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Babbo


gmi3804
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  • 3 weeks later...

Just made reservations for my BF's bday in March. Spent this afternoon reading through the entire Babbo thread. Seems like it was all raves in the beginning but these have dropped off in the last year.

So, my question is - did I miss the boat? Is Babbo old news? Or did the rave reviews drop off because it was new in the beginning and now it has been around for a while. Would love to know your thoughts before our meal there. Great food is more important to me than atmosphere so my query is mostly about the food.

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Just made reservations for my BF's bday in March. Spent this afternoon reading through the entire Babbo thread. Seems like it was all raves in the beginning but these have dropped off in the last year.

So, my question is - did I miss the boat? Is Babbo old news? Or did the rave reviews drop off because it was new in the beginning and now it has been around for a while. Would love to know your thoughts before our meal there.  Great food is more important to me than atmosphere so my query is mostly about the food.

The food is still great, but pretty much has stayed the same. If you've never been, you'll have a great experience.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Last night I had a wildly disappointing dinner at Babbo. I am a huge fan of Batali's cookbooks and his interpretation of the foods and tastes, so I really wanted to love Babbo. However, everything about our meal with one exception was poor.

We started off with a few different appetizers - Neci con funghi misti, the five vegetable salad, and the goat cheese truffles. All were good but uninspired, and the three different preparations of the truffles were not explained upon presentation.

For mains we all tried to go with the strength of the kitchen- pasta. These were extremely poor. The black pepper pappardelle with wild boar ragu was dry and without sufficient salt or seasoning. Freshly grated cheese was added at the table without asking whether it was preferred (it was, but I found the move odd). Another main, the celebrated beef cheek ravioli, was OK but as someone else mentioned previously tasted of a cafeteria's beef stroganoff. The ravioli were overcooked and mushy, the overflowing fats completely overpowered the black truffles, and the beef cheek itself was only of so-so quality.

Desserts were an absolute success. The date and walnut budino combined the very distinct flavors of dates and walnuts in a way that seemed incredibly natural. The presentation of this dessert was beautiful as well. Biscotti and cookies were plentiful and memorable. The intense flavor of a small sesame cookie is still in my head. Finally, a trio of gelati and sorbetti were all delicious, but again presented without any description of the flavors presented.

Service was very mixed at Babbo. I found that my water glass was always filled whereas my wine glass was frequently empty. My coffee cup would not have been refilled if I had not flagged down someone to go retrieve more. Our waiter seemed more like a used car salesman as he constantly attempted to speed us along, often interrupting conversation at the table without notice or providing extremely brief descriptions of dishes. Someone ought to tattoo "tip me and get the hell out" on his forehead.

I found the restaurant itself to be very beautiful and not as chaotic or noisy as I had expected. I can imagine that experience to be true in the bar area/walk-in area, but otherwise the restaurant was fairly subdued.

I imagine the page on the Babbo website stating:

WHERE ARE MARIO AND JOE NOW?

Follow Babbo owners Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich through their various appearances

Should have been an early warning that this restaurant was not much of a priority for the crew that once made it great, but live and learn. I'm going to try to squeeze in a better Italian restaurant here in the city before I head back to San Francisco to help me forget this meal.

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Should have been an early warning that this restaurant was not much of a priority for the crew that once made it great, but live and learn.  I'm going to try to squeeze in a  better Italian restaurant here in the city before I head back to San Francisco to help me forget this meal.

I had dinner here two weeks a go it was a monday or tuesday

by 10 pm the place was nearly empty, ithink their better days are over.

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I don't live in NY so I don't get to dine at Babbo as often as I like. When I'm there I try to make a reservation at Babbo just so I can have the panna cotta as well as the goose liver ravioli. Does anyone know how I can replicate that lovely balsamic vinegar and brown butter sauce? I'm sure the quality of the balsamico has a lot to do with the richness in flavour...

ahh where's the button for the fries?

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Michael, I have eaten 10-12 or maybe 15 times at babbo,

not once have i ate anything that i said "this was great"

In an earlier post, you said that "their better days are over." The tone of this latest post suggests that, even in Babbo's better days, you didn't find anything there that was great.

It's one thing to say "Babbo has gone down," and another to say that it wasn't anything special to begin with. I can't match xyz123's 10-15 visits, but I was there twice—both last year—and found the food stupendous.

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I have eaten at Babbo maybe 2 dozen times (going there early for a Sun night dinner is how I racked up the numbers). I was there a couple of wks ago after a year. The food remains excellent. There was one pasta dish that was so-so. I told them it was underwhelming and they took it back and replaced it with another for no extra charge. For the price, it remains one of the leaders in NYC. Is there better food to be had? Sure. But hard to beat at the prices Babbo charges. I think avoiding butter heavy pastas is key. Specials are always good.

