Tag Archives: Mario Batali

Lunch at Del Posto

Del Posto. Sometimes You Just Want to be Pampered

That was one reason I chose this Italian fine-dining collaboration between Mario Batali and Joe and Lidia Bastianch for a recent weekday lunch in NYC. And Del Posto really delivers on that front, with its over-the-top sumptuous setting and formal but friendly service. The photo below, from the Del Posto website, doesn’t begin to do justice to the room:

Grand white marble staircases leading both upstairs & down are bracketed with sensual curved balusters that evoke the Belle Époque, as do a generously proportioned black marble bar and the intricate floor you see in the photo. Windows that soar to impressively high ceilings are swathed in luxurious drapery and a grand piano is expertly played even during lunchtime. So is it any wonder that my companion likened the feel of the room to a grand luxury liner from another age? That extends to the feature I luxuriated in most: sinking into soft dining chairs of supple white leather with low, curved, wraparound backs and arms.

Another reason I chose Del Posto was because it offers a 3-course prix fixe lunch for $49, which seems reasonable – if not an outright bargain – for a restaurant with one Michelin star and a four-star rating from the NY Times. In the end, the tab turned out to be $82 per person all-inclusive. That included a voluntary $10 supplement, but it should also be noted that it was for a meal without wine or cocktails.

Amuse Bouche, Del Posto

Amuse Bouche, Del Posto

The pampering starts in earnest with the arrival of gifts from the kitchen. (If you don’t count the stool that is brought for your purse.) Clockwise from the bottom, above: triple-strength capon broth with polenta ball (think fluffy matzo ball), arancini, and puff pastry with pecorino. The broth was tasty but, as would be the case with several dishes to follow, salty. But the one-bite rounds of cheesy, buttery puff pastry shattered and melted beautifully on the tongue, putting me in mind of old-fashioned cheese straws.

Baguettini, Del Posto

Baguettini, Del Posto

Our server accurately described the above as a cross between a baguette and grissini. Almost worth the price of admission all by itself.

Vitello Tonnato Antipasto, Del Posto

Vitello Tonnato Antipasto, Del Posto

Course 1: Vitello Tonnato with olive crostone (the black crumbly bits, above), caper shoots, lime cells (!), and lemon basil. This classic cold dish is a tour de force – slices of tender veal enveloped in decadent mayo-like sauce flavored with excellent quality preserved tuna. The hits of lime and lemon basil balance the richness beautifully.

Insalata Autunnale, Del Posto

Insalata Autunnale, Del Posto

My companion chose to start with salad of slow roasted tubers, which notably includes black salsify and foglie di noce (pecorino wrapped in walnut leaves) among its merits.

For the prix fixe lunch, diners choose among 5 antipasti, 5 secondi, and 6 dolci (some with supplemental charges). What isn’t included is primi, aka pasta dishes. Who could dine at a Batali-Bastianich restaurant without having pasta?

Sweet Potato Cappellacci, Del Posto

Sweet Potato Cappellacci, Del Posto

We split a $20 portion of the above “bishop’s hats,” which luxuriate in sage brown butter and a sprinkling of hazelnuts. I relished the slightly crunchy pasta wrappers but found the filling of pureed sweet potato mixed with crumbs from those almond-flavored cookies called brutti ma buoni too sweet. (That’s my fault for ordering it, not the kitchen’s, which is under the direction of Mark Ladner.)

Lamb Chop with Abruzzese Spices, Del Posto

Lamb Chop with Abruzzese Spices, Del Posto

Course 2 (officially, at least): The menu reads, “Slow Roasted Abruzzese-Spiced Grilled Lamb/Carciofi alla Romana & Umbrian Lentils” – and I was thrilled when the above dish was placed before me. (When was the last time you encountered those paper frills to cover the bones?) The chop was perfection. I’m assuming that the puree it rests upon is the form that the carciofi (artichokes) took, although this is not typical. The heritage lentils, while cooked perfectly, were so salty that I couldn’t finish them. But wait! (as they say in infomercials) – there’s more. My server also laid down this crescent-shaped dish next to the chop:

Lamb Neck, Del Posto

Lamb Neck, Del Posto

The menu failed to mention a wonderful bonus of boned lamb neck, which happens to be one of my favorite cuts. Soft, beautifully fatty and almost muttony, it sat on more of what I am speculating is artichoke puree.

