Monday, June 1, 2009

Babbo: Revisited

In an attempt to make good on all those entries promised in “Blogs are a-comin!”, here’s a look back at dinner with my brother Bill and his girlfriend Lori, at one of my favorite dining destinations of all time, Babbo.

Our meal dates back to Friday, February 27th. A little late to be writing it up, I admit, but I found all of these photos somewhere deep in my computer and figured there were a couple additional points worth mentioning. Number one, I enjoyed the Pasta Tasting Menu back in November much more than the Traditional Tasting Menu. Not because I relish the idea of carb after carb; in fact, more protein would’ve been welcome in the Pasta Tasting. However, the progression from savory to sweet worked better for me in the Pasta Menu, and there were just so many winners amongst the pasta dishes, (particularly the casunzei with poppy seeds). The Traditional Menu, on the other hand, had a bunch of good dishes, one spectacular dish, and then one dish that was kind of awful.

Both menus vary regularly, so don’t take my word on which one is better—be sure to study both ahead of time, or, don’t do a tasting menu at all. Order off the regular menu, which looks fantastic—it’s what I intend to do on my next visit.

Second point: in my first report, I made a big deal about how it’s all kinds of impossible to get a reservation at Babbo. That’s not entirely the case. If you call exactly one month prior to the date you want the reservation, at precisely 10 a.m., the woman who answers the phone is actually quite accommodating. I had no trouble securing my Friday night reservation. And when I arrived that Friday (it was after a conference, so it was an early 5:30 dinner), it looked as though the handful of folks without reservations who were waiting at a quarter to 5:00 p.m. for one of the six unreserved tables (my last tactic), got in no problem.

Here’s a look at our menu:
And here’s a picture of the complimentary Ceci Bruschetta (garbanzo beans with black olive paste and balsamic vinegar, on grilled peasant bread):
[Not pictured: Babbo also serves the best complimentary peasant bread in existence. It’s warm and incredibly soft, like a sponge. The downside is if you eat any, there’s a good chance you won’t finish your food.]

On to the Traditional Tasting Menu

Culatello with Ramps and Pecorino
Culatello is cured meat from the rear legs of a pig. This was silken and salty, more delicate than prosciutto, and a tad bit spicy (it is rubbed with wine, salt, pepper, and garlic… and then wrapped in a pig’s bladder to mature). The ramps gave a garlicky, slightly pickled, taste.

Pappardelle with Hedgehogs and Thyme
Pappardelle is one of my favorite types of homemade pasta. It reminds me of Italian Chow Fun. This dish was a winner—simple and comforting. And all three of us were relieved when we were told that the hedgehogs were only mushrooms.

Duck Tortelli with “Sugo Finto”
The gentleman who came by to describe each dish made it a point to tell us an interesting story about the “Sugo Finto” sauce, which is a mock meat sauce. Unfortunately, after waiting so long to write this up, I don't remember the details. In a nutshell, the sauce has a tangy and rich complexity that suggests it took all day to make, but really, it’s rendered rather quickly with… pancetta, I think he said? Anyone? Either way, we weren’t crazy about this dish. The sauce was good, but the filling (a duck/ricotta mix) was a bit too gamey for us.

Grilled Hanger Steak with Royal Trumpet Mushrooms and Cipolline Agrodolce
This is the “Spectacular” dish I mentioned above. The first bite was a tad salty, but only the very first bite. The rest was phenomenal, especially when mixed with the sweet and sour onions. “Awesome,” Bill agreed, chewing happily.

Coach Farm’s Finest with Fennel Honey
After the hearty, magnificent Hanger Steak, which is when our Traditional Tasting Menu really hit its stride, I think all of us were a bit disappointed that we were already on to the transitional course, or the “pre-dessert.” Still, the goat cheese with peppercorns, coupled with a simple drizzle of fennel honey, was a nice pairing, and got us psyched for the real dessert to come.

“Crema con Mosto”
This dessert and the next one just really weren’t my thing at all. Lori absolutely adored this dish, but, we’re still not sure exactly what it was. There was a distinct taste of orange and chocolate-- two flavors I love independently, but don’t really care for together.

Chocolate “Tartufino”
“Tartufino, tartufino… is that like tartufo?” Bill said excitedly, his only input when we were deciding if we should go with the Traditional Tasting Menu. [Give Bill a simple bowl of vanilla ice cream and he’s a happy boy. He actually e-mailed me from a cruise ship to say, “Sharon, do you know you can have ice cream any hour of the day on this boat?”] Tartufino is kind of like tartufo, except, instead of ice cream, you’ve got hazelnut mouse, and it’s served with a drizzle of chocolate, not completely coated with it. This dessert was sickly, sickly sweet. Lori and I only ate a bite. Even Bill, sorely disappointed, only had a few bites before he gave up.

Pecan and Date Budino with Caramel Gelato
Again, similar to the Pasta Tasting Menu, this is when the pastry chef sends out a different dessert for each individual, not just the one listed above. We also enjoyed a kumquat panna cotta and a lemon tart. We were so excited at the variety, I plum forgot to take pictures, so here are three photos in various stages of eaten-ness.
...can you guess which was our favorite? (They were actually all very good; we were full beyond belief at this point.)

Even though I enjoyed the Pasta Tasting Menu more than the Traditional Tasting Menu, Babbo is still a unique, lively place and one of the most reliable dining destinations in Manhattan. I guarantee you a memorable meal. …And where else can you hear Guns N’ Roses while you eat?

110 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10011
(212) 777 0303


  1. The pappardelle with hedgehogs and thyme looks amazing. I would be happy with just a big bowl of that........and maybe some of the kumquat panna cotta too.

  2. One word: Mmmmmmmmm............

    As for what the Obamas ordered, I just hope it wasn't the "wreckfish". haha. But seriously, I wish they'd chosen a more exciting restaurant. Blue Hill always seemed to me a rather staid place. But then again the whole locavore movement makes me want to roll my eyes so I may be biased...