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Babbling Babbo New York City Entry #73

Stepping over the threshold at Babbo, Mario Batali's flagship restaurant is to be placed in the midst of a scrum. The obstacles at the narrow entrance demand bravery and resolve. Yet, such layout conveys the message that Babbo in its bar and beyond is a happening place. Even when seated, the sounds from the front meld with the background music to create a sense of occasion. Babbo is a restaurant that is shaken, not stirred.

The Babbo space is known to older New Yorkers as the long-standing home of the Coach House, one of the more elegant examples of mid-century dining. The decor has been updated, and is quite handsome, although it is one of so many Manhattan restaurants where the flower arrangement is King. By the end of the evening as the ruggers at the bar decamped, it was actually a restful environment at which to dine. Service was efficient and helpful throughout the evening - servers, sommelier, and runners.

And yet what is one to make of the food. What does one tell an energetic B-plus student why there is no gold star today. With the exception of a failed dessert, the dishes were in the upper quintile: 650 culinary SATs. Yet, not a single dish proved astonishing, although the combination of ingredients - as well as Mario's buzz - indicated that this was the goal. True, my companions and I - tough graders all - did not assay the Tasting Menus (either pasta or "traditional"). Ignore the buzz, and this is a respectable and amiable restaurant that uses Italian ingredients (and Italian labels) to persuade diners that something "big" is at work. Yet, at the end the dishes are neither transcendent creations nor sublime Italian renditions.

Our amuse modeled the evening: a plate of herbed chickpeas on toast. The dish was unpolished but flavorful. It was not the kind of amuse that shows off the culinary virtuosity of a chef, but a dish that indicates that the meal will jolt one's tongue.

Antipasto was Warm Lamb's Tongue Vinaigrette with Chanterelles and a Three Minute Egg. I had recently enjoyed a home-made and perfectly prepared lamb's tongue served with a curried mayonnaise. Babbo's version was busy by comparison. I finished the dish with gusto, but the pungent vinegar buzz was excessive. While I did espy chanterelles, a portion of the mushrooms were other varietals. As a starter, it was a gratifying choice; one completed with a smile, but slightly out of balance.

103287392_f3685b3a54.jpg

As Primo (Pasta) our table shared "Beef Cheek Ravioli with Crushed Squab Liver and Black Truffles." I didn't smell many truffles, although at $21 tartufo chunks were not in the bargain. The problem was less the slight tubers and not the al dente ravioli, but the flavor excess of a mix of cheek and liver. Babbo is not a restaurant that serves quiet dishes. This dish was as loud and rough as the bar scene. Its robustness was to my liking, but its brusque quality suggests a kitchen that shouts rather than whispers.

103287393_d3e6f8b18d.jpg

As Secondi, I selected Prawns with White Beans, Leeks, and Spicy Mint Oil. The quartet of prawns were glorious and architectural, and grilled expertly. The plate was newly-minted. I grinned at the mixture of mint and heat, even if the rather mushy beans seemed odd strangers. The plate was the highpoint of the evening, even if its flavors were as jagged as those before.

103287394_43b5d65065.jpg

The happier Dolce was Babbo's Chocolate Hazelnut Cake with Orange Sauce and Hazelnut Gelato. Even Batali's harshest critics acknowledge that his staff is skilled at Gelati, and the Hazelnut Gelato was no exception. My bite of Chocolate Cake was rich and moist, and surely satisfying for those who are cocoa nuts.

Tasting Gelato di Castagne (Chestnut Gelato) with Bigue (pastry shells) and Chestnut Honey, I imagined a terrorist had infiltrated the kitchen. This was one of the least appealing bites I have eaten. Something must have gone wrong, given that the server had waxed poetic about the dish. It tasted as if someone had ladled Campari - or perhaps Listerine - over the Gelato. With a little experimentation it was clear that the culprit was the sauce (the chestnut gelato was, of course, first-rate). Our server at first was as mystified as I, but eventually the good sport inquired of the kitchen, and came out holding a bottle of Chestnut Honey, noting cheerfully "It's either that or poison." Good choice. The honey tasted as nasty as the dessert. Our mystery was solved. Why innocent diners were treated to this odd concoction without warning remains Mario's mystery or perhaps that of his Pastry Chef Gina DePalma. Given that it is a recent addition to a beloved list of sweets, it will surely be trundled off to dessert purgatory.

