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Babbo


gmi3804
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I am sorry to hear about the "demise" of Babbo. We went for my wife's birthday a few years ago and had a wonderful time. At the time, I would have called it one of the best meals I have had in the city. It does not sound like I want to be going back.

I ate at Lupa over restaurant week and was very disappointed (undercooked pennette, polpette was decent but not spectacular). I am considering trying it again, but given my bad first impression, it is not high on my list.

We live within delivery distance of Otto and I have also been inside several times but the food, while good, has never struck me as outstanding.

For years I wondered how Mario could have all these restaurants on top of his TV appearances, cookbooks, and cookware lines and still maintain such a high level of quality. I think the cracks are finally starting to show (and they are not small).

Based on my recent experiences at his restaurants, I am not encouraged to try Del Posto or any of his other places in the near future. If I want to spend my money on upscale Italian I will probably spend my money at Scott Conant's restaurants instead.

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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

Which is why I would NEVER recommend Cafe Gray to ANYONE, and have feelings about it that vacillate between anger and resignation.

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.)

I couldn't begin to list all the truly superlative entrees I've had in Italy.

As for the US, I think back to early days of Centanni, which at that time (the 80s) was the Italian restaurant in New York that most resembled the places I'd eaten in Italy. I don't know that I'd say the entrees were "superlative", but they were excellent.

Similarly, people may say Al Di La is an overrated neighborhood place, but entrees there are excellent -- and fully the equals of the best primi and pastas on their menu.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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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.

But the distinction I was trying to draw is that nobody touts BLT Fish and Cafe Gray as generally great restaurants, the way Babbo is frequently touted. Sure, BLT Fish and Cafe Gray are pricey, but they have nowhere near the reputation for general excellence that Babbo has.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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I am sorry to hear about the "demise" of Babbo.  We went for my wife's birthday a few years ago and had a wonderful time.  At the time, I would have called it one of the best meals I have had in the city.  It does not sound like I want to be going back.

I don't think we're talking about the "demise" of Babbo. I think Babbo was like this from the start. I think most of the criticisms being leveled at it in recent posts would always have been warranted.

I hope Nathan has read mikeycook's post, because this is the general reputaton Babbo has -- and has always had -- that I think makes its limitations troubling.

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Babbo is generally presented as "the best Italian restaurant in NYC"

He's heard that said so many times, I think Mario's starting to believe it, but it's far from the truth. It's very good, but the best authentic Italians are in the outer boroughs - there are about three or four that Babbo can't compete in terms of giving you the feel of the "old country" and the authenticity of the plates.

Babbo is to Manhattan what Felidia is to Pittsburgh - a nice place with a big name and good food, but not where the "cognoscenti" of the cuisine dine.

PS - Someone mentioned to me the other day that the only person who could afford to dine in Del Posto on a regular basis was the pope since he would get professional courtesy as a fellow cathedral owner.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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Interesting discussion. I agree that pasta dishes (non butter based ones) are one of the highlights of Babbo.

>> has anyone really had a superlative Italian entree? at least in the U.S.?

If you can consider this one Italian - I had a pork loin that had been braised in rose water at Lupa new years day that was the single best piece of meat I have had at Batali restaurants. Simply a great combination of satisfying hearty dish that had a sublime quality that tickled your brain as well.

I have been to almost all the restaurants named in the thread and vote with my dollars - I have been to Babbo the most.

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Babbo is generally presented as "the best Italian restaurant in NYC"

He's heard that said so many times, I think Mario's starting to believe it, but it's far from the truth. It's very good, but the best authentic Italians are in the outer boroughs - there are about three or four that Babbo can't compete in terms of giving you the feel of the "old country" and the authenticity of the plates.

where? my experience of outer-borough dining is that there are some excellent Sicilian-American style places...but not "authentic", contemporary regional Italian cooking

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I am sorry to hear about the "demise" of Babbo.  We went for my wife's birthday a few years ago and had a wonderful time.  At the time, I would have called it one of the best meals I have had in the city.  It does not sound like I want to be going back.

I don't think we're talking about the "demise" of Babbo. I think Babbo was like this from the start. I think most of the criticisms being leveled at it in recent posts would always have been warranted.

I hope Nathan has read mikeycook's post, because this is the general reputaton Babbo has -- and has always had -- that I think makes its limitations troubling.

I agree with all of this.

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Babbo is generally presented as "the best Italian restaurant in NYC"

He's heard that said so many times, I think Mario's starting to believe it, but it's far from the truth. It's very good, but the best authentic Italians are in the outer boroughs - there are about three or four that Babbo can't compete in terms of giving you the feel of the "old country" and the authenticity of the plates.

where? my experience of outer-borough dining is that there are some excellent Sicilian-American style places...but not "authentic", contemporary regional Italian cooking

Sapori d'Ischia - very authentic from same area it's named

Park Side - excellent example of a Roma type of resto

Roberto's - southern style at its best

Trattoria L'incontro - central to southern mostly, northern dishes range from outstanding to ordinary

Edited by rich (log)

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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I am sorry to hear about the "demise" of Babbo.  We went for my wife's birthday a few years ago and had a wonderful time.  At the time, I would have called it one of the best meals I have had in the city.  It does not sound like I want to be going back.

I don't think we're talking about the "demise" of Babbo. I think Babbo was like this from the start. I think most of the criticisms being leveled at it in recent posts would always have been warranted.

I hope Nathan has read mikeycook's post, because this is the general reputaton Babbo has -- and has always had -- that I think makes its limitations troubling.

I agree with all of this.

From my perspective, it seems as though I am seeing a lot more people saying they dislike Babbo, or think it's nothing special, than used to be the case. However, perhaps I am just reading opinions of people who didn't like it that much to begin with, but never connected with until more recently.

My one experience there indicated to me that food was very good, some of the best I had had in NY up to that time (and I have been to a lot of the top places). The only dish that I didn't think was excellent the one night I had it was the beef cheek ravioli, which was a little too salty for my taste. Otherwise it was excellent food.

I guess I am going to have to go back myself and make up my own mind.

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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I am sorry to hear about the "demise" of Babbo.  We went for my wife's birthday a few years ago and had a wonderful time.  At the time, I would have called it one of the best meals I have had in the city.  It does not sound like I want to be going back.

I don't think we're talking about the "demise" of Babbo. I think Babbo was like this from the start. I think most of the criticisms being leveled at it in recent posts would always have been warranted.

I would also agree with this. I know the discussion has kind of moved on since mikeycook's first post, but I would just like to say that Babbo does not become less satisfying because it is not subtle, nor does it become less enjoyable if one orders the right items. It may not be the "best Italian restaurant,"--that type of judgement is far too subjective--but it does certain things very well and stands out among its peers.

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Babbo is generally presented as "the best Italian restaurant in NYC"

He's heard that said so many times, I think Mario's starting to believe it, but it's far from the truth. It's very good, but the best authentic Italians are in the outer boroughs - there are about three or four that Babbo can't compete in terms of giving you the feel of the "old country" and the authenticity of the plates.

where? my experience of outer-borough dining is that there are some excellent Sicilian-American style places...but not "authentic", contemporary regional Italian cooking

Sapori d'Ischia - very authentic from same area it's named

Park Side - excellent example of a Roma type of resto

Roberto's - southern style at is best

Trattoria L'incontro - central to southern mostly, northern dishes range from outstanding to ordinary

Thanks! Roberto's isn't my type at all but Sapori d'Ischia is of interest.

