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Babbo (First 6 Years)


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(Admin: with a major new review in the New York Times on June 9, 2004, we have started a new thread for reviews, reports and general discussion of Babbo: here)

Babbo at 110 Waverly Place was suggested to me by a couple of people here as a place to eat alone at the bar. So I dropped in on Saturday October 6 and got a seat at the bar within 10 minutes.<p>Robert, the bartender serving me, recommended a beer which was excellent. Throughout the evening, Robert was friendly and helpful, but not intrusive. Great service!<p>I ordered Grilled Lamb Chops with caponata. The chops were just perfect. Cooked medium rare as requested, lightly blackened, just enough fat to keep them moist, tender and beautifully flavoured. The mixed vegetables were unusual, and maybe just a touch too vinegary for my taste but a good accompaniment for the lamb.<p>The conversation at the bar was thoroughly enjoyable. I got chatting to my neighbors on each side. They were interesting and interested, and somehow naturally fell into the bartender's style of being willing to allow silence to reign for intervals during the evening. I was there for about two hours, and had a perfect evening of food and companionship. <p>Two days later, I was back. I arrived at 7.15 and got a seat at the bar immediately (by 7.45 they were waiting 30 minutes plus for a seat).<p>This time I went straight for red wine. The bartender (a different one whose name I didn't get) offered me a taste of three of their wines, and I selected a Sicilian wine which was light, smooth and fruity. Excellent! The bartender was knowledgeable on the menu, and helpful in my dish selection.<p>I ordered Grilled Quail with dandelions and saba. As before, it was prepared perfectly. The flavour was amazing. For dessert I had Warm Apple Crostata, which was memorable. My only complaint was the espresso, which was overly bitter and slightly 'powdery' (maybe just not fresh?).<p>Again on this second visit, the other diners at the bar were interesting and conversation flowed. The check came to ่ plus tip. That is just wonderful value.<p>So I've fallen in love with Babbo. I can't wait to go back there, but next time I'd like to go with some friends, take a table, and try their Pasta Tasting Menu which looks fabulous.

Edited by slkinsey (log)
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i very rarely order pasta out, but at babbo, i make an exception.  we had the pasta tasting, paired with wines, and it was one of the most memorable meals that i've ever had.  i highly recommend it, even if one thinks that they don't like pasta.

glad you're enjoying babbo.  i haven't been in over a year, but now you've got me missing it!

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  • 1 month later...

Something keeps happening at Babbo that unsettles my stomach. During my first visit eight days ago, I caught out of the corner of my eye our waitress refilling everyone's water glass with a fresh bottle of  “aqua frizzante" (Ů.00 per). I made nothing of it at the time, but during my return visit two nights ago, my wife and I and another (and more thirsty) couple were the recipients of two refills. When I received the bill, I filled out the comments and suggestions card that came with it by writing "ASK before you start pouring another bottle of water." When the waiter returned with the credit card chit, he said, "We open another bottle because one bottle isn't sufficient for four people", to which I answered, "It's presumptuous, and this is the only restaurant I've ever been to where this is done."

Since when is a 750 ml. bottle necessarily insufficient for four people? And what about two such bottles? The waiter made no effort to apologize or take a bottle or two off the bill. Now this may sound petty and curmudgeonly, and something along the lines of a self-appointed member of the Restaurant Polizei  taking a pot shot at a sophisticated and complex enterprise; but what about the patrons for whom their visit is a splurge? To have an extra  ů-8 dollars added on to a bill that at Babbo can come close in to almost 贄. a head is not inconsequential, especially when no one tells you whether or not you're going to be charged for something poured in your glass without warning, besides which they sneak up on you having already opened the bottle and just start firing away. Even if one bottle isn't enough to quench four people's thirst, what about the option to switch to ice water from the tap? I also didn’t like that there seemed to be no apparent higher authority to complain to such as a head waiter, manager, or maitre d’hotel. I’m going back next week and hope that they have abandoned what I believe to be a high-handed, till-filling tactic. If not, I’m going to write out exactly what I wrote on the first suggestion card. I hope my first visit to Babbo will have turned out to be more than love at first sight gone sour by greed.

(Edited by robert brown at 12:57 pm on Nov. 14, 2001)

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The water policy is unacceptable, period.

