Wednesday

Babbo, Oct. 25, 2005

Babbo
110 Waverly Place

My in-laws, Leo and Carin, took Danna and me out for our anniversary (which was in August) tonight to Babbo, a place they've enjoyed on several occasions previously and a first for us.

Having tried Otto and Lupa and knowing that this was his (currently, this is pre-Del Posto) flagship restaurant, I could guess as to the experience that was to unfold in service, ambiance and of course food.

Her parents picked us up at our home and I drove to the restaurant and as luck would have it, I found parking right in front of the restaurant. Why the limos in front double-parked instead of taking the spot I got I'll never know, but I thank them for not doing so.

We walked into a completely packed and uncomfortable but lovely, perfect temperature-controlled room that smelled of fresh pasta, truffles, herbs and freshly crushed pepper and was abuzz with people that clearly appreciated the fact that they were there but with sophistication, not of touristy ogling.

We were early and the bar area was swamped, so we stepped outside for a few minutes. A recognizable man from film (no idea who, B-list at best) and his wife were outside smoking a cigarette stood next to us and was eventually seated next to us at dinner. A few minutes (I guess the length of a cigarette) later the six of us made our way back inside, I took the Danna and Carin's jackets to the coat check, and just like that we were ready to be seated.

Hoping to Dionysus that we didn't have to sit in that cramped front area/bar room where even my ass got in diners faces accidentally, I was relieved to see our hostess take us past the large round table in the middle of the dining room, which had a beautiful bouquet of branches that had small autumn-colored flowers at their tips and up the double-wide staircase to the sky-lit dining room.

This was "half a restaurant" different than downstairs. The buzz was still there, but not as feverish, the music was softer (I'll get to that in a minute), the table spacing afforded greater elbow room between both party members and other tables. If the downstairs floral centerpiece represented autumn, then the upstairs' represented winter, as only bare twigs, entangled in a large vase brought diners together.

There was a cocktail and wine server table with a marble slab and bottles scattered willy-nilly next to ours for decanting and mixing purposes. A nice touch that continued the proper/not proper vibe that is Babbo.

This vibe can best be described by pointing out the details. The walls (muted beiges, whites and the like) with mirrors that mimicked windows, the lovely centerpieces I've mentioned, the quality of food which we'll get to, the staff dress (white and black), the service (for the most part), the address/location of the restaurant and the townhouses adjacent and across the street all point toward fine dining. But underneath all of this is a little troublemaker.

Babbo is just like the prep school kid of a conservative family that grows his hair long and starts smoking pot and listening to 60s psychelic rock and the Beatles but proudly adheres to Emily Post's guide on etiquette at the dining table during his trips back home to visit the family.

Our meal, though formal in most senses of the word, was scored with Squeeze's album "Singles" in its entirety as well as a Bob Marley album that we only caught two songs of to be able to tell which album it came from. Even the food is a little hard edged I suppose. Before tonight, I couldn't say that I've eaten tripe, sweetbreads, liver, tongue, cheeks all in one sitting before.

It's simply a great, comfortable (no formal attire required, though despite some wearing jeans, like myself, everyone looked great - with some excpetions of course) restaurant. So on to the food. Here's what I ordered and also things I got to try:

Chickpea Bruschetta
The chickpeas were not the typical superdry and mealy variety. These were a nice, simple starter.

Warm Lamb’s Tongue Vinaigrette with Chanterelles and a 3-Minute Egg
I just had to have this after what I've heard. The egg was nearly perfect, most of the yolk running out all over the salad. One small area of the yolk had solidified, but hardly noticeable and certainly didn't affect the dish. What a delicious egg too. Farm fresh and similar in taste/quality as that of the Blue Hill @ Stone Barns that I've lauded previously. It's hard to describe the dish though as I've never experienced these flavors before but the tongue, in both method of cooking, texture and maybe almost taste were akin to Marco Canora's hen of the woods mushrooms at Hearth. I was surprised at how many pieces of tongue were in the dish, though I confess that I was happy that they looked more like mushrooms than tongue. The vinaigrette was excellent, never cloying, and the running egg glued all of these remarkable textures and flavors together. Very different and certainly worthy of the recommendations I'd been given. The chanterelles were lovely, of course, especially the little, full ones.

