Thursday, September 30, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
“I SOMETIMES ASK my wife to bring back a menu when she goes out for dinner with her informal dining group, and if she happens to remember, I can usually guess, with about 90 percent accuracy, exactly which dishes were ordered by whom. The screenwriter gravitates toward the more fundamental sorts of innards, and the magazine writer gets the chicken. My wife has the scariest thing on the menu (cocks’ combs, baby eels), and the host, who is a good sport about these things, invariably settles for the second-scariest (roe-bearing scallops, monkfish liver with lemon verbena). The starving artist orders the most extravagant item, usually lobster. And the chef, even when faced with the most dazzling examples of culinary virtuosity, always orders a steak, extra rare. She can’t help herself. It comes with the job.”
- J. Gold, Gourmet, Juin MMI
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
“Modern art had no pivot, no heart, no core of inspired dignity, no clear racial definition. The trivial, the outlandish, the prosaic were being brazenly proposed as the subject matter for art, and the hubris of an unstructured and undisciplined modernity had resulted in a hysterical search for the novel, for the bizarre, for the shocking.”
A Modern Italian Master
By SAM SIFTON
And of course an extraordinary restaurant serves food that leads to gasps and laughter, to serious discussion and demands for more of that, please, now. The point of fine dining is intense pleasure. For the customer, at any rate, an extraordinary restaurant should never be work.
Consider Del Posto, which opened in 2005 on a wind-swept corner of that grim Manhattan neighborhood that is neither Chelsea nor the meatpacking district, in the shadows below what is now the High Line park. The restaurant’s owners, Joseph Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich and Mario Batali, and its chef, Mark Ladner, envisioned a temple to Italian cooking to match any ever built to honor a European cuisine in New York, a 24,000-square-foot palazzo of mahogany and marble devoted entirely to the pleasures of Italian food and customer satisfaction.
Five years later Del Posto is that and more, a place to sit in luxury and drink Barolo, while eating food that bewilders and thrills — an abalone carpaccio to start your meal, perhaps, and absolutely a celery sorbetto to end it, as well-played Gershwin and Kern tinkle in the background.
Del Posto’s is a pleasure that lasts, offering memories of flavors that may return later in a dream: a tiny cup of spiced gazpacho, say, rimmed with a salty dust of dried capers; or a plate of the square-cut whole-wheat pasta known as tonarelli, with fiery little chickpeas, fried rosemary and bonito flakes in place of the more-traditional bottarga; perhaps a nectarine cooked into slow and amazing submission, with a savory grilled lemon cake and intense basil gelato. And, oh, that wine!
The road to the restaurant’s success was bumpy. It was not short. There was no precedent for Del Posto in Manhattan, no polished-brass, soft-carpeted Italian restaurant that dared to out-French the French in service, formalizing a simple cuisine, while at the same time urging casual excess on its customers. (Del Posto translates, literally, to “of the place.” You will not find its like in Venice or Berlin, Los Angeles or Miami.)
Early on, however, the restaurant’s service seemed strained, almost theatrical. (Now it is warm and practiced: French-trained and Italian-accented, which is to say American.) Some disliked the room, with its central staircase leading to undulating balconies, its lobbyish feel. (Some still feel this way.) Others loathed the piano, thought it suburban and twee. (The playing improved, the repertory deepened.)
Meanwhile, fine dining of the sort exemplified by Del Posto began to suffer in the marketplace, as the food-obsessed turned their attention from white tablecloths to wooden tabletops, from toques to full-sleeve tattoos, from ties and cocktail dresses to T-shirts and A.P.C. jeans.
There have never been complaints about Del Posto’s huge and deeply comprehensive wine collection, with its whale-bait Piedmontese nebbiolos and surprising values from up and down the peninsula. But there was a period there when the desserts were lame. The service in the dining room improved then faltered. In 2009, the faceless inspectors of the Michelin guide stripped the restaurant of a star.
For roughly the last year, however, under the close guidance of Mr. Ladner, who was the Puckish brain behind Lupa, a trattoria in the West Village also owned in part by Mr. Batali and Mr. Bastianich, Del Posto’s kitchen has been operating at the very highest level. The restaurant’s less expensive cafe section, near the bar, was removed, along with a number of tables on the balcony. With the help of a brilliant new pastry chef, Brooks Headley, and a revitalized and enthusiastic service staff of Italian nationals and veterans of the Batali-Bastianich empire, Del Posto is now among the very best restaurants in New York City.
What was designated a three-star restaurant by Frank Bruni in this newspaper in 2006 has become a four-star one. It is the first Italian restaurant to receive a four-star ranking in The Times since Parioli Romanissimo, reviewed by John Canaday in 1974.
Dinner is served in three formats, all of which highlight Mr. Ladner’s careful interpretation of Italian cuisine, in which brilliant technique renders incredible ingredients as art. Diners may simply order off the menu, as at the corner bistro. There is a five-course option for $95, in which each diner picks an antipasto, a main course and a dessert, and the table shares two pasta preparations in the middle. And there is a seven-course menu tradizionale for $125, in which the table is introduced to the length and breadth of Italian cuisine, from Sicily north to the Alto Adige.
