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In Del Posto’s New Era, Cuisine and Service Are at Odds

Category: Food & Drink,Lifestyle

Though the restaurant is not exclusively for rich people, it is explicitly for occasions. Once, when a reservationist called to confirm and asked whether I was celebrating anything special, I said no, and was gently laughed at: “Just a normal Tuesday night at Del Posto?”

There is little danger that anyone will mistake a night at Del Posto for normal. If nothing else, the napkins and towels are a tip-off. First, there is a small hot linen napkin scented with tomato-vine oil, to wipe the dust of the outside world from your hands. Then a large white linen napkin, followed just before dessert by a small yellow one. It is given to you, and the white one is taken away, by a server using a large fork and spoon as tongs. When you go to the restrooms, you may encounter an attendant who has just restocked the hand towels from a large basket she carries on one arm, like Heidi out gathering wildflowers for Grandfather.

There are little ceremonies like this from start to finish; I don’t know of any other restaurant that performs quite so many tasks whose only real purpose is to draw attention to themselves. And these things are rarely done with a smile; employees seem to have been directed to keep a respectful, formal distance as they carry out your requests and perform other services you’d never think of requesting. They rarely seem comfortable. Their solemnity is underlined by the sepulchral lighting at night, so gloomy it makes the crypt of Grant’s tomb look like a tiki bar.

A good deal of the service is the attentive, helpful kind that you really want, but the rest of it seems designed only to give customers the sensation of temporary power over other people. Some people may love this, but it reflects a serious lack of imagination when you think about the ways the service at Blue Hill at Stone Barns or Noma, for instance, is integrated into the experience. Is it stretching a point to ask if enshrining subservience, as Del Posto does, reflects the same twisted sense of priorities that allowed Mr. Batali to get away with abusing his own power for so long? (And is it a coincidence that far more men than women seem to work in the dining room, particularly in the upper ranks?)

Now that Ms. Rodriguez owns a piece of the restaurant, perhaps she can lead a reconsideration of priorities in the front of the house, and find a tone that more closely matches her philosophy in the back. She shouldn’t have to clean up the messes men made. But having worked her way to the top of a restaurant that has always aspired to provide luxury, she has a chance to decide what, in New York in 2019, that word might mean.

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