Playing Hooky (at Del Posto)

Would it surprise you to hear about a woman with a high regard for academics and achievement who encouraged her child to play hooky? What kind of irresponsible mother tells her child to ditch school when there are vocabulary words to memorize, word problems to solve and hordes of rambunctious third graders in dire need of safety patrolling? Um…me? Yes, it’s true. Guilty as charged. But in my defense I will say that it was the last full day of fifth grade, elementary school about to become a distant but cherished memory. In all honesty, there really wasn’t a heck of a lot of learning left to be done, and besides, some of our favorite characters from American fiction and cinema are hooky players. Tom Sawyer and Ferris Bueller are famous for taking mental health days and we love them for it.

Unlike Ferris and Tom, my eleven year old daughter, Lexy, had applied herself diligently to her schoolwork and extracurricular activities throughout the year and I thought we both deserved a reward. I am convinced that our alternative to elementary school that day was an educational enterprise of sorts…one which elevated her food connoisseurship to a higher plane. We ventured into New York City’s meatpacking district where we met another family foodie, my father, with the intention of immersing ourselves in an afternoon of indulgence at Del Posto.

The refined brainchild of Mario Batali, Joe and Lidia Bastianich and executive chef Mark Ladner, Del Posto is well suited to the discerning palate of the epicure or the somewhat modest palate of a soon-to-be middle schooler. That’s one of the things I love about this place…every guest is lavished with exquisite food, drink and service, but without any hint of pretention or disdain for one who still navigates the world of fine food with training wheels.

The royal treatment is not reserved for patrons only, mind you. Even your purse is a V.I.P. at Del Posto. Yes, you read that correctly. Your purse is too good to get slung over the back of your chair, or horrors, to get relegated to the floor at this elegant establishment. Shortly after you are warmly greeted, a luxurious little ottoman automagically appears tableside if you happen to be carrying a purse. That’s right; your lucky carryall companion can get comfy and settle in for a snooze while you politely stuff your face.

I’ll have you know, my purse is now spoiled for all other restaurants (thank you, Del Posto), and unabashedly gives me the stink eye if I take it to a restaurant and neglect to request a soft surface on which it can enjoy a siesta. Now, I care for my purse as much as the next gal, but one thing I cannot abide is offering it Del Posto table scraps. Don’t think it lacked the audacity to sit up and beg for a tasty tidbit from its tufted perch, but I stayed strong. I recognize that once you start a habit of feeding your purse top-of-the-line scraps, it will likely turn its nose up at every single run-of-the-mill morsel you try to slip it in the future.

So what were we savoring at the table that day that turned my ordinarily black purse green with envy? An assemblage of “assagi” or little tastes to whet the appetite ushered in the food parade. Arranged on a cake stand were chick pea fritters that were perfectly crispy on the outside and soft and scrumptious on the inside, dainty cups of hearty but delicate lentil soup and mouthfuls of daikon radish that cleansed the palate. Next up was a small plate of bauletti, a broad, flat egg pasta bathed in rich black truffle butter, followed by a rare Atlantic salmon so succulent and tender, each bite fell apart as I speared it with my fork.

There are three desserts that I’m torn between when forced to make a choice at Del Posto, and it’s a pretty delicious dilemma to have. There’s the outrageous butterscotch semifreddo, the coffee gelato with apricot and candied croissant and the four-piece chocolate tasting ranging from a deeply bitter variety at 99% to the most divinely luscious milk at 32%. Fortunately there were three of us so we each chose one and shared. That would have been enough to satisfy all of our sweet teeth combined and then some, but next, mouthwatering, complimentary apple doughnuts with a dollop of cream arrived at the table along with well wishes for our young scholar. I knew that there was yet one more collection of treats on the way, and fortunately I reserved a single, itty bitty compartment in my stomach for the treasure trove of sinful surprises assembled on a fancy cheese grater. Included among these goodies were miniature olive oil ice cream lollipops enrobed in chocolate, and the best chocolate truffles I’ve ever tasted (and believe me when I tell you that I’ve sampled more than my fair share of outstanding ones).

Lunch was an awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping event that spanned the better part of three hours. Everything you eat at Del Posto is so mind-blowingly good that the sheer and intense pleasure of chewing and tasting forces your eyes shut so that you can commune with the food on a spiritual level. The fact that this hooky was an extravagance made it all the more hedonistic; I cannot tell a lie.  It’s not something I recommend doing terribly often, though, unless you take pleasure in aggravating your lipid profile and your wallet. Once or twice a year is the kind of splurge the billfold and the total cholesterol count can manage. Exactly how do I rationalize it to my sensible wallet? I explain that I prioritize food above other material objects and am willing to sacrifice elsewhere so long as I can support my artisanal food habit. I’ll wash my own floors and polish my own nails so that I can increase the amount of money I spend on food.

Now what about my friend, Cholesterol Level? How do I explain away the rich decadence of refined dining to that concerned guy? I tell it that chronically rigid eating patterns raise your cortisol levels and that kind of stress can trigger adrenal fatigue, setting the stage for all manner of illness. Consciously scheduling occasions to spoil oneself and give in to temptation is extraordinarily healthy, I’ll argue. And if that sound argument doesn’t fly, I’ll just blame bad boys Ferris and Tom for glamorizing hooky and peer pressuring me into adopting their evil ways.

 

Had these two free spirits never chosen hooky, but rather, complied with all the rules, there would be no story to entertain and inspire us. Our personal accounts and experiences, along with the risks we choose to accept, are what make us unique and authentic individuals who look life squarely and unapologetically in the face. Who wants to be the guy who always chooses the safe route in an attempt to avoid the slings and arrows of misfortune? Not me. No Siree. That’s deadly. I want to be ALIVE.

I admit that I aided and abetted the truancy of a fifth grader in June of 2015. I cannot deny that of my own free will, I ate and spent more than was prudent. And you know what? After all is said and done, I can’t wait to grab my kid, my dad and my overly pampered purse and sneak off to Del Posto again. Join us next time you feel like trading in your responsibilities for a slice of pleasure, won’t you? We can always accommodate an extra hooky player.