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Babbo is generally presented as "the best Italian restaurant in NYC"

He's heard that said so many times, I think Mario's starting to believe it, but it's far from the truth. It's very good, but the best authentic Italians are in the outer boroughs - there are about three or four that Babbo can't compete in terms of giving you the feel of the "old country" and the authenticity of the plates.

where? my experience of outer-borough dining is that there are some excellent Sicilian-American style places...but not "authentic", contemporary regional Italian cooking

Sapori d'Ischia - very authentic from same area it's named

Park Side - excellent example of a Roma type of resto

Roberto's - southern style at is best

Trattoria L'incontro - central to southern mostly, northern dishes range from outstanding to ordinary

Personally, I think the emphasis on being "authentic" is way over-blown. If I want authentic Italian food, I will go to Italy. I do not generally judge a restaurant on how authentic it is, unless it is trying to portray itself that way.

In fact, given the large Italian population in New York and the number of Italian restaurants, I would rather see a restaurant that tries to add something new to the mix. Seeing what creative chefs can do to create great Italian American or Italian Fusion restaurants is a lot more interesting to me that to see if someone can duplicate the cuisine of a specific region of Italy.

I feel the same way about other cuisines as well. I go to a lot of French restaurants and I do not judge them on how similar they are to restaurants in France. I will probably never get a really great baguette in New York, no matter how hard chefs try to duplicate them. To me, it's not even worth trying. If I want it to be like food in France, Paris is just a short flight away.

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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...but Sapori d'Ischia is of interest.

Nathan, if you go make room for the cheese plate at the wine bar - either before dinner as an antipasti or after as dessert. They have a nice selection of dessert wines to enhance the cheese.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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>> has anyone really had a superlative Italian entree? at least in the U.S.?

Had a pork belly special last summer at L'Impero that just blew me away, but I haven't seen it since.

In general, I would agree, though. Next time I go to L'Impero it will be for the pasta tasting menu.

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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Personally, I think the emphasis on being "authentic" is way over-blown.  If I want authentic Italian food, I will go to Italy.  I do not generally judge a restaurant on how authentic it is, unless it is trying to portray itself that way.

The four I mentioned advertise authentic as part of their draw - as does Babbo. But I agree with you that authentic is over-hyped and an ethnic restaurant doesn't need to be authentic to be good.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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Personally, I think the emphasis on being "authentic" is way over-blown.  If I want authentic Italian food, I will go to Italy.  I do not generally judge a restaurant on how authentic it is, unless it is trying to portray itself that way.

In fact, given the large Italian population in New York and the number of Italian restaurants, I would rather see a restaurant that tries to add something new to the mix.  Seeing what creative chefs can do to create great Italian American or Italian Fusion restaurants is a lot more interesting to me that to see if someone can duplicate the cuisine of a specific region of Italy.

I feel the same way about other cuisines as well.  I go to a lot of French restaurants and I do not judge them on how similar they are to restaurants in France.  I will probably never get a really great baguette in New York, no matter how hard chefs try to duplicate them.  To me, it's not even worth trying.  If I want it to be like food in France, Paris is just a short flight away.

I agree completely, FWIW.

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Personally, I think the emphasis on being "authentic" is way over-blown.  If I want authentic Italian food, I will go to Italy.  I do not generally judge a restaurant on how authentic it is, unless it is trying to portray itself that way.

In fact, given the large Italian population in New York and the number of Italian restaurants, I would rather see a restaurant that tries to add something new to the mix.  Seeing what creative chefs can do to create great Italian American or Italian Fusion restaurants is a lot more interesting to me that to see if someone can duplicate the cuisine of a specific region of Italy.

I feel the same way about other cuisines as well.  I go to a lot of French restaurants and I do not judge them on how similar they are to restaurants in France.  I will probably never get a really great baguette in New York, no matter how hard chefs try to duplicate them.  To me, it's not even worth trying.  If I want it to be like food in France, Paris is just a short flight away.

I agree completely, FWIW.

