A trio of New York restaurant heavyweights – Melissa Rodriguez, Jeff Katz and James Kent – are ready to show off their work nearly a year after taking over gold-plated Italian fine-dining restaurant Del Posto. Industry veterans have come under scrutiny since announcing plans to reinvent (and shed) the space from its checkered past under the ownership of Mario Batali and the Bastinach family. Their new start starts with by Mela wood-fired pizzeria that will open in a nearby space that once housed the John Dory Seafood Bar, on March 9 at 85 10th Avenue, between West 15th and 16th Streets, Chelsea.
For Rodriguez, the former executive chef of Del Posto, Mel’s marks many career firsts, she says. Prior to his 10-year tenure at Del Posto, Rodriguez’s resume was marked by fine dining stints at places like Chef Daniel Boulud’s eponymous Daniel and upscale seafood restaurant Oceana. But Mel’s is her first time orchestrating a more casual venture, her first time working with a wood-fired oven and her first time running a restaurant that bears her name – not that it’s the first choice. of the chief. “I’ll be very frank with you – we called it Mel’s because we had gone by so many names, and our architects had referred to the whole project as Mel’s all the time,” Rodriguez says. “I reluctantly agreed out of exhaustion.”
In any case, Rodriguez was more interested in what was going on in the kitchen than in the title on the sign outside. The centerpiece of the menu is the pizzas: charred 12-inch specimens, priced at $18 to $27 each, with naturally leavened dough constructed by executive pastry chef and Del Posto colleague Georgia Wodder. Rodriguez doesn’t brag about dough temperatures or the region of Italy the pizza is modeled on — “I’m by no means a trained pizza maker,” Rodriguez says — but instead describes non-soft pies and not gummy that she’d like to eat at the bar during her evening. There’s a broccoli rabe pie sprinkled with pickled hot cherry peppers, herbs and provolone cheese; and a riff on the Italian staple frutti di mare, with octopus, squid and prawns marinated in chili peppers, lemon and olive oil.
“They’re playfully Italian,” Rodriguez says. “We’re not going for anything traditional here at all.”
The open kitchen, located behind the bar, doesn’t have gas stoves, meaning everything else on the menu — a handful of vegetables, fish, and steak — is roasted over an open fire. Gelato sundaes topped with espresso brownies and Italian rainbow cookies round out the menu.
Across the tiled bar, the 80-seat space is filled with plush circular booths and seats splashed in mustard and pink hues. The team knocked down the back wall to expand the dining area into what was once Del Posto’s private dining room. Katz, the professional mood maker behind trendy downtown fine dining restaurants Crown Shy and Saga, is determined to keep the lighting to a minimum. On a busy stretch of 10th Avenue not known for its fun and cozy hangouts, Mel’s aims to establish that vibe without the clubby trappings of many nearby Meatpacking District spaces.
For all of his Michelin starred, New York Times– praised by history, Rodriguez can be happy never to speak of Del Posto again. It was important for her to invest in this project on the former land of Del Posto, she says, because who better to redevelop this space than the employees who have operated the famous restaurant for more than a decade? But it’s not Del Posto anymore. It’s Mel’s, and the adjacent Al Coro Italian tasting menu, and the Discolo cocktail bar on the ground floor, will open later this spring. She’s done what she set out to do — buy Del Posto and rehire a handful of her former colleagues in leadership positions, including Wodder — and she’s ready to start letting go of the past.
Mel’s is open Wednesday through Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations are available here.
Mel’s dinner menu: