The Del Posto Post-O

March 27, 2006 | By | COMMENTS

Fans and lovers of Mario Batali, his shows, cookbooks and cuisine, I come to you with sad news: believe not the glistening, glowing three-star review Frank Bruni bestowed upon Mario’s newest restaurant, Del Posto, in The New York Times just last week. I am here to bravely declare that Del Posto merits not three stars, not even two: our experience there last night was minimal at best. I am here to report back with firsthand notes, pictures, anecdotes–even video!–from a meal best left forgotten. I may not have the clout of a New York Times food critic, but I have the stamina and chutzpah of a first-rate food blogger. Would a professional photographer take a picture like this?

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I rest my case.

Now let us study that photo above for a moment, so I may set the stage. We are on 10th Ave., mere feet away from the chilly Hudson River. We are north of the meatpacking district and south of Chelsea proper. Across the street from where we stand is Morimoto, the other restaurantasaurus receiving much fanfare in the food media. Notice the bridges connecting the two: my brother and I imagined that cows were led across these bridges before being slaughtered, though we have no evidence that these buildings were used for the slaughter of cattle in their former (less scrutinized) lives. If they were we’d like to call one of these bridges, after the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, the Bridge of Moos. Otherwise, we suspect that these bridges are now used for shoveling money back and forth between the restaurants into rooms of jolly men laughing at the idiocy of upscale diners, who would spend (as we did) $30 on a single dessert. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

You may be getting the impression, and it is a wrong one, that I went into Del Posto with a chip on my shoulder. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ask anyone I know, anyone who knows my tastes well what my favorite restaurant is in New York and they will instantly answer: “Babbo.” I worship at the shrine of Mario Batali, now that I have a Tivo I am blessed with recordings of “Molto Mario” which I watch religiously when I come home from school every day. The recipes of his that I attempted lately–the scallops, the short ribs–have all yielded fantastic results. The man is my god, my idol, the Madonna to my Brittney Spears. I wanted nothing more than to love our meal at Del Posto.

Even more than that, I wanted my family to love their meal at Del Posto. Here they are: mom, dad and brother Michael, with their bellinis aloft.

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Believe it or not–and you may not believe it–those bellinis (normally a mixture of peach juice and Prosecco, but here instead of peach juice they used passion fruit juice and blood orange juice) were the highlight of our entire evening. Here is mom (in a very dark video) testifying to the Del Posto bellini’s magnificence:

We are at a corner of the bar waiting for our table and as we wait, mom spies a woman who looks like Natalie Portman. “Is that Natalie Portman?” she asks. Michael looks: “That is her,” he says. I look too and it’s very convincing. Dad is starstruck. “V for Vendetta’s #1 at the box office,” he tells us.

Yet her voice, as it echoes around the room, sounds a little too screechy and un-selfaware to be Natalie’s. “That’s NN,” I say, “For Not Natalie.”

We are having fun. “This place is beautiful,” says mom, admiring the marble floors and the columns and the balconies. “Those women are beautiful,” think Michael and dad as they stare at chesty blondes walking through the front door.

And then it happens. The rupture. The bubble of our evening popped by a gesture that infuriates my mom, saddens me and leaves my dad and brother mostly indifferent.

You see, only one thing matters to my mother when we go out to eat: that we get a good table. By a good table, she means a table at the heart of the action, a table that lets you feel like you’re a part of things, at the center of it all. Originally, when my mom made the reservation, they told her “we only have a table in a private room.” She said she didn’t want a table unless it was in the main room. They called the next day (Friday) to tell her that she’d been in luck: there was a table in the main room. “We’re eating in the main room,” she informed us, the day before our dinner there.

When the hostess came to retrieve us from the bar, she swept us away from the main seating area at the right of the restaurant (where Joe and Lydia Bastiniach–(and I love Lydia Bastiniach)–greeted guests as they sat down) to a dismal, dreary room next to the bathrooms at the very back, all the way to the left, separated from everything else. Not only that, she led us to a table that was in a far, gloomy, dusty corner where bad diners go to die.

“Excuse me,” said my mom, “But I specifically asked for a table in the main room.”

“I’m sorry ma’am,” said the hostess, “all those tables are full.”

There was a struggle. I felt bad for the hostess but I understood my mom’s position. I intervened and asked the hostess how long it would be for a table in the main dining room.

