Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Birthday surprises at Del Posto

Sunday evening marked the official end of my now six-month long birthday celebration. After many failed attempts to secure a decent (post-5:30PM reservation), I finally snagged a 6PM table for four at Del Posto, to which I had a generous birthday gift certificate courtesy of my parents. (Yes, I realize that in any other frame of reference 6PM does not constitute a "decent" reservation time.) So, on a frigid and icy evening, the Second Quadrumvirate of JT, AV, the bro, and me made its way down Tenth Avenue to the expansive and lovely dining room opposite Chelsea Market.

We were greeted by an army of friendly people. From the coat-check lady to the half-dozen people manning the host stand to the runners and waiters on the way to our table (located in a nice semi-private nook in the corner of the room), we must have been greeted by almost a dozen people before we had even sat down. The dining room itself is gorgeous-- tastefully decorated and enormous, with an opulent balcony and lots of soft textiles that keep the noise level down. The tables themselves are large and well-spaced, so each dining party has ample privacy.

Our waiter arrived at our table just as we were settling in and handed us all menus. Then he proceeded to deliver an inappropriately lengthy and semi-incomprehensible (read: with Italian accent) "tour" through the menu that left us much more confused than we were when he started. The moral of the story ended up being "order things from the menu." So we did.

We started with wine, of course, opting for a reasonably-priced bottle of light and bubbly prosecco from the tome-length and expensive wine list. The champagne flutes were also quite nice... I do love me a good champagne flute.

By far the most graceful form of drinking vessel

Shortly after we had ordered, as we waited for the wine to arrive, a platter of amuse bouches descended upon our table. The three tiny treats on offer included a cup of barley broth with chocolate (gross), a little sweet nibble of mascarpone cheese encased in some sort of candied nut (yummy), and a prosciutto panini stick (did not try, but this one received raves). Kudos for the variety here.

A nice way to start the meal

While the wine service was being performed, we attacked the bread basket, which had appeared just on the heels of the amuse bouches. I will say this: Del Posto has a truly superlative bread basket. It's huge, with five different kinds of warm, fresh artisinal bread and two kinds of spreads (rosemary lard and regular butter). I chose a light, herbed roll with an ephemeral crust and a more substantial multi-grain roll, both of which were among the best I've had. The basket also included mini baguettes, thin breadsticks, and olive rolls. The butter was quite soft and very spreadable, but apparently the lard didn't win many fans at our table. I'll also note that the butter and lard were, ahem, sort of grossly shaped. I'll provide the photograph and you all can judge for yourself.

Chock full of carbed goodness

This crisp crust shattered to reveal an exceptionally airy interior

There are several jokes I could make here, but I'll leave the creativity up to you

I'll pause here to note that each of us had only ordered one course, a fact that clearly upset our waiter, almost to the point of anger. My order, an appetizer, left him grasping for shreds of composure, almost desperately trying to convince me to order something else (he even returned to the table once more after the order was in to remind me that my order was small, and perhaps I should order something else. Not surprisingly, I held my ground on this one). Nonetheless, he did ultimately allow the order to go through, and a notably short amount of time passed after the bread basket before our entrees were in front of us.

The bro had ordered the Del Posto agnolotti, filled with parmesan and proscuitto. When the plate arrived, I believe his exact words were: "I tweaked." As you can see from the photographic evidence below, the dish was both 1) small; and 2) weird looking. He said it tasted fine, but it wasn't quite what anybody was expecting. And not in a good way.

I promise we did not alter this in any way before this photo was taken

JT and AV had decided to order two dishes and share, as is both common and socially acceptable in the case of two grown men. The first was a pasta dish, spaghetti rotti with sweet Maine shrimp and Piennolo tomatoes. This portion looked fairly ample, although once again the presentation was surprising (it was sort of shocking to me that they had cut up the spaghetti into small pieces. I thought that was a no-no?). Unlike the agnolotti, however, this pasta was highly approved by its consumers.

Matchstick spaghetti

The other guest star in this episode of Two Dudes Sharing was the grilled pork chop. This was also a substantial portion and was highly praised. AV particularly called out the carrots, which were caramelized and apparently quite tasty.

