Mario Batali—the rotund, red-haired, James Beard-recognized celebrity chef—is the greatest Italian restaurateur to walk the streets of New York. No matter that he wears Crocs. Mr. Batali catapulted regional Italian food into the city’s culinary spotlight with his elegant and eminently appealing string of New York restaurants, including Babbo, Del Posto and Lupa. Mr. Batali’s culinary empire (with scores of cookbooks, TV appearances and restaurants around the world) is two-pronged: he’s a Food Network star, appealing to the Rachael Ray-viewing masses. But he’s also adored by Zagat-worshiping foodies, all with disposable incomes. Celebrity chefs are a dime a dozen these days. But Mr. Batali stands out among them. He’s left a searing, orange-Croc footprint on Manhattan culture, and it seems to us that he’s still just gearing up.