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Adriatic Dream

The old-world charm of well-worn communal tables, dangling copper cookware and flickering lamps may help explain why a 23-year-old restaurant is still tough to get into on a Saturday night.

What to eat

The pastas are unimpeachable successes. A bomb of fresh lemon accompanied each bite of the marshmallow-soft ricotta-stuffed tortelli, and the spinach tagliatelle is pure food porn; the savory, rich bolognese ragù painted each strand beautifully. Unfortunately, you pay for the pleasure; primis run as high as $27, and that’s a lot to spend on spaghetti, even if it does have crab in it.

What to see

The main courses just never thrilled me the way I imagined Batali—and executive chef Mark Ladner—would. The lamb three ways featured a lamb-chop, braised lamb shoulder and cool little fried lamb-tail balls, but I wasn’t dizzy in love. The most attractive entrées require sharing—the balcony eaves host large circular tables made for this—and while I watched longingly as a nearby server spent 15 minutes excavating an arctic char salt-baked in a Dead Sea’s worth of sodium, bigger doesn’t mean better. The braised veal shank for two had all the flavor of a standard-edition pot roast.

Culinary experience

Still more mystifying was the cheese course, which basically ignores hundreds of great Italian cheeses and instead plays only with two-, four- and six-year-old Parmigiano-Reggiano. I was especially disappointed, on one visit, to learn that the ten-course tasting menu merited only a chunk of the two-year-old, rather than a full flight. At $120 per person, not including wine, diners deserve better.

If Del Posto were the creation of some chef fresh from Florence, he’d be crowned a pasta wunderkind. Batali, alas, lives by higher standards. Towards the end of one meal, an elegant man at the next table told me that Del Posto wasn’t bad, but that he planned to stick with Babbo, where he dines every week. I can’t say I blame him.

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