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Babbo (First 6 Years)


macrosan
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I would think that any restaurant that releases a cookbook is setting themselves up for (if not outright inviting) tourists.

I'm not sure I agree. Look at the French Laundry, Patricia Wells, etc.

I'd cry foul to that. French Laundry cookbook is more classic technique based than a recipe book put out by other Celebrity Chefs, with little excerpts and anecdotes about the succulent grapes of a certain region of France. French Laundry is hands down No Nonsense. And yes, its own celebrity has attracted Tourists. Since Napa and Sonoma have become the new Nantucket, there are Full Service Spas and Hotels peppering the landscape in between the hills for the exclusive purpose of housing upscale customers who travel for the sole reason of eating in these restaurants.

I'd damn the food network for turning malcontents onto their food for the sole purpose of saying they've eaten there. It's that elitist attitude that's been smattered through this entire thread.

"I've eaten at Babbo 14 times in the last 3 days and Mario came out to my table and instantly became my best friend."

"Oh, Poo-poo, you snob. His server, the cute one who is entranced by my good looks and New York Paycheck? She was the midwife for the birth of my son by way of my affair with my mistress."

The ONE thing, the ONE THING that people have to do is dress right and carry themselves well. It's not your local Bob Evans. If you make a decent effort, based on the upscality of the restaurant, to dress to what you deem appropriate, there's no excuse for you being put upon by surly staff. Respect the food, respect the atmosphere, and you will 9 times out of 10, be handsomely rewarded. If you aren't, and are reciprocally accomodating to the specific needs of the restaurant, THEN, write a scathing review, tell all your friends, your relatives, and tell the local paper to broadswipe them.

Don't Whine. Just be fair.

Fireislanddish, I think on paper, your quarrels were merited, but there's still evidence to say that it was more than likely an isolated, exaggerated* account of what can happen when all the small things contribute to an all around poor experience. Give them one more chance, and more importantly, a chance to make amends for their folly. If they don't step up their service, trash them. It wasn't a fluke. They need us to hear this kind of stuff, so we can enact change on the part of the diner. Good for you for writing about this.

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Not to add fuel to the fire but I made reservations at Emeril's NOLA in New Orleans a couple years ago. Our ferry was 20 minutes late and then we got lost in the French Quarter. We arrived forty-five minutes late to a PACKED restaurant. By this time I had lost all hope of dining at the restaurant.

Both hosts were very polite, friendly and they understood our situation. Lo and behold, they honored our reservation and sat us at a great table within ten minutes. You could have knocked me over with a feather. The food and service were terrific.

I also don't understand all the knocks about the tourists/Midwestern. Being a tourist means you are excited about dining at a new restaurant. It's not just food for them. It's an experience. Think about the last time you visited a foreign country. How did you act? They've been thinking and planning the visit.They should be treated well because they made a special effort. As a tourist, I'm not going to go out of my way to shoot the experience down because it puts a damper on my whole visit/vacation. Being treated disrespectfully will put anyone's back up. Personally I'm much more observant and respectful when I'm on new turf because I have something to learn. I also know I will savor the moment and appreciate good service more than any jaded celebrity ever would. And if that's so wrong, I don't wanna be right. :smile:

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Now, there's no excuse for rude or abusive service, and I'll be the first to say that Babbo has a less than impressive long-term track-record in this regard.

I wonder if Babbo isn't trying to play the whole, "we're hot, you're lucky to be here" scene. It works with night clubs, and there are many trendy places that seem to train their staff (especially host-folk) to be rude. After all, a nobody in the restaurant is only taking a spot that could have been used by a somebody.

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That's not the vibe I get there. It's more of am inmates-running-the-asylum vibe. There seems to be a lack of consistent, inspired leadership over time in the front of the house. You can get fabulous service at Babbo -- they have some terrific people working there. But sometimes it feels as though there's no accountability and nobody taking control of the whole enterprise.

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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You know, whatever the hypothetical causes of a hypothetical fundamental problem, the chickens will come home to roost. (At this point I really regret the temporary absence of my avatar :sad: )

Here we are at one food website, possibly hundreds of people ranging from regular to potential customers of Babbo, spending a great deal of time talking about whether or not there is a fundamental service problem, and thereby making judgements as to whether or not we should go there in the future.

