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Q & A With Joe Bastianich

Joe Bastianich’s partnership with Mario Batali continues to prove a magical combination, resulting in a wildly successful restaurant empire, including Lupa, Babbo, Otto & Del Posto to name just a few.  The son of Lidia Bastianich (owner of three-star restaurant Felidia) and reared in the restaurant world, it streams through Joe’s blood.  In addition to being a triumphant restaurateur, he not only owns NYC wine shop, Italian Wine Merchants, but also boasts two vineyards in Italy and co-authored the best-selling wine book, Vino Italiano.  While Bastianich has preferred to remain “behind the scenes” at his other haunts, he seems to  venture into the front of the house at Del Posto to play host, even known to sing a little opera on Saturday’s when the mood is right.

While I was initially frightened away by the whole landlord brouhaha (Del Posto was ultimately victorious) as well as  the initial rumors of over-the-top opulence, I simply couldn’t resist the lure of freshly acquired pastry chef, Nicole Kaplan (Eleven Madison Park), gracing the finale as well as chef Mark Ladner’s polished cooking.  I don’t know what all the fuss was about: What I discovered was an old world elegance and timelessness that recalled evenings spent in the finest establishments in Italy.  While subtly manufactured, the space evokes a “pampered night out on the town” vibe.  Sans the pretense (albeit for a steady stream of silver trays moving about the room), there’s an intangible warmth as well as the pleasant background buzz of a piano.

What of the menu?  Was it as over-priced and over-hyped as rumored?  In many respects, yes.  It’s a lengthy read and there are many pricey dishes, but there’s undoubtedly a way to dine at Del Posto without throwing down $500.  Sure, you could toss $250 at a truffle tasting menu or embrace a $90 veal chop for two, or you can get savvy and go with a $48 prix fixe menu in the enoteca, a downright bargain for such authentic Italian.  Hell, why shouldn’t terrrifically doughy nuggets of gnocchi washed in a brilliantly vibrant bolognese live on the same haute stage as the finest French cuisine?  While it may not be as far-reaching as pigeon and chestnuts, few elemental pastas have left me as ecstatically breathless as this one.   Even a simple fritto misto was worthy of pause: perfectly crunchy nibbles of calamari revealed atypically creamy meat inside, then specked with tangy capers and lemon juice.

Rustic crowd-pleasers are present & accounted for – salumi misti, charcuterie, risottos & pastas aplenty – as are more ambitious & definitively decadent tasting exercises evident in a venison with plums & juniper berries or trumpet royal mushrooms with fonduta.  But most of the menu is happily accessible and familiar Italian signatures with superior ingredients and preparations.  Del Posto quickly whets the appetite with a simple plating of intense coppa (cured raw loin), coated in the best damn olive oil that has blessed my palate.

Aside from a forced lardo spread that accompanies the bread – “a Batali was here stamp on every table” (which is skippable) – the pastas can rest on their flavorful laurels.  While no match for the gnocchi, soft raviolis were the perfect cushion for superiorly tender and rich veal, rounded out by a buttery sage sauce and earthy sprinklings of cauliflower.

customary in most establishments to serve pasta as a mid-course, in Batali-Bastianich
territory, it could bode potentially anti-climactic.  Happily, it didn’t.  The rib roast was soft and blissfully succulent.  Though I wasn’t wowed by the cod itself, I could’ve bathed in a fantastical salsa verde that rode the flaky fish’s coattails out of the kitchen.

And though pastry chef Nicole Kaplan was only just settling into her station that first week, early signs demonstrated a natural ability to channel authentic Italian pastry with a zabaglione accompanied with market strawberries, mint chip gelato and almond milk panna cotta, sweetly lifted by a moscatto sorbetti.  I was charmed to say the least.  Get thee to Del Posto.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
President of the United States of America

How did you get into food & wine?
It was the family business

What was your first job in food?
Baking bagels

You not only do food, but also own two vineyards & produce your own wines?  When did you buy your own vineyard & why?
I bought the winery in 1996, it was a life-long dream.

Are your wines your favorite?
My wines represent who I am, not always my favorite to drink but they are very much a part of me.

How did you hook up with Mario Batali?
We hung out together, we were dining buddies.

What was all the fuss about with the new landlords of the building that now houses Del Posto?
“A classic New York shakedown”, it is working its way through the courts.

What’s your favorite dish on the Del Posto menu?
Spaghetti with crab

What’s your least favorite dish (and yes, you must pick one)?
But I don’t have one.

What is your junk food of choice?
Cool Ranch Doritos

How did you score Nicole Kaplan as your new pastry chef & why the change?  A new concept?
We are trying to take our desserts to the highest level.

Within your own restaurant empire, which spot do you adore the most & why? Restaurants are like children, we love them equally with their faults and merits.

Other than your own, what’s your favorite restaurant in NYC?
Gray’s Papaya or Grand Sichuan on 24th & 9th

What culinary trend do you most embrace?
Getting responsibly raised, sustainable food to the masses

What trend do you wish would die already?
Precious, fatty, expensive beef

What’s next on the horizon for you?  Any new ventures or restaurants in the works? Spill the beans…
Restaurants in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, perhaps a national coffee bar concept, fast food pasta…

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl

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  1. Most gourmet food shops or specialty grocery stores carry it and it’s worth every penny.

  2. How can I purchase the olive oil?

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