“About 30 minutes,” she said.

“Let’s just wait,” I say. I didn’t want my mom to be miserable for the whole meal.

Our reservation was for 9:15 and we returned to the bar area hungry and anxious to get some food in us. “I’m starving,” I say, receiving very little sympathy.

Surprisingly, only ten minutes later the hostess returns and says she has a table. She leads us to the right–where the action is–and up a tiny staircase. The table she gives us is perfect, facing Lydia and Joe and the main artery of the restaurant. We are happy again. “This is much better,” says mom.

I could spend time here describing the table, the linen, the waitress, the sommelier, how we ordered wine, how they filled our water glasses with bottled water without asking us first and then how they accidentally refilled them with sparkling water with us saying, “Excuse me, there was non-sparkling water in here first.” But let’s get to the food: that’s why you’re here. They presented us with these, fried chanterelles, at the meal’s start:

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At Babbo they present you with chickpea bruschetta, a marvelous marriage of flavors and textures–olive paste, garlic, red pepper flakes–it’s a taste memory I savor frequently. I bring that up because these fried chanterelles, while tasty on a superficial level, reminded me–for whatever reason–of funnel cake. They were too salty. And too doughy.

The menu at Del Posto is unnecessarily complicated. There’s antipasti, primi, risotti, secondi, per il tavolo, and two tasting menus. We asked the waitress for help and she gave the impression that she knew what she was doing.

“Could we share two antipasti?” asked my mom.

“Yes,” said the waitress. “That’s a good idea.”

Actually, though, it wasn’t. Four people should never attempt to share this singular veal sweetbread that cost $16:

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Nor should they try to share this root vegetable salad, which–incidentally–was my favorite course of the evening:

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Our plates looked paltry when we divided these up, a situation that does not represent what I understand of Italian culture and the purpose of antipasti. When I think of antipasti I think of platters of roasted red pepper, salads of mozzarella and tomato, and steaming bowls of fried calamari. I understand that Del Posto is going for French refinement, but French refinement doesn’t require that guests feel unsatisfied and ripped off by the first course alone. The menu doesn’t say “for sharing,” true, but it was the waitress’s job to tell us to each order our own. She didn’t do that and we were unhappy.

Then there was the matter of the pasta. By all accounts (NYT, New York Magazine, Andrea Strong), the pasta at Del Posto was supposed to be wonderful. The two that I came in knowing the most about were the “spaghetti with crab, scallions and jalapeno” and the “ravioli that are filled with a chestnut and Parmesan purée and paired with pigeon and myrtle.” [That description comes from Bruni's review.] Since my entire family ordered the spaghetti, I went with the pigeon:

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I liked this very much: it was sweet, it was buttery, it was mysteriously flavored. A comforting combination that left me smiling.

The spaghetti, on the other hand, left my mom wincing.

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“This is so hot,” she said, fanning herself, tears running down her cheeks. Then she started hacking.

“Is everything ok?” asked the waitress. She saw my mom in agony.

“This is so spicy,” said my mom. “My mouth is on fire.”

“Would you like another pasta?” offered the waitress.

“No, I’ll be ok,” said mom, “Thank you.”

But moments later she was hacking again. (Dad and Michael ate theirs quietly.) When the waitress came by again, my mom took her up on her offer and ordered what I had instead.

“It’ll just be a few minutes,” said the waitress.

By the time it came, dad, Michael and I were all done. The food runner who placed the pasta down shook his hand off afterwards, the plate was so hot. I point this out because the night before we went to Jean-Georges (I know, I know, poor me) and you would never see that there. Jean-Georges is a four star restaurant that deserves every single one of its four stars. Every moment of your meal is perfectly choreographed, every taste you experience is perfectly rendered. Del Posto comes nowhere close.

Now then, for the entrees. The waitress suggested we order either the ribeye for two or the turbot for two. Since dad eats too much meat, I offered to share the turbot with him. Michael and mom shared the ribeye.

Prepare to be dazzled by this presentation, then. Here is the turbot as it was first brought out to us, my dad glaring at me, his expression broadcasting: “What did you order!?”

