Nestled below the highline park in Chelsea, Del Posto is at once elegant and welcoming. Its clean, crisp exterior gives way to a warm dining room that balances the fine line between fancy and stuffy. Yes, there is a pianist at a baby grand, but he filled the restaurant with cheerful whimsy playing an extended Beatles medley. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds brought levity to the most formal lunch I’ve personally attended.
At the helm of Del Posto are media moguls, celebrity chefs and food lovers Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich and Joe Bastianich. I must confess as a fan, I was predisposed to like what is perhaps their most acclaimed (1 Michelin star, 4 stars from the New York Times, a 26 food rating from Zagat) and certainly most expensive restaurant. Though dinner at Del Posto can set you back as much as $270 a head for seven courses with wine pairings, I opted for their much more reasonably priced $29 three course lunch. With a complimentary three part amuse bouche to start and an extra dessert selection to finish, not to mention the excellent bread, three courses turned into five making this menu a bargain and an absolute must.
After being very comfortably seated with a pillow at my back and menu in my hand a waiter asked if I had any dietary restrictions before he brought me a starter compliments of the chef. I am a vegetarian, though I do occasionally “cheat” especially when it comes to cured pork, but I went with my instincts and said that I ate everything. I trusted that I wouldn’t be served a piece of beef as an amuse bouche and that if any meat was involved it would cured pork (since Batali is certainly a lover of all things piggy). I didn’t want to run the risk of missing out on a tasty seafood treat either, since it can be confusing what different types of vegetarians do and don’t eat. My instincts proved correct and I ate every bite of the first course.
A trio to start: Chilled Tomato Soup, Prosciutto Wrapped Sauerkraut and Lobster and Caviar Sandwich
No more than a few bites each, this trio perfectly primed my taste buds for what was to come. The tomato soup was fresh, tangy and slightly salty. It was served in a small cup rimmed with breadcrumbs and meant to be sipped like a fine cocktail. I then moved on to the prosciutto and sauerkraut, the tangy-ness and saltiness that I first tasted in the soup both built with this bite, this was my least favorite bite, probably because I don’t like sauerkraut. I was most excited about the finger sandwich. It was pillowy soft and creamy, nice, though I perhaps could have used some stronger flavor to punch it up. The little pops of caviar were delicious and helped punctuate what could have been rather one note if it had been larger than a few bites.
Prix fixe diners next get to make their choices, 1 antipasti, 1 primi or secondi and 1 formaggio or dolci.
Antipasti: Insalata Primavera della Terra
This is a salad designed to look like a spring garden on the plate and it did, including crumbled breadcrumb “dirt”. This was my favorite dish. Both beautiful and playful, each bite was offered a new flavor. Roasted red pepper, grilled zucchini, melt in your mouth cooked carrot, raw tomato, crunchy cucumber and delicate microgreens were dressed with a sheeps milk ricotta dressing that was delicate and delicious on its own. This was less a salad and more a celebration of the vegetable.
Primi: Scungilli due with Black Pepper, Black Garlic, Lemon and Parsley
Though gnocchi con pomodoro and ricotta pansotti with asparagus and black truffle butter caught my eye first, I decided to move a little outside my comfort zone and asked the waiter to tell me more about the scungilli. Scungilli is italian for sea snails, or conch. The due refers to two types of snails, the creatures from the sea and the snail shaped pasta noodles. The sauce sounded intriguing and I had never tried conch before so I went for it. Unfortuntately this was my least favorite course but it was not without merit. I was surprised at how thick and rich the sauce was. It had a very strong flavor, sweet and smoky garlic. It reminded me of a gravy almost in its color and richness. I didn’t dislike the flavor, it was very intersting and quite good, it just got a bit overwhelming for me the more I ate it. The pasta was perfectly al dente however I don’t think I will order conch again anytime soon, it was a little tough for my tastes, bordering on chewy. I think as a non meat eater I was a little thrown off by the rich, thick, brown sauce. Next time at Del Posto I will play it a bit safer, that being said, I like to branch out and take risks too. I don’t think I would order this again but I’m glad I tried it and I did finish the whole plate!
Dolci: Chocolate Ricotta Tortino with toasted Sicilian Pistachios and Olive Oil Gelato
This dish is perfectly described by its title. A beautiful moist cake rolled in pistachios accompanied by a delicious olive oil gelato. I have been meaning to try olive oil gelato for years and have never gotten around to it. Now I will be making up for lost time by ordering it whenever I can. I eat olive oil on everything so to taste that familiar, yet in this application exotic, fruity flavor emanating from this cold creamy treat was fantastic.
Dolci Round Two: A Quintet of Tasty Treats
Just when I though my meal was over a very cute cheese grater topped with complimentary mini desserts was placed in front of me. My favorite, of course, was a “lolipop” of olive oil gelato encased in chocolate but the mini filled zeppole, dark chocolate truffle, champagne caramel and candied fruit were welcomed with mouth wide open. After talking with a waiter about my interest in food and love for Batali and Bastianich I was so surprised when he returned to my table with a glass of Bigaro Elio Perrone dessert wine on the house. A beautiful shade of pink and slightly sparkling, it was just sweet enough and reminded me of pomegranates. Stefano Perrone’s well liked Muscato wines come from Piedmont, Italy. The Bigaro at Del Posto is a 2010 vintage blending Moscato and Bruchetto grapes. I would highly recommend it for with your dessert.
As I walked out of Del Posto and was handed a parting gift (a gold box containing two chocolate truffles) I felt full, happy, and not at all guilty about the money I had spent. With attentive service, many surprise extras and delicious food, my meal at Del Posto made me feel special. I spent 90 minutes at a table by myself, but I didn’t feel lonely or awkward in the slightest. So often we are plugged in to our computers or televisions when we are not surrounded by our friends, families and colleagues. Taking the time to be with yourself whether it is taking a walk, sitting in the bath, or eating a meal with your full attention can be a form of meditation. I felt relaxed, refreshed and in the present moment at my table at Del Posto, slowly and carefully tasting each bite. You don’t have to ditch your friends, but if you ever find yourself stumped for what to do for a solo lunch in New York, skip your usual take out place, set aside an hour or two and make a reservation at Del Posto.
Tips: Make a reservation, observe the formal dress code (no shorts) and show the host or hostess you have checked in with foursquare when you arrive to receive a complimentary glass of Prosecco. Buon Appetito!