All deliver pleasures, from a simple, elegant Kindai tuna belly simmered in olive oil on the menu tradizionale to a regular-menu order of lamb cooked in the Roman style, salty and rich, with a tangy lemon yogurt and cloud-light Swiss chard ragù. But among New Yorkers used to sharing their bounty, the deepest joy may reside in a fiddle to the five-course option, one that throws a third pasta preparation into the middle of the meal.
Mr. Ladner’s pastas are insanely good. After a wintry appetizer of warm, soft cotechino in a lentil vinaigrette, his spaghetti with Dungeness crab, sliced jalapeño and minced scallion arrives like the sun. It is a dish that speaks directly to Mr. Ladner’s genius, to a view of Italian cooking that allows for both jalapeño and Dungeness crab. His cooking is not about recreating Italy on a luxe scale so much as it is about recreating the Italian spirit on the grandest scale imaginable.
Spinach garganelli, for instance, might follow a sweet lobster salad with intense little tomatoes and a celery crunch, the pasta tubes glistening beneath a Bolognese sauce of incredible delicacy, the result of an all-day preparation that recalls more than anything else monkish devotion to flavor and beauty. It is the illuminated manuscript of cooking.
And a small bowl of anellini, robiola-stuffed pasta rounds the shape of World Series rings, comes with a black-truffle sauce that tastes of earned wealth and deep satisfaction. But you eat the dish with your fingers. It feels like skinny-dipping at the Lido, and is as enjoyable.
Main dishes are luxurious and well suited to occasion dining. For the celebration of business deals, for instance, there is an enormous rib-eye, cooked to rosy perfection beneath a dusting of salt and pepper, with a pile of fried potatoes, a tangle of Italian arugula and dots of tomato raisins that are worth almost literally their weight in gold. (The dish is $130 à la carte.)
Mr. Ladner offers a complicated plate of grilled pork and head cheese with peas and mint, with a light drizzle of the Neapolitan wine known as Lacryma Christi (the Tears of Christ), and a simple one of salmon beneath a wheat dressing made from simmering pasta not for minutes but (once more!) for hours, then reducing the result almost to syrup. He rolls veal loin in pulverized hardwood charcoal before slow-roasting it, then serves the result with luscious hand-ground polenta and a sticky, intense sauce made from osso buco. This last is wildly flavorful — a bass line for baby beef, an alimentary subwoofer.
Mr. Headley’s desserts follow dinner in the manner of a rondo that extends the pleasures of the meal far into the night — and often dangerously deep into the restaurant’s superb list of amari and grappi.
Mr. Headley was a punk-rock drummer who came to professional cooking late, and who bears precisely none of the marks of a new-century New York pastry chef. There is no architecture to his work, no foam. There is instead deep respect for, among other things, vegetable sugars, and for the accidents of art. (For birthdays and other celebrations, he creates a dessert tree by pouring molten chocolate into an ice bath. The result is three-dimensional Pollack.)
And so there are sfera di caprino, little goat-cheesecake balls rolled in salty olive oil and bread crumbs, accompanied by celery and fig agrodolce, with celery sorbetto. There is butterscotch semifreddo, not at all sweet, and a sour orange sauce made with rehydrated dried cantaloupe and cookie crumbs. And, to finish: a cheese-grating box filled with candies high in acid, dusted in salt, as amazing and wonderful as inspiration itself.
All that is missing from Del Posto at the moment are the New Yorkers who came early and then stayed away. The room fills late now with business travelers and visiting rock bands. But all are welcome. It is time to get a reservation and tell everyone you knew this would happen all along.
85 10th Avenue at West 16th Street
New York, NY 10011
212 497 8090
Monday, September 27, 2010
“Yeah! Charles… c’mon man! You remember me, right?”
“No, sorry, I don’t…”
“But you were that guy that… well… kinda like… fu--”
“Nah man, wrong dude.”
“Umm… see ya later! …dude!”
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Friday, September 24, 2010
J & H
“Men have before hired bravoes to transact their crimes, while their own person and reputation sat under shelter. I was the first that ever did so for his pleasures. I was the first that could thus plod in the public eye with a load of genial respectability, and in a moment, like a schoolboy, strip off these lendings and spring headlong into the sea of liberty. But for me, in my impenetrable mantle, the safety was complete. Think of it – I did not even exist!”
“Now, however, and in the light of that morning’s accident, I was led to remark that whereas, in the beginning, the difficulty had been to throw off the body of Jekyll, it had of late, gradually but decidely, transferred itself to the other side. All things therefore seemed to point to this: that I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self, and becoming slowly incorporated with my second and and worse.”
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
First lay some Onions to keep the Pork from burning,
Because in Chouder there can be no turning;
Then lay some Pork in Slices very thin,
Thus you in Chouder always must begin.
Next lay some Fish cut crossways very nice
Then season well with Pepper, Salt, and Spice;
Parsley, Sweet-Marjoram, Savory and Thyme;
Then Biscuit next which must be soak'd some Time.
