Thursday, July 24, 2008
A Memorable Evening at Babbo
It all started about a month ago when my wife put her little fingers to work speed dialing her way through the morning. By 10:30am she hit pay dirt in the form of a table for four at 8:30. Washington Square here we come! I was never a huge Mario Batali fan until I started cooking out of his Molto Italiano cookbook. I don't think I've ever had a stinker come out of that book. So what was this whole Babbo thing going to be? I had heard about the music, the lack of waiting room, the very crowded bar. Quite frankly, I was mentally prepared to be disappointed.
My boss and his wife, Regina and I got there at a little before 8:30pm. We waited at the bar for our table. There really was not that much room to wait, but we managed to split up, my boss and I in one corner, the wives over by the hostess' station. After about a half an hour we are seated. I can tell my boss was worked up because he didn't like the loud music or the fact that they were a little late seating us. This is one of the reasons I don't like going to special places with other people. I feel the more participants you include in the party the higher the likelihood is that someone is going to not like something and complain throughout the evening.
Here’s my take on the music. I like it. How often do you get to have a fine dining experience and hear Joy Division playing in the distance? It doesn’t happen. It truly is a unique experience. I will say this, I don’t like the level of the music being so high that I can’t hear the person next to me – and that’s what it was like downstairs. Upstairs the music wasn’t as loud. It was something I’ve never experienced before, but that was good.
We were treated to a Sfromatto, a mousse of sorts made of peas, as a treat based on our extended wait. Our table was upstairs, under a fantastic sky light - it really felt separate from the downstairs action, albeit still on the loud side. The appetizers consisted of Babbo Salumi with “Cipolle Modenese” and Babbo Olives , Armandino’s Salumi – Hot Sopressata and Culatello I was amazed by the numerous types on my plate which the Service Director rattled off with ease. It really was a lot to remember. Of the two, I would say Armandino’s was my favorite. There was something on there that really had a lot of kick to it.
Entrees (The first three are in the Babbo cookbook).
Pumpkin“Lune” with Sage and Amaretti – I think what’s nice about this dish is that the lune themselves don’t feel as quite as heavy as one might typically think of ravioli. They were topped with freshly grated amarreti, I'd never seen that before.
Grilled Guinea Hen – this is what I ordered. What can I say other than that it was just a really well seasoned preparation. To top the whole thing off, they drizzled a twelve year old balsamic vinegar over the top of the bird. The saltiness of the Guinea Hen combined with the sweetness of balsamic vinegar made this choice a success.
Pappardelle Bolognese- My boss ordered this one. I’ve actually made this from the cookbook and I can say that it is a really good recipe, and easy too. However, with all of the different items on the menu – why get something so basic? I didn’t understand that one. Especially when he kept saying that the best he ever had was from Rao’s Cookbook before he even ordered it. I’ve often found when people believe that they’ve had the best ------- ever that they’re always disappointed with their meal. Get something else so that the rest of us don’t have to hear about the best ever. He could have stayed at home and been happier.
Black Spaghetti with Rock Shrimp, Spicy Salami Calabrese and Green Chiles – His wife ordered this. I think I can say that I was torn between this and the Guinea Hen. This was very good. Dyed with octopus ink, this spaghetti has a very unique appearance. What I really liked was the spice of the mixture on top of the spaghetti. I didn’t so much notice the shrimp as much as I did the fine textured crispiness of the Spicy Salami Calabrese and Green Chiles. This, unfortunately, isn’t in the cookbook. I would highly recommend trying this delicious dish.
Pistachio and Chocolate Semifreddo – Regina ordered this and loved it. As a matter of fact, I think it was her favorite out of everything she had.
Assortment of Gelati and Sorbetti – There was really only one reason I got this one - Olive Oil Gelato. Yeah, that’s right. It was made out of olive oil. The idea itself is very creative and from what I understand wildly popular. You can find it at his other restaurants, as well. It really tasted good. You don’t really taste the olive oil in it until it has already slid down the back of your throat. There’s a nutty whiff of olive oil that pass through your nose and across the back of your tongue. Is it going to pass up chocolate any time soon? No, but it is a creative idea I’ve never seen anywhere else before.
So what was the overall impression of the Babbo experience? First off, I have to say it was a very memorable experience, (for the right reasons). I can say that the service was probably the best I’ve had since my visit to Alan Wong’s in Oahu. The wait staff whirled around like ghosts. Where ten seconds ago there were no plates with food, they would descend upon all four of us with the grace of a gentle wind. As quickly as they appeared, they would vanish; leaving behind beautiful plates of food. It was an absolute treat.
I think it’s pretty clear that Mario Battali and Joe Bastianich have poured over every detail of this restaurant. Like a classic automobile, every detail has been attended to. Though the eventual owner of that car might not like the shape of the steering wheel or the texture of the leather on the seats, it’s an expression of the designer and his tastes. I think that’s what we have here. A restaurant that is a direct expression of what the owners would like their favorite restaurant to be. We could only be so lucky to have more places that paid as much attention to detail as Babbo does.