Why Eating at Del Posto Is Like Eating in a Hotel Lobby

Stephen and I had a daytime date today, lunch at Mario Batali’s Del Posto. It was a lot like eating in a snooty hotel in Florence. Here’s why:

  1. The room itself. Oh my god, the room. Big, soaring staircases. Signage in Italian (“guardaroba” instead of “cloakroom”). Marble everywhere. Curtains so overembellished they’d make Scarlett O’Hara run for the scissors. It’s all just trying too hard.
  2. There’s a pianist. Yes, you read that right, an actual person whose job it is to sit and tickle the ivories while you dine. The medley of songs from early 90s Disney films (“A Whole New World,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” “Beauty and the Beast”) was particularly entertaining, and I don’t mean that in a good way. When the poor man hit a clunker, Stephen said, “I didn’t know they had clams on the menu.”
  3. There’s heavily-patterned carpeting, the kind that seems chosen to obscure stains in heavy traffic areas.
  4. The pomp and circumstance surrounding every move the servers make is so over-the-top, it’s like a Saturday Night Live sketch. Stephen offered specifics: The one in which Harvey Keitel is a diner in a fancy-shmancy restaurant, so fancy it has a bathroom attendant, played by Kevin Nealon. The kicker: It’s a single-toilet bathroom, and Nealon takes his job seriously. The staff at Del Posto practically wipe your nose for you. And again, I don’t mean that in a good way.
  5. Stephen ordered the cotechino (sausage) and lentils for his appetizer. This sounds like a relatively humble dish, doesn’t it? Not at Del Posto. They wheeled it over in a frickin’ mahogany bollito misto cart, out of which the maitre d’ ceremoniously pulled a small copper pan and spooned lentils onto a plate. He closed that compartment and opened another, this one holding a forearm’s length of sausage. He fished it out with a carving fork, withdrew a knife, and sliced off an inch-thick portion, which he perched atop the lentils. Then, a small dollop of bright red mostarda, painstakingly draped over the sausage (I half expected him to pull out his tweezers.) The whole procedure took a good three minutes, which felt more like thirty while we were sitting there waiting to eat. All this, for lentils and sausage. Delicious lentils and sausage, certainly, but deserving of this ceremony? Hardly.
  6. Now, you might say I ordered badly (and I would agree, in retrospect), but I had the Snipped Herb & Lettuce Salad with Bellini Citronette, followed by the Grilled Salmon with Chestnuts, Watercress, Black Truffles & Trumpet Mushrooms. The salad? Pretty leaves of not-particularly-interesting lettuce and a chive or two, in a quite-nice-but-not-spectacular citrus vinaigrette. And the salmon was a notch above what I’ve been served at some high-end catered affairs (though the promised truffles were magically transformed into water chestnuts). Hotel food. Go ahead, blame me for making poor choices. I can take it. But really, shouldn’t a restaurant that admits to having four-star aspirations know how to transform simple things like salad and salmon into food that’s sublime?

You’ll notice I didn’t mention dessert. That’s because it was (thank god) a home run, and extravagantly abundant. I had coffee tartufo, which might just be the best I’ve ever had, and Stephen had a chocolate ricotta tortino with olive oil gelato. Yowza. And then, they brought out the bonus: A trio of piccolo treats, including a fantastic chocolate-covered lollipop made with that olive oil gelato, perfectly positioned on a drawered, wooden cheese grater. But wait, that’s not all. Once it was placed on the table, our server opened the drawer to reveal two more bite-sized surprises. And then, and then, as we were leaving the hostess handed me a small gold box: truffles, for later. It was almost enough to make me forgive them all the silliness.
For my birthday in December, we went to Maialino, Danny Meyer’s new Italian spot, and loved every second of it. The energy of the room was positively bouyant, and the food was spectacular, all without the pomp. Here, not so much.
Have you been to Del Posto? Or an equivalent? I’d love to hear about it.