My Lunch at One of NYC’s Most Expensive Restaurants

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.)

How much are you willing to spend on a special meal?

26 thoughts on “My Lunch at One of NYC’s Most Expensive Restaurants”

  1. I’ve definitely had very similar thoughts to your own. Tony & I have had some amazing “splurge” meals back in the states, including some Michelin rated extravaganzas, but we’ve always walked away wondering if the money was really that well spent. I mean, we love food, but you’re absolutely right that a high price tag doesn’t guarantee an amazing meal, especially in Asia. Most of our best meals have been at little carts or stalls where they only make one thing, and that thing normally costs less than $2. Good food doesn’t need to be fancy or prissy… in fact, it rarely seems to involve those things at all. I agree that sometimes it’s nice to treat yourself, but I rarely see those opportunities as being ones of good value or exceptional food.

  2. Wow, the food does look incredible. But I totally understand what you mean. Some of my favorite restaurants are mom and pop establishments.

  3. I couldn’t have agreed more- some of the most memorable meals Savi and I have had have been meals at small road-side establishments. We had the best tagines in local shacks in Morocco- cheap-as-chips and mind-numbingly tasty. Having said that, that cotechino DOES sound amazing 🙂

  4. I love this post! I feel the exact same way about food. I LOVE it, and while I love going to fancy, foodie restaurants, I often find that the the delicious food does not warrant the hefty price tag and buyers remorse that ensues. You’re so right that street food is often much better and more memorable. I fantasize about my favorite tapas spots in Seville, Spain and the $1 street meals in Bangkok!! Right on!

  5. I’m pretty sure I’d have spent the whole meal postulating on how much each forkful was worth! I do love the occasional treat but often I overthink it to such a degree that it’s really not as good an experience as wandering into a local market and sharing a table with a load of strangers. Good to see how the other half lives though! And I’m so happy to hear it didn’t even touch on authentic Italian :p

  6. Agree – sometimes worth it, sometimes not. There have been times when I’ve dropped an insane amount on a meal and felt it was worth every penny and other times when I felt like I just got ripped off.

    BTW, have you tried Eataly? It’s also run by Mario Batali (in partnership with Lidia & Joe Bastianch). Awesome Italian food and fairly affordable:

    1. Funny enought, Eataly is also a chain in Italy! I think it originated in Milan actually. It’s definitely more my kind of scene.

  7. I do love to splurge on food and meals when I travel. I know that in addition to he food I’m paying for the aesthetics and for the service. I love getting dressed up, checking out my fellow diners etc. I’ve come to realize that for dinner (lunch is a different story) I’m not a fan of eating from a food truck or eating on the go – I like to linger over a sit-down meal and soak in the atmosphere. That being said I totally get the feeling of a meal not being worth the price – I feel that way about Steakhouses, I never feel like I’m getting good value when I’m presented with just a hunk of meat on a plate and am expected to dish out my own side dishes. Don’t get me wrong, I also enjoy holes in the walls,small family establishments and buying dinner at the market if I’m renting an apartment but I’ve had many expensive meals where I don’t regret the price tag.

  8. Whoa, $9 just for tea?? I appreciate fine dining every once in awhile, if it’s for a special occasion or I can otherwise justify the splurge. I suppose the closest I can think of is when I spent the night at Mohonk Mountain House, a resort/castle here in NY’s Hudson Valley. That was heavenly, and the service was unforgettable.

    But you reminded me that I want to stroll around Chelsea Market soon and pick up something from every other shop- that’s more my kind of splurge 🙂

  9. Generally, I’m willing to spend quite a bit for a meal that I know I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, make myself. I’m also more willing to spend money on a dinner that will last a long time because I’m a sucker for a good long meal…but the napkin folding, etc, I could do without. There is a pretty good balance of this in Portland and I feel pretty lucky we can strike a good balance here. For two people, I only feel a little cheated if I spend OVER $200 for two people on dinner…and it better be pretty epic.

  10. The most expensive meal I ever paid for on my own was about $125 at the restaurant atop the Park Hyatt in Tokyo. The bar there is where they shot Lost in Translation. You’re paying for the city views.

    I didn’t even write about my second visit to get dinner because I’ve had much better for less. Most recently the 11-course tasting menu at Pujol in Mexico City ($104), and a 13-course tasting menu at Astrid & Gaston in Lima ($100). I’ve also had a 4-hour dinner at El Cielo in Medellin for $100.