Striped Bass, Del Posto

Striped Bass, Del Posto

My companion’s choice was wild striped bass (from South Carolina) with radicchio tartivo, chestnut spuma, & Valpolicella and truffle sauce on the side. Her verdict: good, but a bit tame.

Roasted Apple Hazelnut Cake, Del Posto

Roasted Apple Hazelnut Cake, Del Posto

Grappa Panna Cotta, Del Posto

Grappa Panna Cotta, Del Posto

The same, and nothing more, could be said for both our dessert choices. Both failed to deliver the promise of their menu descriptions. And coffee, at $5 a cup, was surprisingly weak and tepid.

Mignardises, Del Posto

Mignardises, Del Posto

But we ended on an up note: Delicious sweet treats from the kitchen. They included dark chocolate pops filled with olive oil gelato, chocolate bonbons, Averna-flavored caramels in edible clear wrappers (!), and candied melon. Whimsically presented, as you can see, on and in a wooden box grater.

In sum, I would have considered even $82 an acceptable splurge for all this – if only the food had been four stars.  Did I mention that as part of the pampering we were presented at the start with warm, moist, cloth finger towels, and that we were asked to relinquish our (thick, soft, linen) luncheon napkins after the main course so they could be replaced with fresh dessert napkins? The pampering here definitely rates four stars.

 

 

 

Review: Pastaio in Spring Lake; Big Brothers/Sisters Benefit; My Most Popular Recipe Ever – Ideal for Father’s Day

When she worked at Eataly in New York, Lisa Stanko-Mohen was tasked with making 3,000 pound of pasta a day. See if she learned well from her master, Mario Batali, in my review of Pastaio, her Spring Lake restaurant. In the June 2013 issue of New Jersey Monthly.

NJ Monthly cover June13

Help Mercer County Big Brothers Big Sisters Celebrate Their 40th Anniversary

Both NJ Salt Creek Grilles – the one in Rumson and the one in Princeton – continue to be exceptional supporters of the communities they’re in. One of the most enduring and meaningful alliances is between Salt Creek Grille, Princeton and a cause close to my heart: Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Salt Creek Grille Princeton

Salt Creek Grille Princeton is hosting their 5th annual Wine & Dine Festival & Fundraiser, benefiting Mercer County BBBS, on Thursday, June 20th from 6 to 9pm. Set up under big tents on the sprawling Salt Creek Grille lawn, Wine & Dine is an outdoor celebration of fine wine, craft beer, cuisine, and music. This year’s Wine & Dine event has special significance for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mercer County, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. $60 in advance, $75 at the door. For information or to place your reservation, call (609) 419-4200.

Giving the People What They Want: Apparently, That’s Orange Soda BBQ Sauce

Of all the subjects I’ve blogged about over the last year and a half, the one that continues to receive the most hits – day in and day out, literally from all over the world –  is for grilled chicken with orange soda barbecue sauce. I first published the recipe, supplied by chef Jeremy Stahl who teaches at Mercer County College, in connection with father’s day 2012.

Thanks, Jeremy!

Thanks, Jeremy!

As a continuing public service, here is the link.  I would add my wishes for a happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, but clearly this recipe’s appeal goes way beyond American men on one particular day of the year! Who knew?

btw: Want to know the second most popular hit? Again, I couldn’t have predicted it in a million years. It’s a drink called switchel, a cocktail served in a Mason jar that I encountered at Jose Andres‘ America Eats! Tavern in DC. In its original, Colonial American incarnation switchel was a non-alcoholic refresher for farm workers. I wrote about it – complete with a recipe from America Eats! – here in my very first blog post. Come to think of it, it too would be great for Father’s Day!

Visiting Eataly; Discovering Croatian Wines

I recognize that I am probably the last so-called foodie in the Metropolitan area to haul myself over to Eataly.surely must be the last Italian-American round these parts to do so.

Eataly

Eataly

Last week I made the pilgrimage to that Disneyland of imported Italian foods on 23rd Street & 5th Avenue, the partnership of Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich, and Joe Bastianich. I expected to be overwhelmed by its size (a whopping 50,000 sf – and me who gets catatonic at Home Depot!), by flocks of tourists, and by prices in the stratosphere. None of these materialized. Well, I wish the grocery prices had been lower, but I was more than happy to shell out what I did for a memorable lunch at La Pizza & La Pasta, one of Eataly’s 7 eateries.

