It is a pretty well-established fact by now that as surely as lunch follows breakfast, a pantless Mario Batali will pop up in the pages of our Fall Preview. Regardless of our position on shorts after Labor Day, it’s practically a tradition. It’s also a fact—at least in our crude, cut-to-the-chase estimation—that Del Posto, Batali & Co.’s new 18,000-square-foot cucina classica juggernaut, is an out-and-out bid for four-star recognition in a town where, as far as Italian restaurants go, three’s the max. Not that Batali or his partners, Joe Bastianich, Joe’s mother Lidia (of Felidia fame), and a href="/pages/details/1268.htm">Lupa’s Mark Ladner, would ever admit it. There is no surer way for a star-seeking restaurateur to end up in the soup, after all, than to come right out and say of his latest masterpiece, “If this isn’t a four-star clam shack, I don’t know what is.” Just ask Alain Ducasse. So, although Joe Bastianich isn’t shy about describing his lofty vision of Del Posto as “the ultimate expression of what we think an Italian restaurant can be,” and though he’s quick to cite various grand postwar European hotel dining rooms as inspiration, when it comes to stars, Team Del Posto’s official policy is, “We can take ’em or leave ’em.” Or, as Batali deflects, “We’re more interested in the comfort of our guests.”
And at a relatively uncrowded 120 seats (70 more in the lounge), comfortable they shall be. Comfort and service, of the sort that evokes images of accented waiters reeling off specials and cummerbunded captains filleting the branzino tableside, in fact, are paramount. Some aspects—the valet parking, the private banquet space, the giant hunks of meat and fish meant to feed ten or twelve—seem audaciously outer-borough (or at least a tad Sopranos-esque). The menu—conceived by Batali and Lidia, executed by Ladner, and covering everything from mozzarella in carozza at the bar to calf’s liver alla Veneziana in the dining room—sounds rather quaint. There will be plenty of pomp—lots of marble and dark wood, lots of captains pushing customized carts displaying and dispensing everything from bollito misto to zabaglione—but pomp alone won’t cut it. That’s where Molto’s and Lidia’s expertise come in: his passion for top-notch ingredients, her masterfully honed palate, both bulwarks against what skeptics might dismiss as a curiously been-there, done-that concept. Since so much is riding on the execution, they’ve assembled a dream-team staff of Bataliland superstars (a Babbo general manager here, an Otto meat-curing specialist there), plus a ringer or two, including a protégé of L.A.’s dough diva Nancy Silverton, to bake the bread in-house. Executive chef Ladner counts among his kitchen crew a designated dry-pasta man, a fresh-pasta man, and a guy on the books just to stir the risotto. A bona fide Parmigiano-Reggiano expert will navigate the dining room, plying diners with vertical cheese “flights” and pontificating on subtle seasonal nuances. Narciso Rodriguez is doing the uniforms—even the bartenders’ mess jackets (think Isaac on The Love Boat). Speaking of fashion, Del Posto might be the first Batali restaurant with a dress code. “It seems no tank tops or sandals will be the rule,” says Batali, easing his way into a newly decorous milieu. “Shorts, of course, are always okay.