Del Posto, Eataly and the Fate of the Old Italian Empire by Mario Batali

For 16 years, 85 Tenth Ave. was synonymous with glamour. There were handbag stools ready to hold designer handbags, a gleaming Steinway piano, and waiters in immaculate suits serving pricey tasting menus to star-studded guests like Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Now there’s pizza baked in a huge oven that looks like a disco ball and a bartender with a man-bun shaking espresso martinis.

Once the crown jewel of Mario Batali’s empire, Del Posto closed its doors for good a year ago. Former executive chef and fine-dining restaurant partner, Melissa Rodriguez, has radically revamped the space with a trio of new casual eateries, including the newly opened Mel’s Pizzeria.

Rodriguez and his business partners Jeff Katz and James Kent clearly seem to want to break with the past and associations with Batali. Katz went so far as to post a video on Instagram in the spring of 2021 that showed a lit sage bundle — believed to cleanse negative energy from a space — and various fancy dining accessories, like white tablecloths and silver domes, packed at the old Del Posto.

“Burn this wise f-king and rip this mother’s roof off,” one commenter said on the post.

It’s been nearly five years since Mario Batali was ousted by accusations of sexual assault and harassment by more than a dozen women.
Michel Loccisano

“It’s a new era,” said Youjin Jung, Babbo’s chief executive. “The restaurant had been under great shadows. Let’s call it “orange ombre with a ponytail.”

It’s been nearly five years since Mario Batali was ousted by accusations of sexual assault and harassment by more than a dozen women. Following the allegations — and what many in the food world saw as the revelation of a long-standing open secret about Batali’s behavior — the celebrity chef was promptly fired from ABC’s gab fest “The Chew “. In 2019, Batali was entirely handed over to both Eataly and all of its former restaurants, a restaurant empire with partner Joe Bastianich that included many of the city’s most iconic and beloved spots, such as Babbo, Lupa and Casa Mono. Now, as the city and its restaurants come back to life after Covid, the impact of Batali and its cancellation is still being considered. A new generation of star chefs, such as Rodriguez, Lilia’s Missy Robbins, and Carbone’s Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi are on the rise, serving up plates of perfect pasta to celebrities like Dua Lipa, Pete Davidson and Kim Kardashian. But some still crave the good old days of Mario stomping on Babbo in his orange brand, blasting carefree rock tunes.

There, and at other former Batali spots that remain open such as Casa Mono and Eataly, reservation books are nearly as full as they once were. The shadow is gone, but the legend remains.

At a recent party at Lupa in the West Village, a patron of the bar asked, “Is this Mario Batali’s restaurant?” to be outright closed with a “no” by a bartender. It’s now a Bastianich establishment, and some employees say they miss the creativity and focus on food that Batali, despite his flaws, brought to the place.

“[Bastianich is] all business when he comes here. He doesn’t say much. Some people take it personally. It’s a bit chilly,” an employee said.

Joe Bastianich
Joe Bastianich, former business partner of Mario Batali and judge on “MasterChef” television.
FOX Image Collection via Getty I

And, while busy, Lupa is definitely not as hot as he once was. Across the street, the notoriously difficult to get to Carbone sends customers he can’t accommodate there as a consolation prize.

At Casa Mono near Union Square, things are also going fairly well, despite a difficult few months just after Batali’s allegations were published.

Casa Mono
Casa Mono restaurant near Union Square.
New York PostBrian Zak

“We have retained the Michelin star through it all. The quality remained the same. The name brings good talent to the door, but it’s really the team – that drives it,” a former Casa Mono employee told The Post. They went on to note that the Spanish restaurant, which is co-owned by chef Andy Nusser, had always been somewhat separated from Batali’s Italian joints downtown, and as such was more insulated from any allegations against him. . “Everyone knew Casa Mono would be protected.” But, Nusser and former Casa Mono chef Anthony Sasso had to put away their fully completed, never-published cookbook in the wake of the scandal.

Other insiders said the Batali Empire’s main talent was still the lesser-known chefs on the line.

