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- The Draw:
- A flashy, modern RiNo space; an excellent wine program
- The Drawback:
- Inconsistent, overly complicated Italian fare
- Don’t Miss:
- The StraCapra and Burrata appetizers, piadina-style sandwiches, thoughtfully paired wines
If you’ve ever been to a high-end fashion boutique in, say, Milan, you know the elegant, spare, intimidating atmosphere of the Italian modern style—crisp as a Brioni suit, not a thing out of place. But there’s a quirky variation, found from Naples to Rome and beyond: eccentric modern. It eschews restraint in favor of swanky, oddball, personal flash, hinting at the swinging Italian movies of the ’60s and ’70s. Look at the grill of a 1970 Alfa Romeo Montreal coupe and you’ll get the picture.
There’s more than a touch of eccentric modern at Il Posto, which moved in January from much smaller digs in Uptown to a new, glitzy home at the corner of Larimer and 26th streets. Il Posto 2.0 is the pride of Milanese-born chef-owner Andrea Frizzi, and you’ll often find him working the floor in the friendly, restless manner of the old-timey Italian chef-owners I used to encounter in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst neighborhood.
Upon entering, take a moment to orient yourself to Frizzi’s world. Near the entrance of the big, boxy, two-level space, tufted black banquettes curl around individual tables as if to cocoon diners for late-night grappa rendezvous. Globular lights dangle from the atrium ceiling via snaky copper filaments, like a chandelier from The Matrix. A wide marble bar faces soaring wine racks that rise 12 feet like a sculpture. The open kitchen has counter seating, and there’s a black leather bench with copper cocktail tables of complex geometric shape. Downstairs, the restaurant feels a bit like a club that’s been through a shotgun wedding with a groovy trattoria. Things calm down upstairs, with tables along two glass walls that look out to the street.
Our first dinner began brilliantly. StraCapra, a goat-milk Taleggio, was served as a long, oozy plank with multigrain toasts so thin you could read the menu through them. A little pot of tangy rhubarb compote served as accompaniment. It was a beautiful match for the bottle of 2014 COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico from Sicily—Nero d’Avola and Frappato grapes—selected by sommelier Benjamin Burke. He’s just the man to lead you through Il Posto’s impressive regional wine list; he talks, but he also listens. The COS had bright strawberry fruit, refreshing acid, moderate tannins—exactly what I want in an Italian wine. Later, as a second act, Burke offered a range of bottles, from a heavyweight Umbrian made from Sagrantino—“one of the world’s most tannic grapes”—to a floral 2012 Luigi Giordano Barbaresco Cavanna. He steered us toward the latter because we wanted more in the bright, light vein—and it was just right.
It was a nice start. But after the cheese, there followed a wait that seemed almost as long as the ferry passage from Sicily to Naples. Thank goodness we had the wine, which we drained. The restaurant was hopping on a Tuesday night, but such a wait was…silly. It happened again on another night: a yawning gap between courses.
When the next dishes finally arrived, a pattern emerged, which persisted over two subsequent meals: too many ingredients on the plate and a failure of those ingredients to communicate. Il Posto’s mantra, prominent on its website and business cards, is “the complicated simplicity of Italian food and wine.” The problem is that when you base your cooking on an oxymoron, it can lead to culinary Babel.
Consider the “rapanelli” (radishes) appetizer. The menu promised “Easter egg radishes, Ibérico lardo, burnt spring onion, chervil, and smoked Maldon salt.” On the plate, it looked like something Jackson Pollock would have produced had he chosen a profession in food. Radish disks and wedges were interspersed with dollops of black stuff (the burnt onion, which was indeed burnt and oniony), pickled red onions, little yellow flowers, and, all over the plate, squiggles of beige goo. This was the lardo, inexplicably rendered into something that could be extruded. The dish presented a mix of flavors and textures, and the squiggles were piggy and creamy, but lardo is perfect in the traditional thin-slice format that melts on the tongue. Why make a celebration of garden vegetables so highly wrought?
Another example of confusion came from a bowl of linguine. As with every pasta I tasted at Il Posto, the noodles were properly cooked. But they were bombarded with big rings of orange and yellow sweet peppers, fava beans, shallots, capers, green garlic, and pecorino. The effect was vegetable chaos with no coherent flavor through-line. Another pasta matched spaghetti, snow crab, leeks, asparagus, Calabrian chile, “Parma butter,” and, of all things, spaghetti squash, the last ingredient amounting to a culinary malapropism.
A main course of “maiale al mare” (which translates as “pork goes into the sea”) yielded pieces of octopus with bits of braised bacon, a reduction sauce, caramelized cippollini onions, green peas, parsley, radishes, red onions, and dabs of horseradish. The octopus was braised and seared, nicely tender, but did not benefit from the bickering of the remaining ingredients.
Now, if I ask why the grain in one of Il Posto’s salads was black quinoa rather than the ancient Etruscan staple farro, or why there was coconut-milk powder in the cold asparagus soup, or why the sauce with the branzino was a ramps-based chimichurri rather than, say, a riff on a salsa verde, it might sound like I’m critiquing an Italian chef (and his lead cook, Mario Pacheco) for the sort of cross-cultural fusion experiments that New American chefs have been undertaking for a quarter century. That would be unfair, and I am not. My complaint is about favoring fuss over finesse.
There were good dishes, including a lunch-only crackly piadina sandwich oozing with Burrata and punched up with prosciutto and mustard; a nice, loose risotto with English peas and pea shoots, faintly perfumed with fennel fronds; and a generous ball of creamy Burrata with excellent prosciutto and toasty lavash.
But there were also more technical errors than one expects from a restaurant so long in the game. A slow-simmered ragu with pappardelle was marred by bits of Berkshire pork that were as tough as ground meat in old-school chili. That cold asparagus soup, although rich with asparagus flavor, was too salty and contained a pair of crumbly, odd-flavored ice cubes encasing purple flowers that my rather inattentive server could only identify—even after consulting the kitchen—as “something wild, picked locally.” I want more clarity than that from my forager. Blackberries and raspberries in a busy side salad were mush. And the branzino, after a delay that prompted an apology from our server, was overcooked even before it started squabbling with pickled ramps, carrots, Romanesca cauliflower, fried chicken skin, and the aforementioned ramp chimichurri.
There is potential at Il Posto. Frizzi is a genial host. The vibe is dynamic. It’s a be-seen place with character, a splashy destination restaurant of the sort Cherry Creek births regularly. The modern eccentricity of the room is entertaining, and the scale is grand. I just wish the food were as consistent and up to the stellar quality of the wine service. Is that too complicated a thing to ask?