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Mom and Michael’s ribeye was similarly presented:

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Very dramatic, very exciting. At this point in the meal, it all could’ve tipped either way: if the entrees were spectacular, I’d forgive the table situation at the start, I’d forgive the bad advice about the antipasti and my mom’s hacking over the jalapenos. But once they brought the fileted turbot and placed it in front of me:

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The balance started to swing against Del Posto. The first bite was bland–fresh, no question–but bland and watery. The next bite was the same.

“It doesn’t taste like anything,” commented dad.

Mom said her steak was tough and fatty.

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I tried a piece and I spent a long while chewing. Nothing I tasted at this point in the meal left me dazzled. Mostly, it left me depressed.

Mom switched with dad, cause he didn’t like the fish, and the piece that she ate of his was filled with bones. As she’d pull a bone from her mouth, she’d place it on her bread dish.

“Look at all these bones,” she said, when she finished. There were six bones on her plate. “That really isn’t right.”

Let’s cut to dessert, then. The Bruni review and the special on Food TV that I watched about Del Posto made a big fuss about the strudel. Here’s the strudel, as it was presented with gelato on the side:

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And here it is served to us on our individual plates (mom and I shared it):

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Indeed, the filling–pears, I think, on this night–was wonderful, as was the crust: flaky and flavored with almond. But how on this planet we call earth can they justify charging $30 for this? Do they exorcise the soul of a healthy Italian baker and inject it into each and every strudel leaving his family with an empty shell of a human to enhance the flavor and justify the lofty price tag? I doubt it. $30 for this is inexcusable.

Much of what happens at Del Posto is inexcusable, except–maybe–the cookie and candy cart that arrives at the end. Here is a horrible video of the cookie/candy man serving up a plate:

And here is the plate he prepared:

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Everything on it was wonderful, but so what? As the woman said to her poorly endowed husband when he told her he wanted a child after she had her tubes tied: “Too little, too late.”

Here’s a video of us leaving, you can see the hostess giving my mom a gift bag:

In that gift bag? Breadcrumbs. That’s the quirky treat they leave you with and I plan to cook with them this week.

So what to make of Del Posto? A giant museum of a restaurant, that resonates with a needy hum. Here it is on my way out:

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The rumors are true, I’m afraid. This place isn’t a temple of food, it’s a palace of greed. I can’t believe that Mario’s mission with this place is to inspire us, to excite us, or to baptize us with food. That’s what he does with Babbo. With Del Posto, he turns us on our heads and shakes us violently as our money clangs to the ground. Don’t believe me? Study that menu. $60 for risotto? $240 for rack of veal? Have you no shame, Mr. Batali?

It’s ok, I still love you. I’ll still eat your food, watch your show, cook your recipes. Recently, I reread the article Bill Buford wrote about you in The New Yorker when I purchased the New Yorker DVD set. It makes me really admire you–I love that you know so much about the food you cook, the culture it comes from and why it’s important. I wish you’d infused some of that into your new restaurant. As it stands, though, this highly devoted fan is Del Disappointed.

Categories: Manhattan, Meatpacking District, New York, Restaurant Reviews

  • http://tomness.blogspot.com TJM

    Thanks for the informative (but sad to read) post!

    May I point out a possible factual error? I haven’t actually been to Del Posto, but if it’s on 10th Ave, then I think you meant to say that it’s close to the Hudson River, not the East River.

    Best,

    Tom

  • Gwen

    I am so sorry you were disappointed. The NYT review made it sound so great. Oh well, you and Mario will always have Babbo.

  • Nina

    That’s always disappointing. It’s sad when the critics get the special treatment and leave us commoners with the worser fate. But! there are more restaurants to see and more great places to eat at.

  • http://cookingwithamy.blogspot.com/ Amy

    Ever since the release of Mario Tailgates NASCAR Style I’ve wondered if the magic was gone…

  • Gabe

    Sorry to read about your first experience;

    I’ve been to Del Posto 6 times and each

    experience (food included, of course) has

    been nothing but special and sublime.

    Try again.

  • http://www.ralphdefelice.com/weblog/ Zoe

    That was one of your best restaurant reviews – I would have been horribly disappointed also. Now, what was that about Jean-Georges?

  • Katie Helmer

    great blog! I love the mix of quirky resturant reviews at insane resturants and your own very accessible cooking. You also have great taste in chefs — Mario and Ina are my favorites. yum! I’m hooked.

