Del Posto Enoteca

The room is hushed. Piano music tinkles in the background. Nearly everybody in the joint is talking business over a nice bottle of red and a good Italian meal. But the place is so well soundproofed, carpet and cushions everywhere, foam padding the underside of the tablecloths, you couldn't even hear the guy at the table next to you if he was planning a hit. Now if only Artie would quit coming by with that pathetic bandaged hand of his and going on and on about the specials.

That last part didn't happen. But all night at Del Posto Enoteca, we felt as if it might. Having read about the enoteca on one of Ed Levine's top 2006 lists for its $41 prix fixe, I expected Del Posto's to be like the front room at Gramercy Tavern - an energetic, casual setting with diners spilling over from a bar that stretches along one side of the room. Del Posto has the long bar, but the dining space surrounding it has the muted, formal feel of a suburban Italian restaurant that prizes itself on being "the best" in the area. My chef friend mentioned the Sopranos, and from then on I couldn't help thinking of the place as a mega-Vesuvio's, Artie's dream come true.

Unlike Vesuvio's, Del Posto is known for its great food, so we came in with high expectations. These were matched by the first course and gradually deflated by the ones that followed. Was it just an off night? Give me an expense account and I'll give you an answer. But there was no doubt this was a Mario Batali operation when lardo, which first appeared on the table as a spread for bread, reappeared decadently drizzled all over the beef carpaccio, which had a fabulous sashimi-like texture. Lift up the carpaccio, and underneath you'll find a pool of wonderfully fragrant extra-virgin olive oil. Tender, delicate calamari came fried in the lightest tempura-like batter and had a lingering spiciness from the cherry peppers and lemony tang from the capers. The octopus with fried celery and beans was tender and sweet.

Moving on to the primi, we got into wildcard territory. The veal and cauliflower ravioli were amazing, but the bucatini was a strangely bright shade of red and had too much heat and salt. Was Del Posto trying to do a version of Sara Jenkins' red wine spaghetti at 50 Carmine (R.I.P., 50 Carmine) with an inadvisable cherry pepper reduction? The gnocchi with ragu bolognese, with its subtle hints of fennel and nutmeg, was much more successful.

Who would order the best entree? It turned out to be the fiancée of the Master Orderer, who, as was mentioned in this Café Gray review, always manages to order the best dishes on the menu by employing some sort of gastronomic ESP. His skill must have rubbed off on her, since she was enjoying the bass with lentils as my chef friend picked at her so-so cod. The lentils introduced a nice new flavor to the mix, which was beginning to taste of the same few base notes after three courses. Also - and I can't believe I am saying this, since I am a confirmed saltaholic - many of the dishes at Del Posto Enoteca were oversalted. The lentils were the one ingredient that could cut through the salt. My steak braciolona, which, though it was cooked rare, tasted only of the red wine marinade through and through (and some more salt). We pronounced it "weird."

The service was also strange. Extremely attentive one moment but M.I.A. the next, our waitress seemed to realize at one point that we were waiting 30 minutes between courses after the enoteca got slammed at 8 o'clock. She refilled our wines-by-the-glass for free, which was particularly fortunate because the wine there can run $24 a glass. Next time I'll order a bottle.

Fiancée of Master Orderer again triumphed at dessert with the rich chocolate cake that tasted of amaretto. My chef friend managed to break through the shell of her tarte without the assistance of a jackhammer, though it was a challenge. And by then I had a cold coming on, so all that I could taste of the gelato was that it was cold and vaguely chocolatey.

As we were leaving, we saw a lone woman with short, fluffy hair, reading glasses and a pink cashmere scarf sitting at the bar, staring out into space. No one in Del Posto's businessman clientele seemed to recognize her, but we stopped by to say hello to Lidia Bastianich. I hope she scolds her sous-chefs as she scolds her television audience about oversalting .

I bid my girlfriends goodbye, trundled into my new Porsche station wagon (paid for in cash), and sped off towards the Holland Tunnel.

Del Posto Enoteca
85 Tenth Avenue, between 15th and 16th Streets