You can be sure that the same conversation is taking place on every other significant food website, as well as in conversations between friends. Places like Babbo acquire their reputation by word of mouth, and they lose it the same way. If indeed the management of Babbo allow their restaurant to be seen as providing patchy, and then poor, service, they will be deserted by the clientele they worked so hard and successfully to create over many years. If that happens, they will never get them back, and they will become dependent upon the vagaries of a 'floating' clientele of irregular diners who will run out of the spending power of the current clientele. They will have to push their prices down, and then the food will suffer, which will destroy the vestiges of their hardcore clientele. Mario will pretty soon lose his celebrity TV status, and Babbo will close.

That is the power of communication, which simply works so much faster on the web than in the old days of newspaper and TV. That is the capitalist marketplace working at its best, and I think it's great.

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I wonder if Babbo isn't trying to play the whole, "we're hot, you're lucky to be here" scene.  It works with night clubs, and there are many trendy places that seem to train their staff (especially host-folk) to be rude.  After all, a nobody in the restaurant is only taking a spot that could have been used by a somebody.

We ate at Babbo back in March, as out-of-towners with clearly non-NYC accents (one Tennessee, one London), in the middle of prime service time on a Saturday. The *only* problem we had was that the party at our table was having a full-scale after-dinner faff, so we were stuck standing in the bar/coat-check area for 15-20 minutes while waiting for our table to clear.

The people who have said that waiting area is too crowded are absolutely right - between customers squeezing past us to get to the tables or bathroom, servers squeezing past us to get to the tables by the window, and both trying to squeeze past us to the coat-check/stairs entrance, it was pretty uncomfortable for a few minutes, and my husband was getting very obviously pissed off.

That being said, the maitre d' (bald guy with one of the ugliest ties I've ever seen - so much for trendy!) apologized twice for our having to wait. Once we were finally seated, the rest of the evening couldn't have gone more smoothly. Our waiter was just the right balance of attentive and out-of-the-way, and we were comped the off-menu appetizer special (some incredibly fresh cheese I can't remember the name of with grilled ramps that had been flown in from Italy the day before) in addition to the appetizers we'd actually ordered. The music might have been a little loud, but it was *such* a relief to hear music I actually like (Black Crowes, Cure, and Talking Heads) rather than having to grit my teeth and bear 3+ hours of opera or Sinatra just because I wanted to eat Italian food.

I have absolutely never gotten the impression from any place we've been in NYC that we weren't "trendy enough" for them - which is a hoot considering that we've gotten that from hostoids at the restaurants at malls before, and don't get me started on our "dining experience" in rural Pennsylvania recently! :wacko:

We do generally make an effort to look like we haven't been doing the tourist-schleppy thing up until 10 minutes before dinner, or just fell off the turnip truck - people do dress differently in NYC than they do in suburban DC, and it's a simple enough thing to choose clothing appropriately.

What it comes down to, I think, is that any place, no matter how good, is going to have off nights. Some people are lucky enough not to catch 'em, some people aren't. I don't think it's necessarily got anything to do with where a place is, or the number of natives vs. tourists.

As an aside about the "English vs. Australian" thing, about the worst casual insult you can make to one is to accuse them of being the other. I have no doubt that the woman on the phone had heard the "I am NOT a bloody Pommy etc. etc." lecture from her Aussie cohort at least 724 times, at which point "Not English, Australian" would become ingrained. :laugh:

"Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cookbook! Little Red Cookbook!" --Eddie Izzard
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You can be sure that the same conversation is taking place on every other significant food website

There are other significant food websites?

Let's see some links to these similar discussions.

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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Here we are at one food website, possibly hundreds of people ranging from regular to potential customers of Babbo, spending a great deal of time talking about whether or not there is a fundamental service problem, and thereby making judgements as to whether or not we should go there in the future.

Two words: "Oh Toe".

(That's "Otto" to you and me.)