Thus your Foundation laid, you will be able
To raise a Chouder, high as Tower of Babel;
For by repeating o're the Same again,
You may make Chouder for a thousand Men.
Last Bottle of Claret, with Water eno' to smo! ther 'em,
You'll have a Mess which some call Omnium gather 'em.
Monday, September 20, 2010
“These are terrible,” he stammered. “I want a complete refund plus compensation for my transportation costs.”
The butcher looked down at the young man and shook his head.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” he sternly asked.
“What makes you think that?”
“Because you showed up.”
“I showed up?”
“Yeah, you showed up.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Tim stood there with his hands on his hips and an eyebrow arched at quite a severe angle.
“You mean to tell me you’re not gonna give me my money back?”
“Hell no,” laughed the butcher, his heavy gut jiggling behind the counter. “You think you can tell me that my steaks are shit? Who in their right mind would have the audacity to do that?”
“Well, sorry kid, it ain’t gonna work that way today – and probably not tomorrow either.”
Tim, now mouth wide open, was speechless.
“Listen sonny, I’ve been working at this spot for 35 years. No one – and I mean no one – has ever come up to me and demanded a refund for my chops - as well as a compensation for transportation costs. So let me recommend one goddamn thing - if that’s the last thing I offer you in my butcher shop: Go the fuck home. And while you’re at it? Tell all of your friends, family members and anyone else you hold dear to you to stop coming also. You know why? I don’t need your attitude, your bullshit reasons and especially none of this Tina Turner diva-shit attitude you have to offer. So once you digest all that, regurgitate it back up, then spit it back on my counter, I’ll give you a damn refund. But until then, do as you’re told and go-the-fuck-home.”
By then Tim’s eyes had rolled from their sockets and spilled on to his rosy red cheeks. His left leg slowly creeped backwards, followed by his right, as he retreated back towards the door. The butcher continued to stare straight into his soul, eating at it whilst pouring salt into the open wounds of his beaten core. Purged of his haughty attitude, Tim had been taken back to his childhood agonies – kicked on the playground, sand shoved down his throat and across his eyes. Memories of Greg flushed their way into his head, flowing down into his legs, which now wobbled with each weak step backwards. And still, the butcher stared. As the two steaks sat on the counter, the flesh seemed to melt like the sweat that dribbled down the back of Tim’s neck. Inches away from the door, he reached back to find the horizontal handle; cold to touch and even farther away than home, at least it seemed so in this moment. His fingers aimlessly quivered for the handle, which was four inches above where his arm extended. Still, the butcher stared.
“Up boy, up,” he directed from behind the counter. “Up.”
Tim’s head barely nodded up and down, still shaking with the fear that had plagued him since his time at the playground.
“Y-y-yeah. U-u-up,” he faltered, slowly turning to face the door. “U-u-up.”
His eyes turned to face the door, arms pushing forward and legs moving at a speed that once kept him from being tackled on the playground. He didn’t look back as he sprinted out the store, now in a full stride, his arms pumping by his side. His eyes fixated on his car, ten-too-many spots away, sitting in-between two other hunks of metal and rubber. His stride broke as he tried with both hands to reach into his pocket, his legs still moving but now in an uneven and off-balance hobble, limp and weak, like a beaten form of prey floundering to get away. For some reason, at this most inopportune moment, the keys had wrapped themselves in the fabric of his pocket, caught on some small fold of utter annoyance.
“F-f-f-uck!!! Come on!!”
Tim’s head hit the pavement first, cracking his skull and scraping the skin off his scalp. Next his left forearm, torn all the way up to his bicep, which was luckily covered by his shirt. As his torso hit the ground, his hip seemed to snap below, while his legs bent at the knee, causing the skin to rip even whilst underneath his jeans.
The car hadn’t seen him as it turned quickly into the parking lot. Its driver just sat there, eyes wide open, spilling out onto their cheeks. The blood gushed from their heart, beating four times as fast as Tim’s was just a few seconds ago. Motionless, at least in this moment, the driver just stared straight ahead at Tim’s limp body, now soaking in a puddle of warm blood.
Still coherent, Tim’s eyelids struggled to open to see where he lay. He could taste the salinity of his blood on the enamel of his teeth, thick and viscid, almost like cherry pie on a fine summer day. Thoughts of his recent life, instead of Greg on the playground or his disgust at taking the steaks out back at home rushed back to him. Fuck. Why am I here? Why does it hurt so much? Somebody? A-ny-body?
The butcher had already gone back to the carcass in the rear of the store when it happened. He was having a bit of a struggle with the hangar steak cuts; the grain seemed to go against what his knife wanted to do.
“These steaks are terrible,” he muttered to himself. “What a thing to say, what a thing to say.”
His arm flinched as the knife’s blade finally cut through that annoying tendon.
“What a god-damn thing to say.”
Saturday, September 18, 2010
“Eating is one of the most important aspects of living. I like indulging. I like to eat one food at a time, to savor each individual thing.”
- M.P. White