Yesterday I had lunch at Del Posto in Manhattan, one of Molto Mario Batali's restaurants. While the restaurant might have received two Michelin stars for the food, Mario Batali receives only negative marks for his behavior at lunch yesterday.
Del Posto has a wonderfully designed interior, though it is quite formal. The warm amber and ochre tones are inviting, but the hard surfaces and large scale send the message that this is definitely a man's restaurant. It exudes sexiness, but not the soft, romantic, typically Italian kind. No, this interior is much like Batali's personality: forceful and not easy to ignore. This is the kind of place where a beautiful woman would be lost: the room commands more than the people in it.
The food was very good, but I found the lunch menu overwhelmingly heavy. Caviar, lamb shoulder, and heavy pastas dominate the choices. Much thought and attention seems to have been given to mix the most unusual ingredients together, something I find neither necessary nor attractive. However, it was all delicious and beautifully presented.
The staff is attentive...very attentive. It is a very formal dining experience: extremely polite to the point of overt formality. Our glasses were never empty and even a tiny speck on the tablecloth required a clean napkin to cover my friend's dropped garlic slice.
But it was Mr. Batali himself who ruined this dining experience for me. He and his two co-owners were dining next to us. We could not tell if they were engaged in tasting new recipes as there was a continuous flow of plates to and from the table, so we did not want to interrupt them to say hello. However, in the middle of the meal, Mario left the table. My friend is a huge Mario fan, and her husband is Italian and a wonderful cook. She simply wanted to tell him that she was enjoying her meal. Therefore, when he walked back to the table and brushed our table, she said "Hello, Molto Mario." He did not smile. He did not stop. He did not shake hands. He did not ask us how we like it. He simply said "hello" and kept walking. I said "It's delicious." And to my back as he passed, he said "good." Not one gracious response in word or deed. His arrogance and self-importance exceeded his large size and orange crocs.
Del Posto might have the two Michelin stars for food, but I give Mario Batali and all of his restaurants a flat out zero. When an owner does not have time for the customers, why should the customers have time for the owner? There are plenty of Michelin rated restaurants with more stars then Del Posto, and there are plenty of Michelin chefs who understand the subtle nuances of smart business and good relationships. I suppose you can give class to an interior, but a person either has it or they don't. Any business owner or chef who considers himself above his customers and treats them as such, deserves what he gets: a lost customer and a bad revue.