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Babbo revisited

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Martha Gehan Apr 20, 1999 03:35 PM

When Babbo first opened and it was possible to get a
reservation without engaging in major tactical planning
weeks in advance I went there frequently and was
consistently wowed. I returned last night for the
first time in a couple of months and the food is as
wonderful as ever. Four of us had the tasting
menu(everyone at the table must order it) with
accompanying wines. Seafood salad-good but not
great-crab,calamari,etc. w/greens in a lemony
vinaigrette, two excellent pastas-heavenly, ethereal
really, agnolotti w/asparagus and gnocchi w/rabbit
ragu, gnocchi chewy but not rubbery, ragu deliciously
spicy w/meat shredded like rillettes (I think that
Mario Batali's kitchens consistently produce the best
pasta I've ever had outside of Italy), knockout grilled
quail w/fennel and blood oranges-lip-smackingly
fabulous, we all ended up sucking the bones it was so
yummy, yogurt sorbetto (a weird idea that
works)w/roasted mango, then instead of the billed
chocolate hazlenut cake we were each given a different
dessert (at the request of one of our party). I lucked
out and got my all-time fave Babbo sweet (and one of
the best I've had anywhere) the saffron panna cotta.
Chocolate hazlenut cake was also good, a rhubarb
concoction I found rather wet-tasting and the other I
don't remember. But I'm not a sweet-lover and the
others liked it very much. Wines were all excellent
with a couple of stand-outs-and all were thoughtfully
paired with the foods they were offered with. Another
plus was that although at the end of the meal one had
certainly had enough to eat and drink we were neither
stuffed nor drunk. I'm made more than a little crazy
by restaurants that have prix-fixe and/or tasting menus
that present you with enormous plate after plate of
rich food ( Aureole, for one). It ruins my appetite.
This was just enough, and the three men I dined with
agreed, and two I know are considerable trenchermen.On
the downside, I didn't like sitting upstairs-too hushed
for me, I like the buzz downstairs better, and the
service of the wines lagged the food. The server
apologized for it about a hundred times and I don't
think it was her fault-the usually wine steward was I
think a bit off his game. But at $400 bucks before tax
and tip it was an annoyance. But a minor one, and
otherwise the service was excellent. I love this
place, and I think you all who haven't been there
should give it a shot.

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  1. r
    RENEE RE: Martha Gehan Apr 21, 1999 06:24 PM

    Thank you for your post Martha, it was a great report.
    We have a reservation there in a few weeks, you
    mentioned that you like the buzz of the downstairs,
    are you talking about their cafe or does the more
    formal restaurant have two levels? Thanks in advance.
    Renee

    2 Replies
    1. re: RENEE
      m
      Martha Gehan RE: RENEE Apr 22, 1999 01:08 PM

      There isn't really a cafe per se-just the bar area,with
      a couple of tables, which I believe is where walk-ins
      are seated. I've only eaten at the bar as a walk-in,
      which is more comfortable than I expected. Its fine
      for a casual meal, which is also a great way to
      experience Babbo. The restaurant itself has two levels
      and while both are attractive they are quite different.
      The upstairs is quiet and serene, with a cool sort of
      prettiness-white walls, mirrors and an enormous
      skylight. If you want to have a quiet meal its
      probably a better choice. I prefer the downstairs
      because you see people coming and going(aside from the
      fact that I love to eat I enjoy restaurants almost as
      much for the theater) and I'm a sucker for the very
      Italian atmosphere-warmer colors,etc. and a little less
      minimalist. Its just a little livelier and
      um-autentico- somehow than upstairs. But I don't think
      upstairs is Siberia and I'm pretty sure that no matter
      where you sit you'll have a good and maybe a great
      meal. Have a great time and let us all know what you
      think.

