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Mario Batali & Lidia Bastianich: Enough Already

g
Googie Feb 8, 2007 10:01 AM

There's no question these two personalities struck the right chord in their respective culinary TV nitches. Their programs invite you into their kitchens where cultural and culinary delights are seemingly evoked just for you. But have you actually been to their "kitchens"?

First off, you'll certainly not find them there, and you'll be lucky if their influences still resonate in the food, its preparation and the service. I have no doubt that Mario or Lidia could come over your house and absolutely blow you away using any of the ingredients that might be lying around your refrigerator, but that's not what's going on here. Mario and Lidia are cooking by proxy (if that) - you're consuming a product created by businesses whose marketing departments are headed by very talented and personable chefs. And I think the uneveness and often underwhelming reviews of their respective and collaborative restaurant operations bear that out.

I'm not sure about you, but after a dissapointing yet quite expensive dining experience at one of their establishments, I've become increasingly fatigued and sceptical of both their on-air and off-air offerings.

Opinions?

  1. t
    TruDiner Feb 11, 2007 02:03 PM

    Everyone knows that the best thing about Mario Batali is his dad, who's Salumi Deli in Seattle's Pioneer Square has throngs of desperate insatiable foodies drooling in lines out the door like junkies at a methadone clinic. :) I'll be in NYC in 6 weeks and am looking forward to trying these places you've touched on. Cheers!

    1. g
      Googie Feb 11, 2007 01:33 PM

      Thanks! I really appreciate all the frank comments and based on the responses I will definitely try Babbo. Don't get me wrong, I love both personalities and I don't expect Mario and Lidia to be hand-rolling my gnocchi. but I do expect their influences to strongly resonate in the food and the dining experiences at their establishments. I'm sorry, but such personalitites (and claims) are subject to different standards and expectations than you and I, and let's not lose sight of the cost of such meals. It's become acceptable to drop $150 or $200 on a 2-person meal in NYC even for people of modest means, but how long would you debate the indulgence of dropping $200 on a pair of sneakers or shoes that would last you longer than some of these establishments have been (or will be) in business? I'm just saying, extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proofs - and I'm not letting anyone get away with anything in that regard.

      BTW - wanna make incrediable gnocchi that'll astound and amaze your friends in about 20 minutes? Mix white flour with whole fat ricotta and a little salt until it's the consistancy of soft bread dough. Hand roll into long "ropes" and cut into tootsie roll size pieces. Score and roll them them perpendicularly with fork tines to create ridges to hold onto the sauce (preferably pesto). Dust with flour for storage or cook immediately for 3-4 minutes. You'll be a superhero, guaranteed.

      1. g
        goat Feb 11, 2007 04:42 AM

        Of course Mario and Lidia are not going to be in the kitchen every night at every one of their 8 or so restaurants. But I think their influences resonate strongly at all of their establishments. Mario is around NYC enough to keep tabs on all of his places and I think that he and Lidia open restaurants that they would want to eat in, so their influence of both the food and the atmosphere could not get any stronger. The concept of Casa Mono and Bar Jamon were developed because Mario felt the need for a tiny tapa bar with great cured meats and apps that would stay open late, the type of place he (and other chefs) could go after work at Babbo or Lupa, etc...
        I also think that he probably has enough people working for him to help him maintain the high standards at all of his places. And yes of course, some people are going to have dinner at Babbo, or Lupa, or Casa Mono, or Otto and hate it because no restaurant is perfect. But is that Mario's fault if someone overcooks a piece of fish at Lupa but he is at Otto enjoying pizza? Not really. Oh yeah, by the way, if there an executive chef in NYC who is in their kitchen everynight to watch every plate go out? I don't think so. Often times, the places that you may rave about the food is a place where you did not eat the food of the executive chef, but the chef de cusine who was covering for the executive. Does that make it less enjoyable? Great restaurants and great restaurant groups do not just have one great chef, but a whole team...that's what makes them great.
        You cannot blame a guy for having a lot of success and having the opportunity to open a number of restaurants. Listen, if the guy had no talent, do you think that he would have this much success? You cannot say that Food Network is the only reason that his restaurants are popular. No city is more fickle about restaurants than NYC and if his food sucked, no New Yorker in their right mind would go there.
        Now, his decision to open restaurants is LA and Las Vegas, well, that's a different story...

        1. m
          mrnyc Feb 10, 2007 09:02 PM

          mario is not nino, he cant be everywhere....or can he? - lol!

          we ate at LUPA today. no mario.

          excellent blanched shredded squash salad w/ guanciale, pomegranate and sunflower seeds. also, another winner was the ricotta gnocchi w/ sausage and fennel ragu. for dessert we had mascarpone and spiced prunes -- ok so they skimped on the queso - there! i found one flaw!