    When it comes to getting the most bang for your buck, I recommend sticking to Latin America.

  11. We had an amazing meal at one of Mario’s restaurants (I think it might have been this one) a few years back…I just remember amazing pork chops and unexpectedly large portions. Sometimes high-end restaurants are hit and miss…but they shouldn’t be at those prices should they?

  12. Wow, that is quite pricey. Definitely not food stall dining! I think it’s good to splurge once in awhile for the experience, but it would not be a regular occurrence for me.

  13. Maybe I’m just a hopeless slob with low food expectations… but I can’t say I’ve ever had an expensive meal that was worth it taste-wise. Sure its usually tasty, but the increase in tastiness has never been worth the staggering increase in price, and I always feel guilty after. Give me the delicious street food every time.

  14. I do love me some street food, especially when it’s tied to some good memories while on the road. However, I do also enjoy going to a nice place and I do think that to some extent, price has a correlation with quality of the product and thus taste. However, like any other product, it’s important to research what you’re paying for. It really does sound like a large part of your bill was for the ambiance, but trust me, eating a 100JPY piece of sushi and a 1,000JPY piece of sushi in Japan is definitely different.

    Also, this is NYC, where many people choose to be so sucked into their jobs that they can’t travel and thus need little napkin-folding oases to maintain sanity, or at least a sense of it being worth trading your waking hours for money. Or maybe that’s just the cynical side of me making some observations after living here for less than a year 😉

    1. That’s a really great point about the sushi. I think some cuisines have a higher correlation between price and quality than others.

  15. HA! I loved your disclosure (or lack thereof) at the end. I’m with you though. I would rather just pay for the delicious food instead of the service, silverware, and bathroom amenities. You really can’t beat deliciously fresh local Italian food. I drooled at your pictures nonetheless.

  16. The most expensive meal we’ve paid for was at Gordon Ramsey’s at Claridge’s in London. It was a special occasion and we decided to splurge. The meal was absolutely incredible and high quality. The service was spot on and we came away feeling good about the money we spent for the dinner. It’s probably not a splurge I would make all that often. I’d rather spend the money on doing something than on food.

  17. I haven’t been to many froo-froo places, but if I should ever find myself wandering through an expensive hotel, I get the feeling that it caters to people who are just “being fake” or “putting on a show” or just shallowness. But is that simply my judgement on them? I mean, I’ve never been a very formal person, but I feel like formalness takes away the human side, like the emotional side of people. I guess this isn’t so much about eating expensive food every now and then as it is about the kinds of people who frequently spend/blow a lot of money on pretty meaningless things.

    Okay, maybe all of that was a side rant. In any case, I’m definitely not against spending the big bucks every now and then for really good quality (like the other commenter mentioned about sushi), but for someone folding your napkin… that just weirds me out. haha

  18. That food looks amazing, but it’s unlikely that I’d pay that much for a meal even if I have the money. I’ve eaten at some pricey places and have never come close to that price (even family Thanksgiving dinners at some nice NYC restaurants don’t cost that much).

  19. Love this post, you have the same thoughts as we do…street stands and hidden local spots are usually the best food, and they cost a lot less! We don’t have money to spend on napkin folders and even if we did I don’t think it would be that appealing to us. Your photos make it very tempting thought!!

  20. I hate paying for just a name or having my bill doubled because I’m paying for a view. That said, there are moderately $$$ priced restaurants I’ve been to that I’ve enjoyed immensely. There’s a point where atmosphere and a food combine, and the price is definitely worth it. The last one I can think of is lunch at Morimoto’s sushi restaurant.

  21. Wow, the food really does look fantastic! In general I never eat at fancy restaurants with prices like this, but sometimes it’s nice to dress up for once and experience the extravagance that comes along with having money. I usually stay in home rentals that are comfy and affordable instead of staying at pricey hotels. This way, I can splurge on food and other outings without feeling guilty. Great post!

  22. I totally understand this feeling – I’ve eaten at some very beautiful, expensive restaurants, but I never feel as home or as happy when I’m eating at a much more laid-back, casual place. Street food is almost always my favourite food in a place, and I’d much rather be in a bustling, loud beach bar than a swanky white-table-clothed restaurant.

    All of that being said, that food does look and sound amazing!

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