To deny the pleasures of Babbo would be unfair to Mario, Joe Bastianich - and their Executive Chef Frank Langello - and - God Knows! - Joe and Mario have enough real estate problems without diners piling on. Still, one has to wonder whether, despite the hoo-hah, Batali is the Italian chef of his generation. Iron chef he may be, but can Babbo rise above the babbling of a bombastic publicity machine?

Babbo

110 Waverly Place (at 6th Avenue)

Manhattan (Greenwich Village)

212-777-0303

My Webpage: Vealcheeks

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A very interesting and accurate account. The kitchen is probably best described as one that shouts rather than whispers. Regardless, even with Batali out of the picture (love him or hate him), Babbo puts out quality food that is, for me, deeply satisfying. I think gaf's take encompases that feel quite well.

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Oh boy,

This should strike the Batali lovers with the same effect as a sharp crack in the loins. Alas, I've always found great love with The Batali-Bastiovich restaurants that look to please the earnest diners. Otto is one of my favorite places to go to for a bite and a drink. Esca, though not my favorite, is a forthright restaurant that pleases compared to other restaurants but still takes chances whether with the crudo or whole fish servings not offered at many a restaurant. Babbo is revered but I've yet to relish a meal there. Perhaps, the pasta tasting menu is next for me there as I've never had it. I've a lot of respect for the partnership but the quest for 4 stars might have spread them a little thin.

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gaf, Casa Mono remains a favorite, but I was underwhelmed both times I ate at Babbo. Admittedly Casa Mono's prices have escalated since it first charmed me. I think the sweetbrads served at each of those two restaurants illustrate why I like Casa Mono more than Babbo and you get to the point early in your post when you say ". . . not a single dish proved astonishing, although the combination of ingredients - as well as Mario's buzz - indicated that this was the goal." Lots of good food isn't astonishing, but it comes off better when it's not obviously designed to astonish the diner. The cooking of the sweetbreads is similar at both restaurants, but the saucing, garnishing and presentation at Cas Mono is far simpler and offers less of a cacaphony of flavors. It's not that Casa Mono's version was more polished (I had both last month, one soon after the other) but that it's a less brassy version.

The terms with which you describe the lamb's tongue dish--"busy," "excessive" and "out of balance" may be more subjective than objective, but they illustrate what I don't like about the food, which is not to say that I don't understand your reasons for enjoying the food with gusto. There are dishes, particularly the pasta, that I've eaten with gusto, but there are others where I'm reminded of dishes I've had in France or Spain that were simply more enjoyable.

I had the bigue with chestnut gelato and was surprised I didn't enjoy it as much as I would have expected given my love of good gelato and chestnut gelato in particular. I enquired as to what the bigue was and was told "pastry shell." I didn't think it was a good idea, but I was seduced by the promise of chestnut ice cream. My companion and I exchanged opinions as to what the "shells" might actually be. When they arrived, they seemed to be cream puff shells. did you find them to be anything else? I was rather surprised that our waitress didn't describe them as that, or use the French term profiterolles which I would supsect is better understood by most sophisticated diners in Manhattan. Babbo, in that regard, seems to ask only to be compared to other Italian restaurants. Unfortunately, I don't frequently dine in Italian restaurants, but I'd be at least as eager to return to L'Impero, Alto or Fiamma as Babbo.

Babbo certainly has its pleasures and I have no doubt that it has greater and more widespread appeal than the restaurants I would choose before returning to Babbo, especially the French ones. For me the restaurant that may best be an example of a kitchen that wispers rather than shouts and which produces food that is sublime rather than robust, and is perhaps in that regard a polar opposite, is the one that's almost directly behind Babbo--Blue Hill.

By the way, I've had an excellent lunch and a good dinner or two at Lupa, but also feel it's over rated. It's simply not the kind of food that should require booking as far in advance as does. Of course that may say more about the lack of other good places like that, or the clientele than it is an indictment of Lupa.

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You make an interesting point about Lupa (my favorite Batali-Bastianich place, and a personal favorite place, period). I've never booked in advance there: my friends and I always wander in, and we almost always are able to be seated (even if sometimes it's at the bar). I guess we're leading a charmed existence. But I agree with you that Lupa is not the kind of place that warrants booking far in advance -- and if I had to do so, I'd like it a lot less. I guess I really am sort of lucky, Lupa-wise.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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You make an interesting point about Lupa (my favorite Batali-Bastianich place, and a personal favorite place, period).  I've never booked in advance there:  my friends and I always wander in, and we almost always are able to be seated (even if sometimes it's at the bar).  I guess we're leading a charmed existence.  But I agree with you that Lupa is not the kind of place that warrants booking far in advance -- and if I had to do so, I'd like it a lot less.  I guess I really am sort of luck, Lupa-wise.

my experiences, and thoughts, exactly.. i wish Otto served a more similar menu to Lupa.. we've been frequenting Otto lately because it is so accessible to walk ins..

