Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Del Posto: The Best Italian I've Ever Had

I first heard about Del Posto while reading Serious Eats: New York, my most reliable source for New York City cuisine. This was months ago, back when I was subconsciously filing away any bits of information about New York restaurants that I wanted to visit on my two upcoming trips to the city.

However, after an unfortunate bout of miscommunication (oh, you didn’t make reservations? Neither did I...), I didn’t think that I’d have the chance to make it to this restaurant, and who knew when I’d be back in New York again. But my mom made a last-minute reservation for lunch on a Tuesday afternoon, and before I knew it I was across the street from Chelsea Market, in Del Posto’s lovely dining room, enjoying a gourmet feast.

It’s important to note that Del Posto is definitely the finest Italian restaurant I’ve ever been in. Having been in other Mario Batali and Bastianich restaurants (Otto and Becco, respectively), Del Posto presents quite a shift in atmosphere. We arrived for our noon reservation (we had a flight back to Atlanta later that day so planned on an early lunch) and were the only patrons there. The decor in Del Posto is decidedly upscale: marble floors, silver glistening every which way, a piano player in the back, and a beautiful winding staircase that leads to an upstairs dining area (no doubt a lovely place to eat for dinner and watch the hustle below). We were seated at a lovely table in the back corner of the dining room, which still provided us with a good view of the spacious dining area.
Del Posto, like many other restaurants in the city, offers a $29 three-course prix fixe lunch menu, with the choice of one antipasto, primo or secondo, and dolce. This was the entire reason we had come, so we both started off with that (and my mom opted for the additional wine pairing).

We were first greeted with a delicious amuse bouche: a trio of Italian gazpacho with caper-salt rims, which offered the perfect balance of sweet and acidic; a salmon mousse with wafer-thin polenta crackers; and a salty and crisp prosciutto ball. These certainly woke up our appetites.

Excuse the missing prosciutto ball... someone was really hungry.
Next came the bread basket, easily the best bread basket I’ve ever had at a restaurant (and complimentary,too!). All breads are baked in-house and each offers a different taste and texture so the offerings never become boring. To not try all would be a mistake. There was a mini-baguette, crispy on the outside and airy on the inside; delicious and addictive grissini, or thin Italian breadsticks; olive oil- and salt-dusted focaccia; and a multigrain olive roll. I liked the focaccia and grissini the best. It should be noted that the warm bread comes with both sweet butter and whipped lardo. As someone who forgoes butter on their bread and who doesn’t ever care to have bacon, neither of these offerings were that enticing, but the notion of whipped lardo excites most who dine here. My mom sampled the lardo just for the experience. Her verdict? “Tastes like bacon fat.”
While we grazed on the breadbasket (I was careful not to spoil my appetite but also not to miss out on this cornucopia of carbohydrates), our antipasto came. My mom had the snipped herb and lettuce salad, which came with a bellini citronette, a complex peach dressing that added great interest to what could have been a forgettable dish.
I went for the salad primavera, a wonderful twist on the usual salad with spring ingredients. The plate was divided into different components, each presenting a different seasonal vegetable: raw shaved fennel , tender roasted carrot, and crisp sweet peas. This was a beautiful but, most importantly, flavorful dish that greatly exceeded my (already high) expectations for the cuisine at this restaurant.
After more bread-munching, we got our second courses. I went for the whole wheat tonnarelli with spicy chickpeas, fried rosemary, and shaved bonito. This was outstanding. It arrived in a deep bowl, and the homemade pasta was perfectly al dente. There really is nothing like fresh pasta. The chickpeas had a welcome crunch, and the bonito (shaved so thin it looked like it was dancing as the dish arrived) added a touch of salt that flavored the broth beneath. This was a fine bowl of pasta, indeed.
My mom went for the salmon, cooked rare and served with fresh spring vegetables like peas and baby turnips. By the “mmm”s coming from my mom, I think she enjoyed it, and based on the forkful of salmon that I tasted, I’d concur.
Of course, a meal simply isn’t complete (in my book, anyway) without dessert. We ordered dessert along with the rest of our dishes, so it was hard to gauge exactly what I’d be in the mood for. I’ll reason that they make some of the desserts to order so this is necessary. But my mom and I were both happy with our choices. I had the chocolate ricotta tortino with olive oil gelato. The tortino was outstanding, a layered affair of fudgy chocolate cake, lightly sweetened ricotta cheese, and rich and dense ganache. The outer coating of pistachios provided a lovely crunch and contrast to the otherwise smooth layers of the cake.
A word about the extra-virgin olive oil gelato: I’ve consistently read about this creation in all kinds of media for the past year or so. A staple at another of Mario Batali’s restaurant’s, Otto, and now a regular flavor at many other ice cream and gelato shops around the city, this was one flavor I just had to try. Again, who knew when I’d be back in New York again? I’m not quite sure what flavor I was expecting, but this was crazy delicious. Not exactly savory but not overwhelmingly sweet, the gelato had a subtle saltiness. It didn’t taste overtly of olive oil, but the oil in a way perfumed the gelato and gave it a luscious texture. The gelato sat on a bed of chocolate cookie crumbs that, like the pistachios, gave the dish a pleasing crunch factor. Needless to say, I cleaned my plate (heck, I cleaned all of my plates).

My mom had the tartufo al caffe. The tartufo (Italian for truffle) was a misshapen orb of coffee ice cream encased in slightly bitter dark chocolate. It was accompanied by candied lemon peel, which added a bright citrus note to the dish. I’m usually not a fan of citrus and chocolate (or citrus in desserts overall), but this was especially tasty. There was also a dark chocolate sauce and tiny nubs of something that we could only describe as “cinnamon toasty things.” It seems as if this dessert, with its many flavors of citrus, chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon, would be disharmonious, but it was anything but, and a great surprise. (I still liked my dessert better, though. That gelato!)
Just when it seemed we were full to the brim, out come even more goodies. End-of-the-meal sweets came out, presented in a wooden cheese grater. There were olive oil gelato lollipops covered in chocolate and bread crumbs, which were a perfectly crisp coating; mini bomboloni (Italian doughnuts) with a sweet cream filling; glaceed red fruit (likely strawberry) with more crisp breadcrumbs (think fruit leather with a gourmet twist); and the cutest polenta tartlets. All were exceptional, but my favorites were the polenta tartlets and olive oil gelato lollipops (can you tell how much I liked the olive oil gelato?). These all went great with a steaming cup of coffee.

Extra-virgin olive oil gelato lollipops and cream-filled bomboloni (above) and glaceed fruit and polenta tartlets (below)
After this multi-course tasting of deliciousness (really six courses when you think about it), I was reluctant to leave. Now we had to head back uptown, to the crummy airport, and home to our definitely less exciting home. Still, I am left with a great memory of an even greater meal. The company was fabulous, and I only wish my sister could have enjoyed it, too (but she said the truffles, which the hostess presented to us as we left and which I left for her to enjoy after we left, were very good). I’m not sure when I’ll be back in New York City again, but I do know that this meal—from beginning to end—was exceptional. And that gelato!

1 comment:

  1. best italian ever is such a strong statement that im instantly intrigued. couple that with their sweet 3 course weekday lunch for 29 bux - i might play hookey with work and try this spot out myself! thanks for the rec, sara!