Bone wrapped in proscuitto was a bonus item

My own selection (upon the advice of the waiter) was the sunchoke crudo, which came with truffled fonduta and walnut gremolata. Once again, I was a combination of startled and puzzled by the plating. The shaved sunchoke looked like slices of deli ham (confirmation: it wasn't), and the random squiggles of stuff and sprinkled leaves all over the plate made it look as though the chef had just dug up a patch of the forest floor and put it on a plate. All in all, this dish was good, I guess, in that it had interesting flavors. But eating it didn't really feel like eating food, so much as participating in some sort of tasting experiment. More than anything I just sort of wondered how the chef came up with it. You know what I mean?

I mean, which part of this is the food?

In any case, the entrees were dispatched, and the empty plates were cleared in unison by four different runners. Shortly thereafter, the dessert menus arrived and yet another waiter appeared to take our dessert orders (note: he asked us to place our orders before every member of the party had even returned from the restrooms and looked at the menu. I suspect there was some scheme to turn our table very quickly, because the service was suspiciously prompt). We requested a little more time but ultimately placed the orders, and shortly the desserts were with us.

JT and the bro had both ordered the local apple crostada with champagne vinegar caramel and toasted oat gelato. This turned out to be a runaway winner-- both are big fans of apple pie, so this was right up their alley. I tried a taste and agreed that it was good, although the taste of the gelato was a bit bizarre.

As close to homestyle as you're gonna get

AV had selected the butterscotch semifreddo. This came with "grapefruit, crumbled sbrisolona and milk jam." Now, I know what grapefruit is; sbrisolona was beyond me (apparently it's a crumbly cake); and milk jam seems logically inconsistent. But the semifreddo itself was very good-- smooth and buttery.

Candied citrus strewn about

My dessert was the coconut panna cotta, with candied ginger and pineapple. This was good panna cotta-- not overpoweringly coconutty and with a velvety consistency. The pineapple pieces dotting the plate were also very good, but the clear gel-like substance anchoring the panna cotta didn't taste very good. I sort of wonder what it was.

Love the dried-pineapple mohawk

When the desserts were delivered, a plate of mignardises also arrived on the table. These were winners one and all: a semisweet brownie (could have used a bit more sugar, but I do love sugar); a shortbread cookie (quoth the bro: "Tastes like Chessmen"); candied almond covered in powdered sugar; tiny star-shaped butter cookie with sweet glaze; strawberry gelee (a.k.a. strawberry gusher, and by far the best gelee LWF&D has encountered in mignardise experience); and an apricot crumble square (the best one-- they should put a bigger version of this on their dessert menu). Overall a truly top-notch plate of mignardises, and once again the extensive variety is much appreciated.

This could easily be a full dessert on its own

Finally, we were finished with the sweet course and were presented with the check. I only call this out because it was, without peer, the classiest check I've ever seen in my life. Just look at it:

Almost makes you want to keep it. Almost.

And that brings us to a key point: price. Del Posto is extremely, almost hilariously expensive. Aside from the desserts ($15 apiece), the only item on the entire dinner menu under $20 is the green salad ($17). Now, that high price gets you a lot of things: a beautiful, serene dining room; incredibly spacious and classy bathrooms (DEFINITELY spend some time in there if you ever go to Del Posto); extra courses of amuse bouches and mignardises; a superlative bread basket; beautiful glassware; etc. etc. etc. But Del Posto falters in areas in which, for the price, you'd expect perfection: the service, which aspires to Eleven Madison Park-like flawlessness, is instead a bit awkward and almost claustrophobia-inducing; the pacing, which is too rapid for a "nice" meal; the plating, which ranges from pretty to downright bizarre; and the portion size, which could rightly anger any sane person. We certainly had a nice meal at Del Posto, which is unquestionably a fine dining destination. But you can get much more bang for your buck elsewhere in the city. While Del Posto is gunning to be a five-spatula place, based on our experience the hammer falls on four Offset Spatulas. With no half-spatulas, sometimes you have to take a stand.

Del Posto
85 10th Avenue, at 16th Street


Atiyah said...

Ok, I will say it butter poop LOL.

Janine said...

We have a winner!!