I love food. I’m also poor. Luckily for me I find that when traveling that cheap food: hole in the wall restaurants, street stands and hidden local spots, is usually the best food.
Since I’m usually so good, I try not to feel guilty about the occasional splurge. Like when I’m in New York and trying to convince Kim to play hooky from work and the only way she’ll give in is if we pretend to be fancy Ladies who Lunch and check out the lunch special at Del Posto.
Del Posto is an elegant Italian restaurant by Mario Batali situated just across from Chelsea Market. On Yelp is is classified as $$$$. Bloomberg’s news service calls it “the most expensive Italian restaurant in Manhattan,” and the dinner menu starts at around $115 for five courses.
Basically it’s the kind of rarefied place rarely ever set foot in. Luckily for my and my wallet, Del Posto actually has a really generous three course lunch special that starts at just $39.
Unluckily for me, we spent way more than $39. Between the deluxe four course meal, cocktails and a few other extras, the final bill for the two of us was $200.
So was it worth it?
Yes and no.
The food was pretty great. Some of the best Italian food I’ve had in the United States, although nowhere close to as spectacular as actual Italian food.
We started out with an adorable amuse bouche of tiny chicken sandwiches, cauliflower soup and cod. For an appetizer I had the cotechino, a sort of cured meat with pistachios. Then there was the chestnut and porcini ravioli and neapolitan lamb that practically dissolved on my fork. Finally there was a divine browned butter pannacotta with sour cherries that I ate excruciatingly slowly because I didn’t want it to end.
The food was amazing, there’s no doubt. Maybe because it was so tasty, it took me awhile to figure out what was bothering me. It wasn’t the men in suits throwing down cash on the company card, or the weirdly hovering waiters.
The problem that tugged at me though, was evident. At a restaurant like Del Posto you’re not just paying for the food. You’re paying for the piano player, for the mint lotion in the bathroom, for the 6 different silverware changes and for the lady who comes and folds your napkin while you’re in the bathroom (this particular awkward touch really freaked me out).
You’re also quite literally paying for the water. When the bill came I was startled to find two $6 charges for our glasses of water and $9 for my black tea. Which fine, I should have figured that one out on my own, but it stung nonetheless.
Ambience is great and all, but I would rather pay half the price in a place where I can fold my own napkin and I’m allowed to wear jeans. Maybe I’m just a slob like that. But mostly it confirmed what I’ve always found in my travels which is that high prices do not necessarily equal good value.
And, while the food was excellent, it won’t live in my memory forever the way the steaks at La Cabrera in Buenos Aires will, or the buttery jamon serrano in Girona, or street pad thai in Bangkok. All of those things cost substantially less and I can call their tastes up at will. Even here in the US I’ve have some freaking amazing meals that cost a tenth of what I shelled out for folded napkin service this afternoon.
So is it worth it? I don’t really know. Maybe once in awhile- for fun. But when it comes to seeking out the best food in a city, you’ll probably find me much closer to the ground.
(I wish I could tell you this was a sponsored lunch but no such luck! I may be a grubby freeloader some of the time but this time it was all on me.)