On the Culture Front: An Italian Culinary Staycation

Sometimes the idea of travel is exhausting. I thought about this as I was embarking on a staycation this summer. Relais & Chateaux has become shorthand for quality when traveling abroad, but I was surprised to learn that they have a few members in the city including one of my favorite restaurants, Del Posto. I first became acquainted with Mark Ladner's ethereal Italian spin on fine dining years ago when they offered an epic lunch of three courses plus amuse and petit fours for under $30. While the price has nearly doubled since, it's still one of the best lunches in town and one that requires a mandatory post-meal nap. Ladner has simplified the bread course down from a large assorted basket of starch to a single baguette served with a sphere of spreadable dairy that is his take on aerated mozzarella. In short, it is the best butter you will ever spread on a warm baguette. Curious how it wound up as a sphere, I was able to make my own (squeezed from a large tube whipped cream style and then molded by hand in a bowl of water). I was worried I was doing it wrong but was assured it was fine and sure enough it came out looking like a delicious globe.

I'm usually an adventurous eater but find it hard not to order my favorites here. One of those is the bitter herbs, lettuces and chicories salad with a truffled dressing that tastes like it was plucked out of the soil - that is if that soil happened to be the creation of a world class chef. It's hard for me to get excited about salads - in fact, I think juicing is a great argument for never having to eat one again - but this one stands in a class by itself. The creamy agnolotti and bauletti with black truffle butter edged me towards a food coma that was cemented by the time dessert rolled around.

Next stop, the Bedford Post Inn, a boutique hotel with just eight rooms (a small expansion is in the works) that evokes a luxurious private retreat. Its neighbors include the homes of Martha Stewart, George Soros, and the inn's co-owner Richard Gere. Yes, that one. What's special is it's just an hour from the city and transport can be had in a new BMW 7 Series, which reminded me what a really nice car is like. The coolest feature is that you can control the sound system by waving your hand near the console. Other features abound but I slipped into a food coma only to be woken up with another meal. Michael White runs the restaurant, Campagna, at the inn with a large patio for seasonal seating. Surrounded by trees and the stillness of the country, I felt like I was a million miles away from White's flagship restaurant on Central Park South. One similarity is the perfectly al dente fusilli that has just a slight salty bite. The difference is this one is served with a pork ragu instead of octopus and bone marrow. I contemplate this as I slip into my second and final food coma of the trip and unfurl into the endless plush that is my bed for the night.