This photo was taken on Friday, December 17, 2010
Dalí: The Vision of Genius, presented by Galerie Elysees
Time Warner Center, Columbus Circle, New York City
I had the unfortunate experience of passing through Times Square this evening on my way home. As I shoved my way through the never-ending crowd of slowly wandering tourists, I thought about why I often will go around my ass to get to my elbow (so to speak) to avoid having to walk through Times Square.
A note to tourists and NYC visitors who’ve never been to the city’s most infamous square: If you are considering stopping by — don’t.
Okay, okay, I realize you’ll probably do it anyway, so here’s some advice: Don’t.
All right, for real:
Yes, it is one of those things you’ll have to see if you visit New York city. Most New Yorkers that you find in Times Square don’t actually want to be there — we go only when we absolutely have to. If we work there, need something from Toys R Us (God help us), or randomly want to spend $30 on a burger from TGI Fridays. We also go when a friend from out of town comes to visit and says: OMG I have to go to Times Square!!!
Please know that as soon as you said those words, the heart of the poor New Yorker you’re visiting sunk through the floor. Yes, that’s right. Up until that very moment, your host thought they might escape it. That just maybe, you were one of the few people who’d have a blast seeing all of the non-tourist trap spots in NYC. Instead, you’ve killed a tiny bit of their soul and for every second you spend in Times Square, a little more of their soul will die.
New Yorkers do not like Times Square. Why? Because tourists LOVE it. It is dirty and overcrowded with people who don’t know where or how to walk in Manhattan. It is impossible to navigate without being knocked around or stalled by 30 people stopping to take a photo of (for some reason) the American Eagle digital billboard.
So you’re planning on going anyway, right? And you want to know when might be a good time to go in order to avoid this mess? Well, I have an answer for you!
This is the constant reality of Times Square. It is never a crowd-free, pleasant place to take a stroll. If you’re going with a camera, be prepared for the other 29 people who’ll be taking the same photo as you at the same time. Know that you will be in at least 10 other photos as you pass through. You’ll also, most definitely, be constantly jostled around. If you’re carrying bags, this will be even worse. Your bags will undoubtedly get caught on the bags of other people and there will be a nasty quest to untangle yourself without getting pulled into the throng.
If none of this deterred you, do yourself a favor — avoid Fridays and Saturdays. Avoid them like the plagues that they are on this area. There’s no point in going, because there is no place to stand. You will be taken by the masses and dragged away into an oblivion of cameras, shopping bags, and people.
If you must go, then be sure to adopt a strong ‘elbows out’ walk. Plow through, hope for the best.
One other bit of advice — do not eat in Times Square! You’ll pay triple what you’d pay if you looked for a place a few avenues over and a few streets up or down. Olive Garden, Friday’s, Bubba Gump, and Hard Rock Cafe are all chains. That means you can find them all over the place. A burger at Friday’s in Times Square is the same burger you get at Friday’s at home. If you want to pay a ridiculous price for a burger, I hear Minetta Tavern has a good one*. See more of the city! Restaurant row is on 8th Avenue in the Theater District — much better food and much more variety. You could also hop the subway (or taxi) down to Little Italy and Chinatown or the East Village. Trust me, you’ll eat better.
*Disclaimer: I’ve never been to Minetta Tavern, I’ve just always heard that have a really amazing burger.
A few weeks ago, my friend Reg and I were talking about restaurants and food. I mentioned that I’d really been wanting to go to the very high-end Batali/Bastianich owned Del Posto. Imagine my happiness when Reg said that she’d been really wanting to go there as well!
Being typical, non-wealthy New York City folk, this isn’t something we can both afford to do very often. However, we decided to treat ourselves to a fancy shmancy dinner and booked a reservation for an early Sunday dinner.
We were seated at a table facing the front room of the restaurant. The whole place is very classy — dark wood and rich tones. The staff were all impeccably dressed. Our table had throw pillows — cushioned back support. Insanity.
We ordered two Bellinis to start. As we toasted to our fabulousness, we were presented with a selection of amuse-bouches. I, unfortunately, cannot remember the exact description of all of them, but clockwise from the top left, we had: a delicious gazpacho rimmed with spices, a smoked salmon salad with chips, and some sort of magic coated with fried polenta.
Each of these was delicious, though Reg found the gazpacho to be a bit salty. We cleaned our plates (minus the gazpacho for Reg) and our exceptionally friendly and informative waitress came to take our order.
There were so many things on this menu that I wanted to try, but I know my own budget. I also know how much I love Italian desserts, so I limited myself to the salad and pasta section. Reg opted for Fried Calamari and a pasta dish so we’d be able to share. In the meantime, the servers brought some fresh bread to the table, along with two small spreads — sweet cream butter and lardo.
Yes, at Del Posto, you can eat your bread with spreadable pig fat… and it is fabulous. AND, if you finish it, they bring refills! (I have to assume finishing any portion of lardo is ill advised. However, if you think about it, how often are you going to eat it? We told ourselves it was okay. Just this once.) The bread selection was also lovely. There was a roll with Kalamata olives that was to die for. I feel it should be noted: I do not like olives.
