Now that disgraced chef Mario Batali is no longer an owner at Del Posto, Pete Wells is ready to eat at the famed Italian fine dining restaurant again. In this week’s review, the Times critic extolled the virtues of chef (and partner) Melissa Rodriguez’s “sophisticated honesty” in Italian cooking, giving the tasting menu restaurant three stars in its first review since 2010.
But he didn’t go into food before talking about the politics of reviewing Del Posto in the first place. The critic explains that he was already thinking about doing it when the allegations of misconduct against Batali surfaced. And then he wanted to wait to return until after Batali was divested, though he acknowledged that multiple staffers also blamed business partner Joe Bastianich for encouraging inappropriate workplace culture.
Still, seems like Wells buys Bastianich’s apology and the company lines about human resources changes, or at least enough to review the restaurant. He notes that “Del Posto is, with the possible exception of Aquavit, the grandest and most expensive restaurant in New York where women are in charge of everything you eat.”
Standouts for him include chicken cacciatore and the pastas, all of which represent a more “subdued” but still elegant and honest approach to Italian cooking, compared to the more innovative days of former chef Mark Ladner, he writes. On the chicken:
Ms. Rodriguez’s version is made from guinea hen breast, roasted until the skin crackles like parchment. What would be the body of the stew is now a sauce; the tomato, celery and onion in it come through distinctly. Occupying a little sidecar is a pressed puck of braised leg meat under a single, Roman-style gnocco, a small featherbed of semolina held together by eggs, milk and cheese. One side has been broiled so hard it is nearly burned, which seems like a mistake at first, but turns out to supply the bit of campfire that this hunter’s stew needs. It has to be far more complicated to prepare than the cacciatore at your neighborhood Italian restaurant, but it seems simpler, pared to essentials, and wonderful in every bite.
Service, though, sometimes “reflected a serious lack of imagination” when compared to similarly luxe restaurants such as Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Noma, and much of the staff doing tasks such as handing out towels “rarely seem comfortable,” Wells writes.
Is it stretching a point to ask if enshrining subservience, as Del Posto does, reflects the same twisted sense of priorities that allowed Mr. Batali to get away with abusing his own power for so long? (And is it a coincidence that far more men than women seem to work in the dining room, particularly in the upper ranks?)
Perhaps, he writes, as a partner, Rodriguez can redefine what “luxury” means. Three stars.