Cacio e pepe at Eataly

Cacio e pepe at Eataly

I ordered a dish I consider a true test: cacio e pepe spaghettone ($14). This simple dish of cheese and black pepper was perfect, plentiful, and served just as the menu promised: glistening sauce clinging to strands of fat pasta cooked “very al dente, like in Italia.”

The pizza/pasta restaurant comprises two counters and a table area. I arrived shortly after 1 pm on a Tuesday and was told there would be a ten-minute wait for a spot at the counter. Barely 60 seconds later, I was seated. Below is the view from my perch.

La Pizza & La Pasta Counter, Eataly

La Pizza & La Pasta Counter, Eataly

Service was prompt and efficient from beginning to end, without making me feel rushed. Water, slices of Italian bread (just OK), and superbly green, peppery olive oil arrived almost immediately, along with cutlery wrapped in a thick cloth napkin. When I asked my server to recommend a glass of wine, he quite correctly steered me to the Mirafiore Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2010. At $14 it wasn’t the cheapest alternative, but it was a perfect match and a good size pour.

After lunch I roamed aisle after aisle of everything from dried and fresh pasta to fresh produce and kitchenware. And not just Italian: there were, for example, premium Satsuma oranges.

Fresh Pasta Counter at Eataly

Fresh Pasta Counter at Eataly

Then I stopped for espresso ($2.50, including a complimentary gingerbread biscuit) at one of two stand-up coffee cafes, Vergnano (the other is Lavazza). My only disappointment came from the bakery counter: a cold, tasteless baba au rhum.

I have a reputation among my friends for restraining myself from overbuying at markets and Eataly was no exception. Here’s my loot of staples, which came to a grand total of $19.63: a pound of Garafalo pasta, sheets of crisp Sardinian flatbread (as thin as the music sheets it’s named after), a jar of arugula pesto, and a bag of light-as-air “lady kisses” chocolate and hazelnut cookies.

??????????

Croatian Wine Surprises

When I received an invitation from Vina Croatia to attend their tasting seminar in New York on the wines of their homeland, I jumped at the chance – primarily because my knowledge of Croatian wines (like Croatian geography) was approximately nil. No longer – not after an entertaining and enlightening hour led by wine writers Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, known as “The World Wine Guys.”

The World Wine Guys

The World Wine Guys

I could not be more pleased to have made their acquaintance (both the guys and the wines). The whites in particular impressed, including those made with familiar grapes like Riesling and Gewürztraminer and those made with grapes indigenous to the area, such as Grasevina and Malvasia Istriana.

That last name gives a hint to the upcoming wine-growing regions of present-day Croatia, which is carved out of what had been Yugoslavia. The main four are Istria, Dalmatia, Slavonia (not to be confused with Slovenia), and the Croatian Uplands.

Croatian Vineyard (Wikipedia)

Croatian Vineyard (Wikipedia)

Guess who has a winery in Croatia? Mike Grgich of California’s Grgich Hills. He came to the US in the 1950s and in 1996, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, he went back and established a winery in his native land. Wines like his (red) Grgich Plavac Mali can be sampled in his California tasting room.

Plavac, dalmatian wine

Plavac, dalmatian wine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I practically swooned over the one ice wine that was included in the tasting, with its gorgeous light caramel color, floral nose, velvety mouth-feel, and notes of apricot. I’d provide the name but there’s little point because as of now, few of these wines are carried in NJ wine stores. (One that does seem to carry a sizeable collection, although not of the particular wines I sampled, is Madison Wine Cellar.) Meantime, my advice is to be on the lookout for Croatian wines, which are appearing more and more on restaurant lists. When you find one you like, ask your local wine shop to stock it for you. And just so you’re ready to hit the ground running, here are some fascinating facts I gleaned about Croatian wine:

  • Traces of wine making in Croatia date back to 2200 BC.
  • The first laws ever written concerning wine quality and standards were written in Croatia. (Take that, France!)
  • Croatia has more than 800 wineries, 64 indigenous wine grape varieties, and 66 appellations. All this with a population half the size of Manhattan.

Some of the Croatian winemakers were on hand for the seminar. My favorite anecdote was from one who related how the last few generations of his family have been citizens of four different countries:  Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Croatia. And that was without ever moving out of their house.