Our appetizers arrived not too long after the order was placed. My salad, the Insalata Primavera Della Terra, looked like a piece of artwork. Everything was so colorful and fresh that you could smell the crispness coming off of it.
The calamari was, perhaps, the best I’ve ever had. Reg described it as “literally popping in your mouth.” This was an apt description. The spice and capers were a terrific addition to the overall flavor. My salad was incredibly fresh. The Sheep’s Milk Ricotta dressing was hidden in little caves created by the different sections of greens. It added a nice surprise to each bite.
We took our time savoring the flavors and enjoying the ambiance. The servers politely cleared our plates away to make room for the pastas which were soon to be arriving.
Reg had selected the Orecchiette with Lamb Shoulder Sausage, Crispy Morels & Minted Soybeans. After much deliberation and some input from our server, I had finally settled on the Ricotta Pansoti with Wild Asparagus & Black Truffles. Our server described each dish to us. All pastas are handmade and stuffed on the premises, daily. Believe me when I say: You can taste it.
Both pastas were flavored to perfection. True to his word, Batali’s pasta dishes focus on the pasta and not the sauce, allowing you to truly enjoy the flavor of the pasta and accompaniments. The chef’s use sauce sparingly — to add, to enhance, and to decorate — but not to drown. Reg’s lamb sausage was perfectly seasoned and the minted soybeans added a refreshing flavor to the dish. The pansoti was absolutely delicious, and the ricotta filling was light and filling at the same time.
We’d heard that the portions at Del Posto were small and disappointing, but found neither to be true. Of course, if you’re used to something like a never-ending pasta bowl at Olive Garden, and can actually eat more than one bowl, you’re going to be disappointed.
In true Italian fashion, Del Posto has a Primi and Secondi menu selection. In my trips to Italy, I’ve found that restaurants list pasta and risotto dishes as the “Primi” or first course. These are generally small (but not tiny, by any means) servings of pasta. The main course, or “Secondi” is a more substantial meat, poultry, or fish selection. This is reflected in both the serving size and the cost. Personally, I’m full by the time I finish a pasta dish of any size. I’m very much the type to order pasta as my main course. For the curious, we did see plenty of “Secondi” plates coming out of the kitchen, and they were quite substantial. If I ever have the good fortune of returning to Del Posto, I full intend to try the duck.
We had no room for the second course… but we did save room for dessert! Reg selected a Chocolate Ricotta Tortino with Toasted Sicilian Pistachios and Extra Virgin Olive Oil Gelato. Having tasted Olive Oil gelato at Batali’s Otto restaurant, I knew this was a good choice. There were so many incredibly amazing options on this menu, but as soon as I saw the word “Tartufo,” I knew what I was getting. I’m a sucker for tartufo. I went with the Tartufo al Caffe with Dark Chocolate, Sant’Eustachio Coffee, and Candied Lemon.
As a New Yorker, I’m used to a sort of standardized version of Italian-American cuisine — the kind of thing you find in steakhouses and Little Italy. My dessert of choice at most family dinners is Tartufo. When I order Tartufo, I expect vanilla and chocolate ice cream in a hard chocolate shell, with a frozen maraschino cherry and some almond in the middle. The only time this has ever been different was when I visited the island of Burano in Venice in 2008. I ordered tartufo at a small Osteria, expecting my usual dessert. Instead, I received a powdered truffle covered serving of chocolate gelato.
Imagine my surprise (and delight!), when my Tartufo arrived. This was the same truffle covered type of creation I’d had in my favorite city in the world. Del Posto’s Tartufo was filled with creamy coffee flavored gelato. My dessert wasn’t pounded into a perfect snowball shape, but kind of blobby and misshapen, adorned with candied lemon and drizzled with chocolate. Both desserts were delectable.
When we’d dabbed the last crumbs from our plates, the servers came and lifted them away. After asking if we’d like anything else, they presented us with our bill and a complimentary selection of cookies (yum!). I’ve never seen such a visually impressive bill before. Our tab came printed on restaurant letterhead, with cursive type, and folded like an invoice.
Our total bill was actually not nearly as bad as we’d feared. This is not to say it wasn’t high — but that was expected. The meal and experience were well worth the price.
Our server, continuing with her informative streak, let us know that if we checked out the Facebook page for Del Posto, we’d be able to watch videos of the chefs making the fresh pasta. We also learned that Del Posto currently has one of the greenest kitchens in Manhattan. The same rice oil used to fry the calamari is also used to power Joe Bastianich’s truck! On our way out, the Maître d’ chatted with us for a bit, asking us if we enjoyed our meals, where we’d traveled from, etc. He was very friendly and gave us each a box of two chocolate truffles before bidding us farewell.
Overall, I think Del Posto was an excellent choice for a fine dining experience. I recommend it to anyone who appreciates good food, good service, and an upscale atmosphere. Of course, it’s not an everyday, or even every week… or even every month kind of treat, but once in a blue, everyone should treat themselves to something nice, and this was a very nice treat.