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I'm going to quibble and agree with this review. Babbo does emphasize robustness not subtlety...in a way, its honest, hearty, country food...nothing refined about it.

with that said, you ordered very, very poorly. Pasta is everything at Babbo. some of the apps are good, ditto for some of the secondi (of which the best (and cheapest) is the calamari).

but the pasta is that upon which Batali's laurels and plaudits stand.

to not eat at least 2-3 pastas (and the ravioli barely counts) is to essentially miss the heart and soul of the restaurant.

Babbling  Babbo  New York City Entry #73

Stepping over the threshold at Babbo, Mario Batali's flagship restaurant is to be placed in the midst of a scrum. The obstacles at the narrow entrance demand bravery and resolve. Yet, such layout conveys the message that Babbo in its bar and beyond is a happening place. Even when seated, the sounds from the front meld with the background music to create a sense of occasion. Babbo is a restaurant that is shaken, not stirred.

The Babbo space is known to older New Yorkers as the long-standing home of the Coach House, one of the more elegant examples of mid-century dining. The decor has been updated, and is quite handsome, although it is one of so many Manhattan restaurants where the flower arrangement is King. By the end of the evening as the ruggers at the bar decamped, it was actually a restful environment at which to dine. Service was efficient and helpful throughout the evening - servers, sommelier, and runners.

And yet what is one to make of the food. What does one tell an energetic B-plus student why there is no gold star today. With the exception of a failed dessert, the dishes were in the upper quintile: 650 culinary SATs. Yet, not a single dish proved astonishing, although the combination of ingredients - as well as Mario's buzz - indicated that this was the goal. True, my companions and I - tough graders all - did not assay the Tasting Menus (either pasta or "traditional"). Ignore the buzz, and this is a respectable and amiable restaurant that uses Italian ingredients (and Italian labels) to persuade diners that something "big" is at work. Yet, at the end the dishes are neither transcendent creations nor sublime Italian renditions.

Our amuse modeled the evening: a plate of herbed chickpeas on toast. The dish was unpolished but flavorful. It was not the kind of amuse that shows off the culinary virtuosity of a chef, but a dish that indicates that the meal will jolt one's tongue.

Antipasto was Warm Lamb's Tongue Vinaigrette with Chanterelles and a Three Minute Egg. I had recently enjoyed a home-made and perfectly prepared lamb's tongue served with a curried mayonnaise. Babbo's version was busy by comparison. I finished the dish with gusto, but the pungent vinegar buzz was excessive. While I did espy chanterelles, a portion of the mushrooms were other varietals. As a starter, it was a gratifying choice; one completed with a smile, but slightly out of balance.

103287392_f3685b3a54.jpg

As Primo (Pasta) our table shared "Beef Cheek Ravioli with Crushed Squab Liver and Black Truffles." I didn't smell many truffles, although at $21 tartufo chunks were not in the bargain. The problem was less the slight tubers and not the al dente ravioli, but the flavor excess of a mix of cheek and liver. Babbo is not a restaurant that serves quiet dishes. This dish was as loud and rough as the bar scene. Its robustness was to my liking, but its brusque quality suggests a kitchen that shouts rather than whispers.

103287393_d3e6f8b18d.jpg

As Secondi, I selected Prawns with White Beans, Leeks, and Spicy Mint Oil. The quartet of prawns were glorious and architectural, and grilled expertly. The plate was newly-minted. I grinned at the mixture of mint and heat, even if the rather mushy beans seemed odd strangers. The plate was the highpoint of the evening, even if its flavors were as jagged as those before.

103287394_43b5d65065.jpg

The happier Dolce was Babbo's Chocolate Hazelnut Cake with Orange Sauce and Hazelnut Gelato. Even Batali's harshest critics acknowledge that his staff is skilled at Gelati, and the Hazelnut Gelato was no exception. My bite of Chocolate Cake was rich and moist, and surely satisfying for those who are cocoa nuts.