Even more unacceptable was confronting you about your comments. I've seen that happen in other restaurants as well. It should never happen.

The Times did a story on bottled water policies at restaurants awhile back. Some very interesting information in there, none of which I remember. Maybe I'll propose a story to the Times on "What They do with Your Comment Cards," which will no doubt be rejected.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Steven, you were also right about being confronted. I didn't mention that I was surprised that the waiter had read the card while running the credit card. I assumed that someone would write me a note or phone me. (I can't recall if I wrote my address on the card, but they certainly had my phone number).

Why not try The NYT? Your article idea is a good one. Do they (Is it Nancy Newhouse, Newhall (?) who is the editor?) see you as a threat, the enemy, whatever?

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On the off chance that I can ever somehow salvage my relationship (or lack thereof) with the dining section, I won't comment on why my ideas are always rejected. :)

The section editor in question is Michalene Busico, by the way.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I have come across this so much that if i'm inclined i'll suggest to the waiter "one bottle, we'll see how that goes."  it happens all the time.  i don't like the policy.  i think it's insulting.  i think it's a ploy of waiters, if not restaurants, to gouge an extra 10 bucks out of people.  

rest assured, if i see someone pouring something onto my table that has a price tag, i will stop them mid-pour and tell them to piss off.  of course, if you're in front of clients or in some other situation where this might be inappropriate, i say "prepare in advance"...make it clear to the server.  anything short of that you're making your own bed.  we all know it happens.  and it happens all the time, from jean georges down the line.

and of course, if i confront a waiter with something of this nature, and he/she is not receptive, i certainly take it out of the tip.  simple as that.  my motto in this situation, with respect to the server, is:  "hey, i ain't payin for the water, *you* are".

take a stand.  they'll learn.

my 2 cents meter has apparently run out.

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I can't resist chiming in on my hatred of these bottled water ambush tactics.  I have had this done to me many times, and would go so far to say that it's an unscrupulous business practice.    

Beyond the practice of sneaking an extra bottle (or several in a large party where nobody's keeping count) onto the bill, I don't like the whole bottled water concept to begin with.  Call me a redneck, but why should anyone pay ů.00 for a bottle of water?  Unless one has an unusual affinity for odd varieties of water, I defy anyone to pick out well-filtered tap water from bottled water (the only difference being sparkling vs. still of course).  Any restaurant that charges 贄 per person can certainly afford to install a first rate water purification system to alleviate any chlorine or other tastes from public water sources.  Actually, I would expect any good restaurant to do this for the water in their kitchen, as even something as simple as coffee can be negatively effected by poor tap water sources.  So why can't they serve their own filtered water at no charge?

Most restaurants have finally given up on the classic water ambush, and now employ a more subtle form of water extortion.   They approach the table and ask what sort of water you would like (without the benefit of any price list on the menu or elsewhere), and if you respond "plain" or "tap" water, the waiter will then sneer at you with complete disdain and give your date or guests a knowing look that says "boy is this guy cheap or what - he won't even buy you all some quality water".  

Well I may be willing to pay 赨 for a quality bottle of Burgundy, but I will never be willing to pay ů.00 for a bottle of water.  So I always look the waiter straight in the eye and ask for a round of New York's finest tap water (which David Letterman once observed was voted best "chunky style" in a national water taste constest).    

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Call me paranoid but in these trying times, I don't want water that's been sitting around a restaurant - no matter how good it is. I've asked busboys to refill my glass of tap water that's too warm and instead of bringing a new glass, they just pour cold water on top of stale water. Yuck. This doesn't happen in just diners but in top places as well.

As far as being served and charged for designer water when they weren't ordered, I would simply ask the waiter if your table was being comped for the water. Of course the answer would be 'no' and then one could say very innocently "but I Did Not order that bottle." If we let restaurants get away with this ploy, they'll soon be refilling wine glasses with new bottles.

I'm really surprised that Babbo follows this practice because they're so popular and this only antagonizes people and causes bad word of mouth (perfect example here).

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Okay, let's look at this for a few moments from a restaurateur's perspective, and from a server's perspective (which are not the same).

From a server's perspective, the water policy is whatever management says it is. It's hard to disobey it. I don't think servers should be punished for dumb policies they are forced to obey. I think the appropriate step is to confront a manager (assuming one is available, which in Robert's situation wasn't the case).