Beef Cheek Ravioli with Crushed Squab Liver and Black Truffles
The raviolis were shaped like triangular envelopes and came approximately seven per dish. Grated pecorino romano was added tableside and neither helped nor hindered the dish. Perhaps if I'd let him grate a little more it would have made a difference. The black truffles were, unfortunately, devoid of any flavor, but added a nice snappy, toothsome texture to the dish. The innards of the ravioli, a nearly purple puree of beef cheeks and squab liver was manly or earthy in scent and in taste. Bold and in your face. You knew what this was and the smell is hard to forget, in a pleasant way. What I notice about nearly all of Mr. Batali's food is that the smells/odors never reach beyond a foot or two above one's plate. This allows for the restaurant to have a lovely odor and not an overpowering one, and one that blends together nicely without battling for attention. Obviously this is something that most fine dining experiences should provide, but was appreciated here just the same.

Pistachio and Chocolate Semifreddo
Another dish that was recommended by fellow 'hounds, this was delicious and a nice portion size as well if you like bigger desserts. I thought all of the other dessert portions were skimpy. This "cake" of pistachio "ice cream" covered in chocolate with a crunchy, chocolatey base was topped with a luscious, rolled chocolate stick and sat in a lake of pistachio milk with scattered chunks of chopped pistachios. Delicious.

Here's what Danna, Carin and Leo had, of which I got to sample:

Warm Tripe “alla Parmigiana”
This was quite good and looked like a chicken parm (minus the crispy cheese on top). The tripe flavor and in general, essence, was strong without being overpowering. I've only had tripe once before, at Scott Conant's Alto, and this dish made me appreciate tripe and the different executions of it. Both were very good, though this dish put the tripe on center stage.

Raw Porcini with Arugula, Parmigiano and Aceto Manadori
As fresh as if you'd picked the mushrooms and arugula yourself before you sat down at the table. Very outdoorsy. The porcinis, raw, were quite nice but perhaps they need to be cooked to better appreciate them. Delicious though.

Pumpkin “Lune” with Sage and Amaretti
This dished leaned toward the sweet side of a savory dish even before the amaretti cookie was grated over the lunes (round raviolis). Pumpkin and sage are an excellent pair and this was the perfect dish for Danna. It should be noted...she was very stingy with her sharing of this. At least seven of the lunes were served.

Linguine with Clams, Pancetta and Hot Chiles
I've never had better pancetta. How silly that may sound, but seriously, excellent pancetta. The linguine was perfectly cooked. Toothsome and lovely. Truly. The clams themselves were fine, nothing out of the ordinary, and the hot chiles "woke" this classic dish up a bit.

Fennel Dusted Sweetbreads with Sweet and Sour Onions, Duck Bacon and Membrillo Vinegar
Wow. Beautiful presentation...probably the nicest of any of the dishes with exception of perhaps the warm lamb's tongue salad. Another "second" tasting of a particular offal meat. The first time I had this was at Eleven Madison Park and I must report that the two versions are completely different. At EMP, they are thin (most likely pounded down) and I suppose deep fried. The ones at Babbo are very large, larger than the size of my thumb, and I guess braised, but certainly not fried. Remarkably meaty and flavorfull. I swore I tasted citrus/orange peel in this dish - but alas, I guess not. If you like sweetbreads...

Baby Artichoke somethingorother
One of the specials was a baby artichoke appetizer. I wish I knew what was in this, as all I can tell you was that it was grilled and was one of my favorite dishes of the night. Bite for bite, this was probably better than the beef cheek raviolis. A must get when in season.

Saffron Panna Cotta with Quince and a sorbetto of some kind
The panna cotta was delicious and the quince "gel" was packed with flavor. A solid dish.

Pumpkin Cheesecake of another name
This was a special and was served with ripe golden cranberries. Delicious and perhaps the best dessert item.

Cheese Plate
Taleggio Latte Crudo
Pecorino Toscacci (accidentally given to us - just like they did at Otto)
Blu (I forget the last part, for shame!)
Robiolo Prosecco

I thought the cheese plate was pretty weak, especially considering what we got at Otto. The Blu was wonderful and more reminiscent of gorgonzola than say roquefort, the pecorino was average if not too dry, the taleggio was fine but not the best I've ever had and the prosecco washed cheese was a pleasant surprise. I liked that one a lot. The blue was the best, followed closely by the prosecco one. The portions were a bit meager as well.