“Mario hadn’t cooked for years. He was the one who did ‘The Chew’ and Bastianich was the one running the operations,” said James Mallios, a New York-based restaurateur and owner of the Juniper restaurant on Long Island who hired many former employees from Batali.

But, at the intimate Italian Babbo, the absence of Batali was felt more.

“It used to be packed. You wouldn’t see an empty seat at the bar without someone waiting for someone to sit down. You used to see Kate Hudson – lots of celebrities,” Vicki Hersh, 42 years, a Wall Street broker who has been a religious patron of Babbo for 15 years, often receiving customers and dining there. “It was the hardest restaurant to get to for a long, long time,” he said. she declared. Now it’s just busy.

Babbo employees, like those at Lupa, also complained of a tenser atmosphere under Bastianich, who declined to be interviewed for this article.

“Joe is a businessman. He would work more closely with the corporate team,” the employee said. Without Batali, not a boss who cares about the kitchen in the same way. The employee contradicted reports that Mario was not in the kitchen so much.

Babbo
Exterior shot of Babbo’s restaurant in the West Village.
Getty Images

“Mario spent a lot more time in his restaurants than people thought… He was one of the last real food stars as far as I’m concerned. You look at Jamie Oliver and Rachel Ray – Mario just has a big personality and a keen sense of Italian cuisine. He made amazing food. It’s what propelled him to celebrity status, not the other way around.

Many noted that Batali’s spots were a training ground for an entire generation of New York chefs.

“I know so many talented people who have come out of this group – and some of my best friends – and my wife,” said chef Wade Moises, who worked at Babbo and led Lupa in 2001 and moved to Eataly from 2011. to 2012, mentioned. He is now co-owner of LA Vita Italian Specialties, a sandwich and pasta shop in New Jersey.

But, he said, there’s also fear of being associated with Mario forever.

“When I went to open a restaurant in Arizona, all people wanted to focus on was the fact that I was working for Mario. I didn’t know that was going to be the story. And you’re kind of like , is that going to be all my reputation?’ said Moses.

Not all of Batali’s restaurants survived the allegations and continued to thrive without him. Otto’s once-popular pizzeria closed, as did Midtown Esca’s seafood emporium and La Sirena at the Maritime Hotel. Batali himself turned gloomy and did not respond to the request to speak for this article

In 2019, a tipster noticed an update to Batali’s personal website, MarioBatali.com, which featured a new image of the chef in a vest, no signature fleece, standing in a kitchen and the “Coming Soon” cliffhanger scrolling by. When the Eater website contacted a Batali representative, they called it an error and the words were removed from the site. This follows a 2018 comment Batali made to New York magazine in which he said, “I’m not going to live my life in public anymore. (After the initial allegations, Batali posted an apology in his email newsletter saying “My behavior was wrong and there is no excuse. I take full responsibility.”)

The most obvious place to see him now is in court. Batali still faces indecent assault in a 2017 incident in Boston for allegedly groping and kissing a woman in a restaurant. He pleaded not guilty and the current case for trial will take place April 11 in Boston.

Mario Batali
Mario Batali, above, will appear in court in Boston in April.
William Farrington

The NYPD, meanwhile, has closed its investigation into the sexual assault allegations made against Batali in 2019 without laying any charges. In 2021, Batali and Bastianich agreed to pay $600,000 to be split among at least 20 workers who claimed they faced workplace harassment or discrimination, as part of a settlement, as The Post previously reported. .

Insiders say it’s unlikely he could open another location, even if he wanted to.

“Usually in cases like these you step out of the spotlight, go into rehabilitation and try to reintegrate into society. He did the ghost part, but will people deposit money [to back any of his potential new projects]? I don’t see anyone who would. What would be the advantage of a partnership between people? But again, his seats are always full,” Mallios said.

But, some say Batali’s absence is still keenly felt, despite the young chefs cooking excellent Italian food.

“I think Del Posto was one of the best Italian restaurants, and I miss that. We miss these restaurants. I miss everything. The atmosphere, the service, the excellent food. I had one of the best meals there,” said Stephen Starr, the famed restaurateur behind Le Coucou, Pastis and Buddakan. “The real question is who is the next great Italian starred chef? There is no one who seems to fill these shoes.

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