      1. re: Martha Gehan
        r
        Renee RE: Martha Gehan Apr 22, 1999 06:29 PM

        Thank you for your answer Martha, I was confusing
        Babbo with The Tonic, I believe the latter has a
        cafe. We are dining at Babbo in a few weeks and I
        will let you know our opinion of the restaurant, it
        sounds yummy and I can't wait.
        Renee

    2. r
      Renee RE: Martha Gehan May 21, 1999 03:59 PM

      My husband and I and another couple dined at babbo the
      other night, not all of us were pleased. Our friends
      shared the appetizer of anchovies and my husband and I
      shared the prosciuto, both were quite good. My friend
      and I each had the whole roasted fish, that was served
      to perfection and was delectable. Now the bad news,
      my husband ordered the barbecued squab, it was not to
      his liking, the bird was swimming in sauce and
      detracted from the flavor of the bird. The other
      gentleman ordered a penne dish, although the chef is
      known for his excellent pasta dishes, this one was not
      presented nicely and it was really not very good.
      The initial service was very polite, we arrived early
      and requested a table downstairs, the manager was very
      accomodating and selected a lovely table for the four
      of us. We requested to see the sommelier, after
      waiting for a decent amount of time, we had to make
      another request for his services. He seemed to be
      more interested in showing the waiter how to remove
      crumbs from the table with a table spoon. I do think
      this type of training should happen before guests
      arrive or after hours, I know the waiter was
      embarrased and it made my party feel uncomfortable for
      him.
      All in all, I don't know what the fuss is all about
      over Babbo. It is just another trendy Italian
      restaurant, good, but not great.
      Now all the lovers of Babbo, please don't shout back
      at me, this was our opinion and I am sharing it with
      you.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Renee
        g
        Gary Cheong RE: Renee May 21, 1999 07:41 PM

        Renee -- you are certainly entitled to your opinions
        about Babbo. Seems like Babbo is becoming a victim of
        its early success. As Jim always said, he encourages
        differing opinions (except maybe for that person
        posted about that truly awful Ray's Pizza in the
        Village in the Pizza thread). If any Babbo lovers
        shout at you, I'll shout back at them for you.

        BTW, thanks for releasing the Caps Lock key.

        1. re: Gary Cheong
          p
          Peter Krass RE: Gary Cheong Jun 15, 1999 03:01 PM

          Gotta agree with Renee: much ado about...well, not
          quite nothing, but certainly a lot less than what
          everyone's been raving about. For me -- a big fan of
          both Po and Felidia -- it was a big disappointment.

          First of all, getting reservations is still a difficult
          chore. We were told the earliest we could call was four
          weeks in advance. But when we called exactly four weeks
          before the night we wanted to go (anniversary dinner),
          we were promptly told that the only times left were 6
          and 10:30...not exactly prime times for a NYC dinner.

          Once we got there, the food had its moments, but
          overall failed to live up to the hype. Paparadelle with
          bolognese sauce was sublime. But the meat courses were,
          IMHO, merely good, by no means great. Desserts were
          tasty, but coffee at $3.75 a cup is essentially taking
          advantage of the inmates.

          The wine list is a challenge. First, it's also made up
          entirely of Italian wines, which is fine, but with so
          many unfamiliar names, we needed help...and advice from
          the staff was pretty minimal ("I like this one," "the
          people at the next table enjoyed this one," etc).
          Second, the menu is arranged by districts, again fine,
          but the wines are listed as if price were no object --
          a $300 wine right next to a $30 one. Let's get real--
          the first part of selecting wine is usually deciding
          how much you want to spend. If money were no object,
          we'd all be millionaires!

          The staff also indulged in a pretentious ritual of
          "basting" the wineglasses with a quarter-cup or so of
          your wine (which they then discard); our waiter
          explained this removed any foul-tasting impurities that
          had been unintentionally added to the glasses during
          their washing and subsequent "hand-finishing." He said
          it with a straight face, so I suppose he manages to
          convince a few tables now and then.

          Our dinner for 2 came to $200, which is a lot of money
          in my neck of the woods. I left thinking, "I don't get
          it." But is Babbo a trend that's ahead of my time, or a
          bad joke? Either way, I won't be back soon.

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