  • http://tokyoastrogirl.blogspot.com/ tokyoastrogirl

    I think, with any new restaurant, it’s good to go at least twice to check the quality. That said, however, it’s difficult to fork over that kind of money after even one bad experience. The rack of veal MUST be for a whole table at that price right? And the risotto prices…..good lordy. How can you charge in the 20′s for pasta and then justify charging in the 50′s for risotto?! I wasn’t aware that rice was that much more expensive than pasta. My husband LOVES Babbo so I can see how you’d have high expectations. It’s too bad you had such a mediocre experience.

  • Brian

    Ok, so I have been reading this blog for quite some time. Your devotion to Mario Batali has reached a ridiculous obessesion. The man can do no wrong. Have you read some of the hilarious waiter/waitress accounts of him being drunk and accosting his staff? Have you not seen his bulbous red nose somewhat akin to the drunk on the corner? The almighty dollar is what guides this ass and you have succumbed to his flash. While you enjoy being a corporate cheerleader he is basking in your ignorance. Enjoy! And always Avete il menù turistico?

  • gretchen

    This was a great restaurant review–I have no idea what Brian is talking about, given that you are clearly rejecting corporate cheerleaderism for the Batali empire this time around. I understand that for a professional food critic, many visits are essential. But most of us don’t have the money for that kind of repeat visiting, especially if the restaurant doesn’t live up to its exorbitant prices in the first place. Food blogger reviews, I think, are different. Thanks for a good one.

  • http://www.thepauperedchef.com Blake

    Dear Gabe,

    Please lend me some money.

    Love,

    The Paupered Chef

  • Gabe

    Dear PC,

    Someone once said, “I can live without

    life’s necessities, as long as I can have

    life’s luxuries”.

    Gabe

  • http://undelicious.blogspot.com/ Jeff

    The problem it seems that Batali has tried to open this restaurant with the intention of making a place that Bruni will love and will grace with 4 stars. When you open a restaurant to please the critics and not your real customers, you are destined to disappoint a lot of people.

  • Marcy

    I am astonished by some of the comments here…

    To Brian, what in this review made it seem like Adam was blind to Batali’s possible shortcomings?

    To “ano”, if you read this through, Adam’s mom clearly stated when she made the reservation that she did not want a table in the boonies…she had every right to be frustrated. If Batali was truly trying to make Del Posto a 4-star experience, nothing like what happened here (reservations screwed up, waitstaff suggesting sharing food that wasn’t really shareable, and OMG, all the bones in the fish…that would NOT have happened at Babbo) is excusable.

    Excellent review Adam. I too am a Batali devotee and I think on my next trip back to NY I will just skip Del Posto and go back to Babbo.

  • http://www.speakasyoueat.com David Patrick

    Yikes, Take your family to Sammy’s Roumanian.

  • Adanna

    Mario has reached that Imperial stage in his life where the Emperor has no clothing. As Nina posted above, there are so many other fabulous places to eat in this city. No reason to go there and spend first class money to be treated like a second class citizen.

  • Jane

    Great review, Adam. I’m sorry you and your family had such a crappy time. Did you see the Food Network special on the opening of Del Posto – “Mario, Full Boil”? Between building the restaurant, launching his cookware line, doing a book tour, launching a food line, and having a litte Mario doll produced, I was exhausted just watching him.

    But I certainly did notice that he mentioned about a dozen times that his goal was to be the first 4 star Italian restaurant. As commenter Jeff said, that was a set up for failure right there. It was also interesting to see him and his sous chef comparing the menus at Del Posto and (I think) Babbo. They were discussing how one of the dishes at Del Posto was going to essentially be the same as one from Babbo, although they would be charging 10 bucks more for it at Del Posto. The sous chef was like, “How can we justify that?” Mario didn’t really have an andwer other than a shrug.

  • Miriam

    I’m sorry to hear that your experience didn’t live up to its expectation. It’s always disappointing when that happened.

    I, too, think it’s outrageous to charge $30 for a dessert. I mean, that dessert better feed 5 people if that’s the case. While it did look large, it shouldn’t have cost that much.

    I guess the moral of the post is to not go to Del Posto? Or that Babbo and Jean-Georges are better?

  • Kim

    The LA Times story from today (3/29) seems to concur.