From a restaurateur's perspective, this is first and foremost a supply and demand issue. People buy bottled water. They are willing to pay for it. Restaurateurs charge what they can get away with charging such that some sort of price equilibrium is reached. There's nothing wrong with that, provided you accept that a free market is a good idea. And nobody is forced to buy the stuff.

Refills. This is a tricky issue. If the Babbo water policy is "We open another bottle because one bottle isn't sufficient for four people" that is plainly ridiculous. It is also clear to me that the Lespinasse approach (which is utilized elsewhere) of charging essentially a bottled water fee for unlimited bottled water is better than charging per bottle, or at least it is classier. But it should also be said that there are many customers who plainly expect to receive additional bottles of water without having to be interrupted with a query each time. They see an order of a bottle as an agreement to have new bottles opened when the old bottles are done, provided we're not talking about three minutes before the check comes. In any event, there are some reasonable arguments for various policies.

And from a customer's perspective, I should add that I'm perfectly happy to have bottled water cost 贄 a bottle. I don't order it, so I don't care. And I'm happy that other people's desire to drink this stuff helps keep my meal prices down. I'm in favor of anything that keeps food prices down. That way non-rich people can afford to eat at really good restaurants provided they don't want to partake of ridiculously overpriced luxury items that add little to the meal. I see no difference between the water markup, the wine markup, and the coffee markup. These are legitimate profit centers.

At Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, bottled water is free. Or, rather, it is included in the price of the meal. This is an important distinction. I'd rather pay less for the meal and have tap water.

At Ducasse, there are six varieties of bottled water presented in a rack. You are charged a one-time fee for water and you can have as much of one water as you want, or you can rotate waters. I like that approach, but I get tap water there anyway. Hey, it's expensive enough just for the food.

Bottled water can be good, but the Evian and Pellegrino served in most restaurants are in my opinion among the worst bottled waters on the market. I vastly prefer tap to either.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Bottled water can be good, but the Evian and Pellegrino served in most restaurants are in my opinion among the worst bottled waters on the market. I vastly prefer tap to either.

I take it you don't like sparkling mineral water then. Pellegrino does have a large amount of sulfites in it, but thats not a flavor that bothers me, I happen to like it.  

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Steven says:

"From a server's perspective, the water policy is whatever management says it is. It's hard to disobey it. "

Nonsense.  I’ve heard many a server suggest that a dish or glass of wine or beer wasn’t very good.  They have the power.  Simple as that.  If, as you suggest, they can’t go against management’s policy, then I guess I have no choice but to not believe anything my servers say for fear that they are “bowing down to the man.”  Silliness.

Steven says:

“And nobody is forced to buy the stuff. “

that’s the point.  They are.

Steven says:

"I see no difference between the water markup, the wine markup, and the coffee markup. These are legitimate profit centers."

"profit centers"!?!?! am i, or we, expected to excuse presumptuous behavior of servers because bottled water is "legitimate cost center" for the restaurant?!?!?!  Or worse yet, as you suggest, to dismiss this as a part of SOP????  When I say this, I mean constant refills without asking the customer.  Oh man, that’s just silly.

And I don’t know about your palate, but I’m pretty sure mine picks up the difference between “NYC’s finest” and bottled, still or otherwise.  

There are no excuses, no explanations.  This is just a crappy practice.  I know bottled water from tap.  I know when I want bottled water.  I know when I can deal with tap.  And I #### sure know when I want to pay for something, namely, when I order it.  Anything short of that, don’t put it on my bill.  

FYI, I don’t drink tap at home, and I dare not serve it to guests.

and yes, i say this will all due respect, and passion.

xo

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Jason, I do prefer flat water with food, but I like sparkling mineral water well enough. I just don't like S. Pellegrino. I had some Calistoga a little while back and found that preferable. The two brands they have at Ducasse -- I think one is Scottish -- also were preferable. I find that both Evian and Pellegrino have what I'd describe as a "dirty" taste. Of course water preferences are even more highly subjective than most food and beverage preferences, but I'm very happy with NYC tap and positively thrilled with it when run through a Brita.