Tasting Gelato di Castagne (Chestnut Gelato) with Bigue (pastry shells) and Chestnut Honey, I imagined a terrorist had infiltrated the kitchen. This was one of the least appealing bites I have eaten. Something must have gone wrong, given that the server had waxed poetic about the dish. It tasted as if someone had ladled Campari - or perhaps Listerine - over the Gelato. With a little experimentation it was clear that the culprit was the sauce (the chestnut gelato was, of course, first-rate). Our server at first was as mystified as I, but eventually the good sport inquired of the kitchen, and came out holding a bottle of Chestnut Honey, noting cheerfully "It's either that or poison." Good choice. The honey tasted as nasty as the dessert. Our mystery was solved. Why innocent diners were treated to this odd concoction without warning remains Mario's mystery or perhaps that of his Pastry Chef Gina DePalma. Given that it is a recent addition to a beloved list of sweets, it will surely be trundled off to dessert purgatory.

To deny the pleasures of Babbo would be unfair to Mario, Joe Bastianich - and their Executive Chef Frank Langello - and - God Knows! - Joe and Mario have enough real estate problems without diners piling on. Still, one has to wonder whether, despite the hoo-hah, Batali is the Italian chef of his generation. Iron chef he may be, but can Babbo rise above the babbling of a bombastic publicity machine?

           

Babbo

110 Waverly Place (at 6th Avenue)

Manhattan (Greenwich Village)

212-777-0303

My Webpage: Vealcheeks

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Thing is, Nathan, you would never know that from looking at the menu. I'm not trying to imply that this is blameworthy, necessarily, but it's problematic for a highly-touted restaurant to have so serious a weakness in a whole portion of its menu, which you have to know about in advance from other sources (cuz you can't find it out there) in order to avoid disappointment.

What I'm trying to say is that this isn't like being savvy enough to avoid the non-Sechuan dishes at Grand Sechuan International (something you'd expect of any experienced diner). What you're saying is that to get the best out of this famous restaurant, you have to avoid a whole section of the menu (which you'd expect to be excellent at a restaurant of Babbo's reputation) and order in a way that would normally be ill-considered.

(That sounds more accusatory and confrontational than I mean it to be. Sorry about that to both Nathan and Babbo.)

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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Thing is, Nathan, you would never know that from looking at the menu.  I'm not trying to imply that this is blameworthy, necessarily, but it's problematic for a highly-touted restaurant to have so serious a weakness in a whole portion of its menu, which you have to know about in advance from other sources (cuz you can't find it out there) in order to avoid disappointment.

What I'm trying to say is that this isn't like being savvy enough to avoid the non-Sechuan dishes at Grand Sechuan International (something you'd expect of any experienced diner).  What you're saying is that to get the best out of this famous restaurant, you have to avoid a whole section of the menu (which you'd expect to be excellent at a restaurant of Babbo's reputation) and order in a way that would normally be ill-considered.

(That sounds more accusatory and confrontational than I mean it to be.  Sorry about that to both Nathan and Babbo.)

I knew someone would bring this up. And you're right. (Although, it is actually hinted at on the menu...can you think of any other restaurant with a pasta tasting menu?)

However, I'll point out that many other well-beloved egullet favorites also depend upon "ordering right" -- Spriphithai, BLT Fish, Cafe Gray, etc.

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And I was waiting for you to make that last point.

The difference is that none of the restaurants you mention is a luxury place widely held to be at the top of its class. They're either non-luxury places (Sripraphai) where you'd expect to have to pick and choose, or places that everyone knows are problematical in one way or another (BLT Fish and Cafe Gray).

Babbo is generally presented as "the best Italian restaurant in NYC" or "Mario Batali's flagship restaurant" or some such other. Not as a "pasta place" where you basically have to avoid all segundi.

(And again I apologize for sounding much more confrontational than I mean to.)

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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And I was waiting for you to make that last point.

The difference is that none of the restaurants you mention is a luxury place widely held to be at the top of its class.  They're either non-luxury places (Sripraphai) where you'd expect to have to pick and choose, or places that everyone knows are problematical in one way or another (BLT Fish and Cafe Gray).

Babbo is generally presented as "the best Italian restaurant in NYC" or "Mario Batali's flagship restaurant" or some such other.  Not as a "pasta place" where you have to order carefully and basically avoid all segundi.

(And again I apologize for sounding much more confrontational than I mean to.)

fair enough...though considering Cafe Gray's price point....

(btw, I don't mean that entrees at Babbo are bad..they're just not exceptional.)

I wonder if part of the issue is simply the nature of Italian cooking...with the possible exception of Esca (which is more nominally Italian)....has anyone really had a superlative Italian entree? at least in the U.S.? (I haven't really had great ones in Italy either.)

actually, on second thought, not everyone knows that BLT Fish and Cafe Gray require careful ordering...egullet readers, yes. but egullet readers also generally know that pasta is what should be ordered at Babbo.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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