. Have my companions really waved the white flag so soon? :raz: Anyhoo, this cheese course is a Taste of Three ($16) (9) different Parmigiano cheeses, aged 2 years, 4 years, and 6 years. The cheeses are accompanied by Aceto Tradizionale di Modena, Lambrusco Jelly, Honeycomb, and Pear Mostarda, as well as two hot mini baguettes. The condiments were quite tasty, aside from the pear mostarda, which literally took my breath away as it opened up my sinuses. For someone who dislikes horseradish, not such a thrilling sensation. The cheeses were wonderful. Between the 2-year and 4-year, I did not notice much difference, aside from the fact that the 4-year cheese's flavor seemed to linger on the tongue a bit longer. The difference between those two and the 6-year, however, was night and day. The 6-year aged cheese needed nothing. No bread. No condiments. Niente. If you ask me, this cheese is near perfection. I can't imagine a plate of pasta worthy of being graced with its presence.

DOLCI:

For dessert, I chose the Apricot Cassata di Gelato ($15) (10) -- Almond Cake, Baked Meringue, and Apricot-Moscato Brodo. This Italian version of baked alaska was wonderful. The meringue housed a smooth mound of vanilla gelato and apricot sorbetto. The cake was nice and moist. The meringue was just slightly sweetened, just enough to be flavorful without being the least bit cloying. Great combination of flavors, temperatures, and textures. Very nice.

One friend ordered the Budino di Fichi ($15) (11) -- Warm Fig Pudding, Pomegranite Sorbetto, Zabaglione, Salty Caramel. He seemed to enjoy it, but didn't really say too much about it. But again, he didn't share, so it must not have been too bad :biggrin:

He and my other friend also each ordered the Assagi di Cioccolato ($18) (12) with three accompanying rums. This was a very generous serving, even if it was for two people. And with three pretty generous pours of rum, the $18 price tag starts to seem more reasonable. I tried the three chocolates (64%, 72%, and 90% if I recall correctly), but was not particularly moved by any of them. Then again, I am not a big fan of dark chocolate, so I guess that was to be expected. I didn't sample the three rums, as I don't drink much besides the occasional glass of wine, but the two of them seemed to enjoy the offerings.

If all of that food hadn't been enough, a cart full of several kinds of petit fours (13) makes its way over to our table, and we are given a few of each. The icing on the cake of what had evolved from a meal into an all-out feast.

THE DAMAGE: $220 pre-tax for the three of us (after a manager very kindly removed the two chocolate tastings from the bill after a timing mix-up that brought the two chocolate tastings and my friend's dessert simultaneously while my dessert lagged several minutes behind. An unsolicited, unnecessary, but very kind gesture on his part.)

THE SERVICE: Present and attentive without being overbearing. The sheer number of servers present at the table carving, pouring, plating, etc at any one time can approach hilarity. I think at one time I counted six different people around our table at the same time. And frankly, I think much of the table-side pageantry borders on parody as well, but that's just me. It just seems so rehearsed and unnatural (especially in comparison to the much more polished service at Jean Georges a few weeks prior, but that is another thread). For the most part, though, we were pleased with the service.

THE FOOD: Flashes of brilliance (cauliflower sformato) and beautiful simplicity (6-year aged parmigiano) mixed with occasional blatant mediocrity and blandness (seafood salad).

THE VERDICT: I will be likely be back at some point, but not necessarily any time soon. I enjoyed the meal, but not as much as my three visits to Babbo. On tap for next time: gnocchi, spaghetti with crab and jalapeno, and pici with cibreo and black truffles. Oh, and maybe a little Cacciucco as well. Then either the strudel or zabaglione for dessert.

THE PICTURES (sorry, a little dark and blurry :huh: ):

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