Petit Fours
This were traditional...chocolate biscotti, pistachio loaf and a buttery confection as well.

Wine
I think, but don't hold me to this (I'll have to ask Leo or Carin), we had Bovia, Rio Sordo, 1997. I'm fairly certain that was it. Great wine for most of what I ate. Big cherry flavor, similar color as well. Nice medium bodied wine that could go with just about anything or nothing at all.

Service
The host and hostess were nice. He being the cheerleader so to speak (perhaps ringleader would be a better word), she being the pretty face in the FOH. A very similar format exists at Lupa. Our waiter, who looked seasoned, was either trailing another waiter, was new, or was simply in the weeds. He gave us menus and then disappeared for awhile. Drinks took a bit longer than I would have liked, especially since we ordered three glasses of prosecco, though the sidecar (which looked too good to drink, including sugar-in-the- raw along the rim/edge) might have taken some time...but still.

We'd had our drinks for some time when a younger waiter, about 29 or so, pulled up to our table to let us know that he'd get the ball rolling to help his coworker out of a jam. This, and the subsequent service he provided, was stellar and as professional as you can get without any fluff.

At one point, Danna asked about nuts in a dish. Our original waiter was unsure, the younger pro wasn't sure either but offered to go in the back to find out, which was more of a courtesy to the other waiter than it was for us.

Overall, I wish I could eat here regularly...like once or twice a week. One could never get bored with this menu, especially with the litany of specials that they have. Every dish on the menu looks fantastic and I'd bet all of them are. I truly felt priveleged to be eating there tonight.


Photo credits go to Matson's Girl and Cia at
Pabulum

8 Comments:

Blogger Mona said...

Cool, how long ago did you make the reservation? My bf's bday is coming up, any idea how far ahead I should call for Il Mulino reservations? Another NY Italian favorite.

12:09 PM  
Blogger BADGE said...

Hey Mona,

Truth be told, my in-laws made the reservation (they are taking us out for our Anniversary, which was in August) about a month or so ago. As for Il Mulino, I'm not too sure, but being that it is a favorite, I'd say at least 2-3 weeks in advance. Though they may only take reservations 2 weeks in advance. It's definitely on my list of places to check out as well. Enjoy the remaining hours of the weekend...and of course your future meal at Il Mulino!

Michael

5:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Mike!
When am I going to get to see your fabulous review of our experience at Katz, and the wonderful gelato we had???
Living it up well, with beautiful food and delicious wine, and that fantastic boy James, in California.
Mandy

1:49 AM  
Blogger BADGE said...

Hi Mandy! Great to hear from you and yes, yes, yes, I need to post that review.

I had such an excellent day with you guys and have taken my time with a review...and have since lost track of time and need to get it up there. I'll have it up soon.

If you can, please email me your email addresses (michaelmahle@gmail.com).

Give my best to the grapes out there and of course to James too :)

Best!

Michael

11:35 AM  
Blogger Robyn said...

Oh...*sob* Thanks for the delicious descriptions, especially the desserts. ;) I'd love to try Babbo. For now, I'll make do with walking by it ever now and then and taking a quick glance.

I've never been to a restaurant in NYC where I had to make a reservation. :( Oh well, someday!

1:12 AM  
Blogger Mona said...

*Badge, sounds like it was a great dinner. Love the prep school metaphor. Hilarious. Nobody tried the sweetbreads??! I heard those are ridiculous. I think I would have gone for that beef cheek ravioli myself.

1:03 PM  
Blogger BADGE said...

Hi Mona,

Actually we did have the sweetbreads (the review and a photo are in there). My mother-in-law ordered them. They were excellent. The whole meal was great.

The prep school metaphor is loosely based on, um, a friend. ;)

2:57 PM  
Blogger Mona said...

Badge,boy do I feel like a moron, the srolling just must have happened way too fast and I didn't catch that. Sorry! I will refrain from leavin moronic comments from now on. I was trying to write this earlier but for some reason word verification wasn't working anywhere at blogspot addresses. GRR! How's "read more" working out for you?

5:57 PM  

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