eGustibus

A +/- Look at NYC Food

Babbo

It's Sarah the Wife's Birthday, and much to my surprise her choice for the special meal was Babbo.  Not surprising because of the type of food, she loves Italian food, but more because it's a Mario Batali restaurant.  See, Sarah the wife is not so much a Mario Batali fan.  I'd like to think it's because she's jealous of how much I love him (the cookbooks, the show, the desire to go to every one of his restaurants) but I know the real truth.  She doesn't trust an Italian with red hair.  Actually, come to think of it, she hates red hair on all men (Bobby Flay take notice)- so when she said Babbo, I was surprised, but excited that I wasn't going to have to wait until April to go to Babbo for my birthday dinner. 

We love Italian food, and I love Mario Batali, so I was pretty excited for this meal.  Too excited I think… and after only 3 months of eating out a nice NYC restaurants came face to face with my first disappointment.  Now I'm not going to blame it on Babbo… how could I?  It's the almighty Babbo!  4 Stars from Adam Platt, #6 on NY Magazine's 101 Best Restaurants in NYC, 1 star from Michelin, loved by everyone… well not exactly everyone.  There is a Mario Batali backlash that exists in this city- but those criticisms come from somewhere other then the food.  Too many people feel too strongly about this place being great for it to be bad.  You could have a bad experience, but it can't be a bad restaurant.  Can it?

And here's where it dawned in me.  Expectations and experience can end up being much more important then any dish you eat.  I can see why so many people in this city love Babbo.  See, Babbo is not an everyone kind of place.  Most places aren't.   It's a breath of fresh air.  After years and years of eating at the same boring Italian restaurants with the same dishes, Babbo must have been a windfall for this city.  I wasn't here for it… but it must have been super exciting.  Lamb's tongue in a salad?  Beef cheeks and squab liver is no chocolate and peanut butter (two great tastes that taste great together… anyone?).  Goose liver, lamb's brains, oxtails, sweetbreads… the list goes on and on.  I'm far from a chicken parm kind of guy, but Babbo is an offal bonanza like non I've ever seen.

Now for many, this list would be enough to keep you from going… but therein lies the genius of Babbo.  With every dish he makes you forget what it is you're eating.  I have to admit, we were not blown away by the dishes we ordered but it was a meal that made me change the way I think about eating.  And for that, I will go back, again and again.

What we ate, and the +/- after the jump…

Antipasti

  • Warm Lamb's Tongue Vinaigrette w/ Chantrelles and a 3 Minute Egg $12

We love mushrooms.  We love poached eggs.  We love poached egg on mushrooms.  Couldn't figure out which part of the salad was the tongue, and which part was the mushrooms.  I guess that's a good thing right?  Considered one of the signature dishes of the restaurant… we weren't blown away.

Primi

  • Beef Cheek Ravioli w/ Crushed Squab Liver and Black Truffles $21
  • Black Spaghetti w/ Rock Shrimp, Spicy Salami Calabrese and Green Chilis $25

The fresh pasta is raved about at all of Mario Batali's restaurants and these were no exception.  The pasta itself was perfectly made and perfectly cooked in both dishes.  The beef cheek ravioli is also one of the most recommended dishes, but we were not blown away.  I guess when you considered the parts it was made from, it was delicious… but we were expecting it to pop and it didn't.  I enjoyed the contrasting flavors of the black spaghetti dish, the saltiness of the sausage with the shrimp, and the chilis adding that little bit of heat… but it was more something I had to think about rather then enjoying it in the moment.  Basically I liked it more after the fact then I did while I was eating it.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement

Contorni

  • Carciofi ala Romana $13

It's kind of hard to screw up this standard dish- but these were a little boring.  Would have expected more from a place of this calibur.  A seasonal thing so it's not something they're making every night, but they just didn't have any flavor.  We were disappointed.

Secondi

  • Fennel Dusted Sweetbreads w/ Sweet and Sour Onions, Duck Bacon and Membrillo Vinegar $26

Finally, the feeling we were waiting for.  One bite and we're transported to the place we thought every Babbo dish would take us to.  The best dish of the night.  Breaded and cooked perfectly, the tangy sweet and sour sauce a perfect match to the saltiness of rest of the dish.  You definetely don't need to like sweetbreads to like these… the perfect dish.

Dolci e Formaggi

  • Assortment of Gelati and Sorbetti $8

After eating the Olive Oil gelati at Otto, Sarah the wife is a big fan so we knew these would be good.

So all in all it was a disappointing dinner.  Not bad, just disappointing.  And there was the problem.  I don't think I was ready to eat at Babbo.  To enjoy this place you have to be a total novice eater who is easily impressed, or an advanced eater, who has eaten at so many Italian restaurants in this city that you truly appreciate the uniqueness of a restaurant like Babbo.  I fall somewhere in the middle.  And every Italian meal I eat in this city, makes me want to go back to Babbo more and more… and when I do, my new outlook will yield a different experience.

SERVICE & ATMOSPHERE NOTE:  The service could have been better the night we were there, but it wasn't bad enough to ruin the meal.  The atmosphere is perfect if you like your fancy meals served while listening to rock music (Flaming Lips was on the night we were there).  Less rock, sit upstairs where you feel like you're eating in someone's Italian villa and the tables are more spaced out.  More rock, sit downstairs where you feel like you're eating in a rocking bar.  Tables are more cramped together. 

The +

  • You are sick of most Italian restaurants in NYC
  • You like eating fancy meals while listening to Flaming Lips

The –

  • You have expectations that are too high
  • Your idea of a great Italian restaurant depends on their Chicken or Eggplant Parmesan
  • You already have a favorite local Italian Place that is half the price and will never be beat!!!
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January 1, 2006 - Posted by | Food: Italian, Location: Village, Price: Expensive, Price: Very Expensive

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