  • http://vidadulce.blogspot.com Christine

    Check out today’s L.A.Times food section and read more about Mario. Sad, he’s one of my culinary heroes. Let’s see what happens here in Los Angeles at his new venture with Nancy Silverton. As for Del Posto, that $30 sweet oughta come with a lounge act. Think of all the dessert goodies you could make with $30 bucks. Ciao!

  • Brian

    Wow, I just re-read my prior post. I think I had about 5 bottle of wine in me. Sorry about that, I love the blog.

  • rodger

    i think this is a horribly designed restaurant, and partly the reason your poor ol. mum got stiffed with a bad table.. there are too many bad tables in this restaurant that i can only imagine an amateur was involved in its design. seriously. its cheap in all the wrong places, lighting and uphostery, its axial layout is so disfunctional. read: the void where you should expect action or more tables, this area has all the design moves one might expect to find in italianate church, …… and as for that cul de sac dining area behind the coat room, a hangover from a symmetrical design strategy, good god. that area is just plain scary.

    if mario wasn’t the chef in the kitchen, i would say this is space is a ringer for failure.

    look at 66, another disfunctional restaurant and another name chef lumbered with a bad design. 66 is on deathwatch, will del posto be next?

  • David

    actually, when asked why it was $10 more by the sous-chef, mario said something to the effect of ‘babbo didn’t cost $10Million to build;’

  • smokedgouda

    All I can say is that I wouldn’t want to eat dinner with 90% of the bitchy posters on this blog, including the author.

    Mario is a passionate and excellent chef. While I have yet to go to Del Posto, I have enjoyed his other restaurants and find them to be a great mix of atmosphere and cuisine.

  • http://scienter.typepad.com Ariella

    So, basically what smokedgouda means is: “I haven’t gone to this restaurant, so I have no point of reference from which to spout my nasty comments, but I will do so anyway because this is the interweb.”

    Great review. We love Babbo, but maybe we’ll just stick there, rather than branching out to del Posto.

  • s

    Hm. My meal at Del Posto was phenomenal — one of the best meals I’ve ever had. I have to agree about the complexity of the menu though… it’s a bit much.

  • Trish

    I love this post. I needed to read and re-read it. It’s not due to any “bitchiness.” I find this post a balanced representation of AG’s visit. We can not all be rampant corporate cheerleaders and the truth needs to be told so that corrections and fine tuning can occur. Garbage meals happen even in fine restaurants. I once had a hideous meal at Le Bernadin and still can’t comprehend how it garners all the stars and accolades. Perhaps my visit was a one off. At the end of the day the critics do not keep a restaurant flush with cash – word of mouth and repeat clientele does. Thank you for a great, albeit sobering, review. I will be taking my mother to Jean Georges and NOT Del Posto in order to “celebrate” (or “commemerate”) her divorce. If I do not take her there, I have six months to score a 10:00 p.m. reservation at Babbo! ;-))

  • hatedit

    couldnt agree with you more.. Was there several weeks ago and it was awful. Not one good thing to say

  • realist

    Too much venom here for Del Posto. It’s like being Microsoft or any business at the top of its game, the vampires come after you and do anything to bring you down.

  • http://stalkingthewaiter.blogspot.com B’gina

    Okay, I’ve got to chime in, too. This is a restaurant review. Adam can only describe his experience. You, whoever you are, need to decide if things like table mixups, poor recommendations by servers, poorly deboned fish, more jalapeno than the average diner can tolerate are enough to make you not want to go.

    All of those things, to me, are symptoms of a restaurant with problems – they don’t keep track of what they promise diners, their staff isn’t familiar with the food, their kitchen staff is either not careful enough or is not knowledgeable to properly prepare food for service, or their dishes aren’t adequately described (his mother might have asked them to hold the jalapenos if she’d had any clue it was going to be inedible for her). If they had the most wonderful food in the world, the best prices, I’d still think more than twice about going there.

    It’s ridiculous to get into personalities. Adam and his family had a really poor dining experience there. This is his blog, and there’s no reason he can’t be honest about that experience. You want to rebut? Go there and write your own review in your own blog.

    Sorry, Adam, but this is a touchy issue with me. And I’m probably going to be flamed for this. :G:

  • George Schulte

    LOOKS TO ME LIKE THIS RESTAURANT NEEDS A DOSE OF GORDON RAMSAY DESCIPLINE!!