I think this may be a bigger issue with Italian restaurants because for years Italian restaurants were not afforded the respect of other cuisines, like French (and in some ways are still not afforded the respect). Guys like Batali have oriented their careers around pushing the quality of Italian cooking and basically advancing a theory that says "The italian food you have had in the U.S. is <<expletive>> because you haven't been having "real" italian food. This is what real italian food looks and tastes like. It is authentic." Personally, I think Italian food has reached a level of respect where it is time to move beyond to chef-oriented restaurants with Italian (and perhaps other) influences.

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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It may be that I haven't been paying attention (I don't watch TV, so I don't have any exposure to Batali's shows), but I thought the point of Babbo was sort of, "this is what a first-class Italian restaurant is like if it's located in the United States, with access to U.S. rather than Italian ingredients and cooked for a U.S. audience." In other words, I thought a salutory inauthenticity was supposed to be part of the deal. As I said, though, I could have misconstrued.

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It may be that I haven't been paying attention (I don't watch TV, so I don't have any exposure to Batali's shows), but I thought the point of Babbo was sort of, "this is what a first-class Italian restaurant is like if it's located in the United States, with access to U.S. rather than Italian ingredients and cooked for a U.S. audience."  In other words, I thought a salutory inauthenticity was supposed to be part of the deal.  As I said, though, I could have misconstrued.

I was just about to make a similar point.

I think if you were to ask Batali about this discussion he would say "it is what it is."

All these qualifiers - "authentic", "best Italian restaurant", "not subtle enough" - are all projections from individual diners pre-concieved notions. The fact that Babbo is a "famous" restaurant only serves to elevate the expecations.

Bill Russell

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Whenever I watch his shows, he seems to say the word "authentic" repeatedly and goes to lengths to show how Italian cuisine is different (i.e. better) than French cuisine. After reading the Babbo web site, though, I must admit I was wrong.

As he says, "As a Tuscan cooks in Chianti, as a Neapolitan cooks on the Amalfi coast, as a Sicilian cooks in Pantelleria, at Babbo we cook as an Italian might in the Mid-Atlantic/Hudson Valley region."

I stand corrected.

Edited by mikeycook (log)

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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Like most good "marketeers," Mario uses the word authentic when it seems best and then backs off slightly if that seems to work better. Whatever works at the moment is part of marketing strategy 101.

Bottom line (for me) - Babbo is a very good restaurant that has a style all its own based on Italian influences.

Edited by rich (log)

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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I think there was an idea that Babbo (and a few others) were revolutionizing many aspects of American fine Italian dining with gamey Tuscan creativity. The reward for this was, and still is "passes" in other areas of execution.

I expected something much more refined, interesting and less "comforting" in my Babbo experience. -One of the best Italian restaurants in NYC? Maybe. One of the best in NYC? No way.

Whatever the label, upscale Italian food has bored me for sometime esp compared to French, American (nouveau), Asian, etc. I'm not the least bit excited to get to Del Posto not just because of what's been reported but the apparent uninspiring menu.

That wasn't chicken

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I'd like those of you who feel the food isn't subtle enough at Babbo to please tell me whether you're referring to oversalting, because if that isn't the problem, I'll probably like the "excess" of taste. I certainly like Lupa! An excess of subtlety is more likely to annoy me than tastes that sock me right in the kisser, as long as those tastes are good.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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To me, the difference between Lupa and Babbo is that at Lupa the food is fairly simple -- but NOT simplistic -- and very flavorful in a straightforward manner, whereas at Babbo some of the food seems kind of contrived. It's not so much an excess of "flavor" as an excess of "flavors" -- there's too much going on in some of the dishes. Sometimes the combinations don't work, and you think that if there were a few fewer ingredients, or if a certain flavor component were toned down a bit, the dish would be better. I guess the problem is that the more complicated you're being, the more "subtlety" becomes a desideratum. Cuz I agree with you that you don't miss it -- that it would in fact be counterproductive -- at Lupa.

I don't want to be overly negative: Babbo is a very good restaurant -- and not only for the pastas. It just isn't, to me, all it's cracked up to be.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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