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NY sniping at Super Mario's $12 mln temple to food

Written by: Staff

NEW YORK, Apr 27 (Reuters) Celebrity chef Mario Batali admits that putting duck testicles in the pasta at his new restaurant is a bit of a provocation, but in the cut-throat New York food world, it's not enough just to be provocative.

Known to fans of his television cooking shows as ''Super Mario,'' Batali has opened a string of Italian eateries in Manhattan to critical acclaim. But his latest venture, Del Posto, has attracted as much attention for the price of valet parking, 29 dollars , as for the quality of the food.

A feud with the landlord over the lease has also kept the food gossips chattering, and the fact that Batali spent 12 million on the cavernous marble and mahogany space has left some wondering if things are getting out of hand.

''The extreme pomp of the place -- the footstools for ladies' purses, the high-tea piano music, the miles of marble, the fleets of flatware -- can feel like a put on,'' The New Yorker magazine said in a review of Del Posto, which opened in January.

''(It's) as though this were the setting for a reality show in which celebrity chefs compete to see who can charge out-of-towners the most for offal.'' The offal that has critics talking is a pasta dish served with black truffles, coxcombs and duck testicles, priced at 30 dollars.

''They're delicious, they don't taste like anything you've had before. They're whole and they're white,'' Batali said.

''Our customers, New York City customers, they appreciate a certain amount of provocation,'' Batali said in an interview at the restaurant which occupies a former factory space in the fashionable Chelsea district of Manhattan.

Batali, a red-haired bear of a man who wears shorts and orange plastic clogs with his chefs whites, said there were plenty of chefs in New York whose menus were more challenging than his. He singled out Wylie Dufresne who offers diners at his restaurant WD-50 pickled beef tongue with fried mayonnaise or hangar steak tartare with bernaise ice cream.

''Our stuff is less cerebral; Wylie messes with the form,'' said Batali, who built his reputation on simple Italian dishes as he learned to cook them in a trattoria in the northern Italian town of Borgo Capanne.


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