    Here in the South we would call Del Posto a CLIP JOINT…

    Unless they put in 1/2 Oz. of white winter truffles in the risotto there is no way to justify a price that high for $0.50 of arborio rice

  • http://www.grafffamily.com vici

    I really appreciate this review, and the fact that you took photos and video to share with the world. I was not impressed with any of the plates. After seeing the “FoodNetwork” special, I expected quite a bit more. Apart from the architecture, it does not appear that they are even attempting to impress…sorry for your disappointment; thanks for sparing the rest of us…v

  • Rouget

    Smoked Goudas comments are absurd, perhaps he’s been smoking more than gouda.

  • Michelle

    Thought you might be interested in this article.

    LA Times re: Mario Batali and Del Posto in particular.

    http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fo-batali29mar29,1,2954983.story?coll=la-headlines-food

  • http://thepearlonion.blogspot.com/ The Pearl Onion

    I love this post, but I think my favorite part about it are the comments! Some very interesting, angry people out there…

    Meanwhile, thought yall might be interested in knowing that The 2006 James Beard nominations have been announced and Del Posto was nominated for Best New Restaurant. It was one of 6 nominated, with The Modern included (the other 4 are nto in NY). Very interesting considering both this and the LA Times reviews!

  • Rouget

    Which once again proves that the Beard awards are nothing more than bought and paid for political bullshit. All you are doing is feeding rich socialites in manhattan who give awards based on “Talent”.

    Alinea is clearly the best new restaurant in the USA.

    Del Posto isnt breaking any new ground except square footage.

  • Jacques

    One of the most interesting restaurant critics I ever read.

    Thank you for warning the consumer.

    According your descriptions and photos, good taste cannot be bought but unforntunalely bad taste can be sold.

  • LI Foodie

    Magnificent room, very helpful staff and great food. I wnet last week and go back in two for another try. The place is just getting its legs, has just opened for lunch and for 7 days. If you want perfection, Wendy’s can give it to you. At this level even the bobbles don’t detract from a lovely evening.

  • sal gulla

    Saturday evening at DEL POSTO…a most dissappointing dining experience .We too were led to the “back room”-dark, businesslike, and lonely. From martinis to fig pudding,nothing was memorable…except the price. We noticed a $2.00 drink surcharge on each “up” cocktail…What is this !? Our ravioli was dry, tasteless, and cold. My squab entre was composed of 2 chicken winglike breasts of meat…also cold. The hotel look decor,and layout simply does not work . This could be the financial hemorage that brings Mario down.By the way we are HUGE FANS of all his other restaurants.

  • carol gioglio

    The only memorable thing about this dinner for four one recent saturday night was the check.

    The sommelier was lovely and interested in our well being, our waiter/maitre’d seemed as though he could care less.

    I sent my main course back because I have had better pork loin in a diner and realized there was no reason I should torture myself at these prices.

    Will this restaurant fail – maybe – they just opened for lunch – a sign of weakness – oh and do you think that management – at these prices – might take a moment each day to train their staff as to what it is they will be serving?

    Sloppy -careless and cold – those words best describe this experience – oh I forgot one VERY EXPENSIVE

    If you must – to say you have – go for a drink – than go someplace else to eat.

  • Zion

    Im just confused……a bar menu that you can’t eat at the bar? hmmmm

  • Adam

    Oh my, I am so sorry you had such a bad experience, but it must have been an off night. I recently dined at Del Posto and had a truly wonderful experience. The rabbit panzotti with asparagus and truflle butter and the veal milanese were nothing short of decadent and the butterscotch semi-fredo was top notch. While I am sorry you had a terrible experience, I personally would certainly recommend the restaurant to others

  • Carmela

    Hi There,

    I just joined your blog, I think it is really quite wonderful and can’t stop reading it. Just one comment on your review of Del Posto, from someone who is Italian and has had many meals in Italy, and from someone who has eaten there…

    Antipasti in Italy are normally small portions ,never heaping bowls of food like you have in Italian-American restaurants here. In this case Del Posto is authentic.

    Best,

    Carmela

  • Dan

    you ordered two antipasti and were disappointed when it wasn’t enough for four??

    I think that sets the tone of your entire “review”.
    Get over yourselves and stop whining.