Tommy, sorry I seem to have set you off! :) As I believe I already explained, there are some customers who feel as you do, and some customers who would rather have their water replenished without being asked. Both are reasonable and defensible preferences. Regarding the taste of water, have you participated in any blind tastings? Until you do you may wish to hold off on making a final judgment.

Here's an excellent resource on how to taste and rank water:

http://www.bottledwaterweb.com/watertaste.htm

New York City tap water routinely trounces Evian and Poland Spring (again, I think these are just about the worst of the bottled waters) in blind tastings, both with the general public and with culinary professionals. Here's an interesting example:

http://abcnews.go.com/sections/GMA/GoodMorningAmerica/GMA010511Water_study.html

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Man, I had no idea my churlish complaint would bring out a mob!! I was so grateful to Steven for putting out the first post since nothing is more embarrasing than  starting a thread that gets no replies. I must fall asleep when I sit down in a restaurant since my meal at Babbo was really the first time I have been fleeced in this way. Usually, though, I ask for a bottle of water right off the bat or companions who arrive before I do have already ordered it. I should have been aware at Babbo that something was up when the waiter asked me first thing if I wanted still or sparkling water. I may just have to print out this page and bring it with me to Babbo Monday night Thanks everybody for taking the time to reply. Together we can eradicate this scourge.

(Edited by robert brown at 11:59 pm on Nov. 14, 2001)

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Quote: from Fat Guy on 11:40 pm on Nov. 14, 2001

you do you may wish to hold off on making a final judgment.

my good man, i *never* hold off on making judgement.  what fun would that be?  but seriously, i know tap from bottled, whether plastic or glass.  i will check out your suggestion though.

chlorine rules.

and i agree with you on the issue that some folks like to say "we'll be drinking sparkling tonite", and would like an endless bounty of sparking.  however, that is a percentage, whether small or large, of the dining population.  any presumption on the servers' part is inappropriate.  that's the bottom line as far as i'm concerned.

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Robert, I dine at many restaurants and though I don't order bottled water when I'm alone or with my wife, I very often find myself in the company of bottled water drinkers. I have never encountered the phenomenon of which you have complained.

To clarify, for those not steeped in the conversation, Robert ordered a bottle of water and they brought two. I have never heard of this happening.

I have often seen one bottle brought and, when it is empty, in some restaurants I've seen the waiter ask if the table wants another and in other restaurants I've seen it assumed that the table wants another without being asked. This assumption is sometimes correct and sometimes incorrect, it seems. :)

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Quote: from Fat Guy on 11:40 pm on Nov. 14, 2001

New York City tap water routinely trounces Evian and Poland Spring (again, I think these are just about the worst of the bottled waters) in blind tastings, both with the general public and with culinary professionals. Here's an interesting example:

http://abcnews.go.com/sections/GMA/GoodMorningAmerica/GMA010511Water_study.html

well, if 4 out of 5 dentists surveyed recommend...

ugh.

;)

edited:  and really, this is *not* an "interesting example" of anything.  ABC's Good Morning America takes a poll, and you suggest to me that the results are interesting?!?!??!?!  i luv ya kid, but seriously.

(Edited by tommy at 12:16 am on Nov. 15, 2001)

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The most expensive water I ever had was in The Restaurant Marco Pierre White when it was at the Hyde Park Hotel Knightsbridge London (here I go again posting about UK resturants on the NY board, but it's a general topic now anyway isn't it?).

It was 1994, and we were paying around £22.00 a head for the set lunch. The water came in a carafe, served at room temperature and could easily have been straight from the tap.

It appeared on the bill at £6.00. I nearly fainted. I was relatively new to the fine dining scene, and didn't want to appear cheap. I paid in full and asked the waiter to tell Marco that the meal was lovely but that I felt £6.00 for some water was over the top.

When my credit card statement arrived, the cost of the water had been deducted, so the story has a happy ending. These were the days when Marco could get away with £70.00 for dinner with supplements of up to £20.00 for foie gras or even sea bass I seem to remember, so that sort of put's things into perspective.  

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Well, this has turned out to be a lively interesting discussion. I find myself in agreement with Tommy in response to many of Fat Guy's comments. Anyway, many new chef-owners in New York really love to cook and open a restaurant for the joy of it (and of course for some profit) and  I don't feel that they actively see bottled water as a constant money-making center. Europeans routinely drink bottled water and so they offer it in their restaurants. My favorite is Badoit which I'm just starting to see in stores.

