Dinner that evening was at Del Posto, an upscale Mario Batali restaurant. We'd originally planned on dining at Babbo, a very popular Batali restaurant in Greenwich Village, but the only reservation I could get (on the day reservations opened) was 10:45 p.m. Yikes! Del Posto was more accomodating, though I think when I called I must have filled in someone else's cancellation, as 6:15 and 10:45 were my options.
Del Posto was an amazing experience. The waiters were attentive and professional, and were excellent at putting us right at ease. There was no pretension that they were better than we, but at the same time it was clear we were dining at a higher level. A talented jazz pianist filled the room with music – good jazz, because there's good jazz and lounge-type gets-old-fast jazz. The decorations were very classic but elegant, and the lighting enough to clearly see your companion and food, but not all the way across the room. There are several options for ordering, and we chose to go with a menu that would give us several courses, one of which we'd share. (As a note, the menu has already changed so much I'm going to have to do my best explaining what we ordered!)
Before anything we'd chosen arrived, the waiter brought out a small dish with amuse bouches from the chef. They included a whipped mortadella ball and a breaded and fried disk of some Italian cheese. The cheese was good, the mortadella not so much, and I thought it a strange sample of the chef's talents. Still, I felt pampered.
Then a bread basket was brought out with two portions each of five types of bread: a crispy breadstick, a focaccia roll, a rustic white roll, a whole wheat olive roll, and something else. Hopefully Heidi will remember better. Knowing how much food was in store, Heidi and each split a roll and then ate half of what we'd taken, so we could try them all. They were all very good, with an especially excellent crumb on the rustic white, but my favorite was the breadstick. I think it was made with a generous amount of olive oil in it; it had a nice crunch on the outside and the inside was spacious but flavorful and almost pastry-like, nothing like the rustic white. I'd like to learn to make them. If I do, I'll pass the recipe on.
For my first course, I ordered a tuna and beef dish. Those are small cubes of fatty tuna (the kind you'd use for good sushi) and tenderloin, seasoned with herbs and sesame seeds, and accompanied with a mellow, slightly sweet sauce. While the meat was a touch large for bite-size, the flavors were delicious and the tuna melted wonderfully in my mouth.
Still, as much as I loved it (especially the tuna), it was trumped by the horseradish panna cotta on Heidi's plate. This panna cotta was loose enough to nearly be a thick sauce. It was light and delicate and one of the two best things I tasted in New York that wasn't chocolate. It was an accompaniment to her lobster with (I think) a puréed pea sauce that was very nice and fresh but totally masked the flavor of the lobster. That didn't really matter, though, because they could have just put a generous dollop of horseradish panna cotta by itself on a plate and it would have been worth it.
The next course, the primi, was shared, so we each chose an item and they brought one out first on two plates, then followed it with the next. Our first was Heidi's choice: toasted semolina crespelle with sweet garlic, pancetta, and pesto. A crespelle, as we discovered, is a crèpe, and a delicious one at that. I ordered the handmade meat-filled ravioli with browned butter. It wasn't called ravioli, I'm sure, but I don't recall its name. My first intent in going to a Mario Batali restaurant was to try the pasta, to see how it tasted, how thin the noodles were, and know what the texture is supposed to be. Assuming Mario knows, and I think he does, the noodles should be as thin as you can possibly get them, the texture delicate and moist, and the browned butter not too brown. I could have just had a large serving of that for dinner, frankly. In fact, I hope to try to replicate it in my own kitchen, but who knows when, and who knows how long it will take to get my noodles so perfect?
My entrée was roast duck alla scappi with sweet corn polenta, trevisano, and campari. If you're looking at the picture, it's easy to spot the duck and sweet corn polenta. The trevisano is a type of radicchio, which was definitely used in making the bitter and unappealing round of something to the left of the entrée. The campari is a liquor that was used in making the dish, so I'm sure its flavor has been imparted somewhere, but I don't know it at all, so I didn't recognize it. I did learn something, two things, from this dish: 1. Making polenta from sweet corn is a fabulous idea, and I'll have to tackle that. 2. I don't care for duck. It has a very strong poultry flavor to it, and it's tough if overcooked, so thus the medium-rare look, which probably does nothing to diminish the strong taste. Not the best dish, but I still admired how excellently prepared and presented it was.
Heidi ordered an almond-crusted halibut with fresh vegetables and a light sauce. It was very good. I was concerned when the waiter mentioned the dish that an almond crust would be overpowering for the delicate flavors of halibut, but Heidi really enjoyed it. I preferred it without the crust, but it was cooked perfectly, and the vegetables were very nice.
After such a lovely meal, all that was left was dessert. We had just soaked everything in, too. The atmosphere was so relaxing and elegant, and it was rejuvenating to be there for a couple of hours, attended to gingerly by three waiters who knew everything about each dish, including intricate details about its preparation and authenticity. We were offered a cheese plate before dessert, but Heidi isn't a cheese fanatic, and I knew if I sampled them, I might not have room for dessert. Oh, I definitely have to go back.
For dessert, I chose the butterscotch semifreddo, similar to a slightly soft but dense ice cream, which was served with strawberries, cake crumbles, and a milk caramel. The butterscotch flavor was warm and soothing, not overly sweet, and the strawberries were a perfect match. I really enjoy trying items like semifreddo at a nice restaurant because I know what to aim for in my home kitchen. In fact, I sincerely regret not trying risotto in New York, something I was hoping to taste while there for the texture, so I could be sure to get it right here. (I have made it, but I don't know how my texture compares with what it ought to be.)
Back to dessert. It's funny, but when I think of dessert at Del Posto, I have to think for a moment or two to remember what I ordered because what I really think of is Heidi's dessert. I opted not to order chocolate since we'd had a nice chocolate dessert at Mesa Grill for lunch, but Heidi was smart enough to not let that get in the way. Her chocolate soufflé was amazing, and I genuinely think of it at least every few days since we've been back, anxious to replicate it. Her soufflé was served in a smart little demitasse cup, dusted with powdered sugar, and accompanied with an outstanding hazelnut gelato. When it was brought to the table, the waiter broke the top open with a spoon and poured an intense chocolate sauce from a small, delicate silver pitcher inside the dessert. The chocolate was not only intense but smooth and of the best quality. Seriously, the best dessert.
So, of course, we assumed we were done after dessert. Little did we know, there was more to come. (Not enough experience in fine dining?) Our third waiter, who seemed to take over about a third of the way into the evening, brought out confections. He placed two of each on a plate for us to share, and they included jellies, biscotti, something coconut, and a few other things. Nothing as amazing as dessert, but everything interesting and a delight.
That was the entire experience of Del Posto. Everything was smooth and perfectly placed and calming. Heidi and I left feeling better than a day at the spa. It was our most unaffordable meal in New York, but definitely my best.