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We've acknowledged Chowhound for its contributions in the past, but in all seriousness, they haven't had a discussion involving these types of issues, at least as it pertains to Batali's restaurants, as we have.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

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

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I was just wondering about "every other significant food website," and whether m.san had anything specific in mind or if this was speculation. I'd like to see the links to Babbo discussions on all other sites. I'm not attempting to challenge the statement, just to make this thread as comprehensive as possible. Chowhound is a no-brainer -- there have been a number of Babbo threads there. The search I did for "service at babbo" turned up a Chowhound thread called, surprisingly, Service at Babbo. But I found nothing else through googling various combinations.

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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less butter-based sauces and more of a showcase of Italian regional sauces?

It seems to me like there is a heavy concentration of northern Italianate regional cuisine. Why this is, I have no idea. Maybe it's just me...don't get me wrong, having had the pasta tasting menu the last time I was there, it was great. And if I went there again and had the chance to have it again, I might do it again for a second go'round. And so, I was wondering if Mario has considered retooling it.

No biggie if he hasn't. Next time I go, I may go the primi/secondi/contorni route. Usually when I go, I have an appetizer, primi then dessert.

Soba

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Right, there are loads of Chowhound threads on Babbo -- tons and tons and tons of discussion, much of it interesting. That's to be expected: Chowhound excels at discussions of where-to-eat in NYC, especially with regard to "cheap eats" and popular middle- and high-end places like Babbo, Union Square Cafe, etc. That's the whole focus of Chowhound. What I mean is that, through googling, I haven't found any other sites with significant Babbo discussion, so I don't currently see this as a widespread phenomenon. I'm just trying to understand what m.san meant by "every other significant food website."

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 was just wondering about "every other significant food website," and whether m.san had anything specific in mind or if this was speculation.

M.san only reads one other food website :laugh: and it was just general speculation. As a matter of interest, how many food websiets are there with a "presence" in the New York area ?

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I was just wondering about "every other significant food website," and whether m.san had anything specific in mind or if this was speculation.

M.san only reads one other food website :laugh: and it was just general speculation. As a matter of interest, how many food websiets are there with a "presence" in the New York area ?

significant websites? just 2. :rolleyes:

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Because Babbo isn't in the fine-dining category, the expectations of both quality and quantity of service have to be adjusted. It's simply not reasonable to compare Babbo to Le Bernardin, Jean Georges, and other places where the check average is probably close to double (the entry-level prix fixe dinner at Daniel is $85 and tasting menus are something like $120, whereas it's difficult for one person to spend $60 on food at Babbo with any permutation of three courses and the tasting menus are only $65

Blue Hill is a good comparison in some ways. It's got a $65 tasting menu, a three course meal can be had for not much more than $50 and they share the same real estate values--they're almost back to back. I won't compare the food as the stylistic differences may be far greater than any difference in quality. If you value the style of one over the other to any degree, that's going to make more difference than the quality of either at their best. Consistency and service might.

The top of the line cited by Fat guy is really second tier in terms of cost. AD/NY seems to hold the number one spot unchallenged. In terms of cost, gems such as Cafe Boulud and Oceana fall into a point midway between the top of the line and Babbo. The best restaurants in this price range could blow the stock pot lids off most of what appears on so called Top 100 Restaurants in America. Babbo in what I descern as the fourth price point down the scale, still probably qualifies as "expensive" in most restaurant guides, however. There's great dining outside NY in the US, but most visitors to NY have trouble adjusting to what's here and finding exactly where they would enjoy eating and what it's worth relatively or absolutely.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Blue Hill is a good comparison in some ways. It's got a $65 tasting menu, a three course meal can be had for not much more than $50 and they share the same real estate values--they're almost back to back.

I think that's spot on. I would judge that these two restaurants address pretty much the same market, and their prices are very similar.

I've been to Blue Hill only once, and found the service as good as or better than any I've received in any fine dining etablishment (although sadly I wasn't smitten by the style of the food). Blue Hill has been much written about here, and my sense of those reviews is that a very large proportion speak highly of the service at Blue Hill. I haven't observed any falling away of that praise.

That is an interesting contrast to Babbo.

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