Anyway, my friends and I are on to the ploy of pushing bottled water and when the server asks us "Sparkling or still?" we respond "Tap is fine as we'll be drinking wine and beer all night!" That seems to get a smile from the server and they stop bugging us about the water since wine and beer is even more profitable. But if any waiter brings bottled water without being asked, a la Babbo, he's gonna hear it from me!

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Yes, unless my companions object I always order tap water, and I do so very firmly and often before I'm asked.  If the waiter mentally sneers at me, I really don't care.  I spend quite enough on food and wine.

What struck me, reading through these posts, is that there are countries where it is standard practice acceptable bottled to be offered free.  Sometimes these are fairly poor countries - maybe it's because the tap water isn't drinkable?  I have found this in Turkey, and I'm sure elsewhere.  Anyone else notice that?

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Okay, then I truly am alone here!

There are a few issues that have come up.

Regarding whether bottled is better than tap, I'd love to hear from others who have participated in blind taste tests. The Good Morning America test was just one of many; one to which I was able to find an online link. A New York Times article in May reported similar results with another group. There have been several dozen New York Times articles in the past five years about the fraud that is most bottled water, and similar articles have appeared in many other papers. And I believe them to be true (I add that only because the mere appearance of something in the Times isn't a guarantee of anything).

Regarding the refill issue, let me put it as a general proposition: Restaurant service is all about assumptions. It is not bad service per se to assume something, provided that assumption is correct for the restaurant's core demographic. One could argue that where an assumption is not true for some customers, a question should be asked -- but other customers find that annoying. I dined about three months ago in the presence of a couple (not friends) who barked at the waiter, "Are you going to keep asking us if we want more water? Just keep bringing it." And then looked at me with one of those you-can't-get-good-help-these-days looks. The thing is, these people are not totally abnormal -- there are plenty of others like them among the businesspeople and the wealthy folks who make up the core audience for fine dining establishments.

Here are two quotes from an old Times article on bottled water (June 14, 2000). I find them unassailable:

Danny Meyer, who owns Union Square Cafe, Tabla, Gramercy Tavern and Eleven Madison Park, had some ideas. ''Bottled water is an area to make a few extra dollars,'' he said, adding that his wholesale price for a large bottle of Evian water is ũ.40.

...

Andrea Immer, the director of beverage programs for Starwood Hotels, which includes the W Hotels in New York, said, ''The food and beverage industries view bottled water as a legitimate revenue source, an add-on sale and missed opportunity if you don't offer it, like espresso or side dishes.''

Both Immer and Meyer, however, are not in favor of automatic refills. I consider that a legitimate position. I'm just trying to say that there are plenty of people with the other preference.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Regarding the refill issue, let me put it as a general proposition: Restaurant service is all about assumptions. It is not bad service per se to assume something, provided that assumption is correct for the restaurant's core demographic. One could argue that where an assumption is not true for some customers, a question should be asked -- but other customers find that annoying. I dined about three months ago in the presence of a couple (not friends) who barked at the waiter, "Are you going to keep asking us if we want more water? Just keep bringing it." And then looked at me with one of those you-can't-get-good-help-these-days looks. The thing is, these people are not totally abnormal -- there are plenty of others like them among the businesspeople and the wealthy folks who make up the core audience for fine dining establishments.

A waiter would never assume that they should automatically open a second or third bottle of wine without asking the customer.  Why should the restaurants treat water and wine differently?  

I do not think it would be price since a glass of wine and a bottle of water can be in the same price range.

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Why should the restaurants treat water and wine differently?

Because they're different? :)

Seriously, it's not a question of what makes sense in the analogy business. It's a question of preferences, expectations, etc. Some things are refilled automatically and other things aren't. You get more bread and butter often without asking, but you don't get more of the amuse bouche -- even though both are free. Of course there are differences. Any two different things possess the property of difference. I have no objection to a restaurant pursuing an automatic refill policy if management has legitimately determined that its core customers are happy with it that way. If it's a predatory thing meant to get a few extra bucks from suckers, then of course it should be opposed.

Maybe I can get someone at Babbo to comment on this. I'll send an e-mail now.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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