          1. steve h. Feb 10, 2007 05:17 PM

            not to worry. deb, chris and i recently enjoyed dinners at both babbo and felidia. we're long-time customers and i'm comfortable recommending these two places. on a related note, easter sunday at lupa is a new tradition with us. i'll let you know if things don't pan out.

            1. n
              nativeNYer Feb 10, 2007 04:45 PM

              i agree with you, googie. i think you'll agree that, while you certainly don't expect these two to be cooking in every kitchen, it becomes a problem when their chefs stray too far from the real thing. i can see this happening very easily as mario and lidia continue to become more and more commercialized. thus, the 'enough already', at least in my opinion.

              1. d
                dee lannon Feb 10, 2007 04:32 PM

                Where did I hear someone saying something like "do they care if Armani sews every suit himself?"

                1. s
                  sophie fox Feb 10, 2007 04:00 PM

                  I've been to Babbo three times - wonderful food and fantastic wines all three times - and have seen Mario there twice. I think that the inspiration is there whether he's cooking or not, and any celebrity chef with any sense at all is going to have great people in the kitchen when they're not there. It was cool to see him, he has QUITE a personality, but the food was the whole point, and it was terrific.

                  Now that I think of it, I've had the tasting menu all three times, and I strongly recommend that. If you order the complimentary wines (meaning to go with the courses, they're not free, heh) , it's a lot of wine. Very, very good wine, to be sure, and very easy to drink.

                  1. g
                    Googie Feb 10, 2007 03:51 PM

                    Well I must admit it's mostly a case of over exposure (TV series, documentaries, restaurant syndicates, kitchen tools, books, etc) that's got me fatigued with that duo. That coupled with an exceptionally disappointing meal and brusque service at Felidia really turned me off. I also find it somewhat disingenuous that most of Lidia's dishes are heavily dependent on the cheese, salt, butter troika - hey, I can make any old stuff taste like grandma made it with that trio. Yes, my comments are a bit harsh, but I've been conditioned to be sceptical at the slightest sign of pretense.

                    1. nyufoodie Feb 8, 2007 09:26 PM

                      My bet is your either refering to Felidia or Del Posto. That's the only restos in their group that I can say is hit or miss at the moment which can really hurt at that price point. It is really difficult to expect a chef to be in his kitchen all the time specially when he is running a restaurant group but, I concur that Batali is maybe only one of the very few of the celebrity chefs who actually can still be seen or found in any of their kitchens or restos and both Lupa and Casa Mono remains as two of my favorite restos in the city.

                      1. j
                        JeremyEG Feb 8, 2007 07:21 PM

                        Mario's restaurants are good. Just like Microsoft's products are generally good even though Bill Gates doesn't personally install all the software. If you want to be sure the chef is in the kitchen, try Le Bernardin. I hear Ripert is there most nights.

                        I love Babbo. It's delicious and consistant. Eat well!

                        Jeremy

                        1. r
                          Ricky Feb 8, 2007 01:00 PM

                          I've actually had lunch at Lupa on one occasion and Mario came out of the kitchen to ask me how things were.

                          1. ChefJune Feb 8, 2007 12:58 PM

                            Seems to me if you have a specific gripe, you ought to state it. Clearly Mario can't possibly be at all of his restaurants, nor does he ever claim to be. But I'd be surprised if on any given night you couldn't find him in the kitchen at ONE of the many places he owns and oversees in New York.

                            As for Lidia, I haven't eaten at Del Posto, altho I hear she's been spending some time there. She does, however, have a very talented chef in Fortunato Nicotra at Felidia. I've had great meals there both with and without her in the house.

                            and the last time I was at Becco, we had fabulous hand-made pasta...

                            1. s
                              Sean Dell Feb 8, 2007 12:51 PM

                              My meals at Babbo have been fantastic. My favorite of his joints is Lupa. I was there last night and it was great.

                              I never expect him to be backstage, as long as they folks at the sharp end are doing his bidding..

                              - Sean

                              1. NiKoLe1625 Feb 8, 2007 12:39 PM

                                I've eaten at Babbo when Mario is in the kitchen! The food there is amazing regardless! I've never had a bad meal there. Del Posto however is hit or miss. Maybe its just because they are still very new, but I had one FANTASTIC meal there and then one that was just OKAY! Otto is one of my favorite spots for a quick meal (as long as the wait isnt ridiculous). Everytime i eat there i don't have a reservation and have NO problem getting a table. The pizza is great and the dessert (esp the olive oil gelato) is amazing! For a chef like Mario, its SO hard to be at EVERY restaurant all the time! If you are lucky though you will definitely catch him at Babbo. He's there A LOT!

                                1. n
                                  nychowgirl Feb 8, 2007 11:15 AM

                                  He can't be everywhere all at once, but I'd say Mario Batali actually spends a lot more time in his restaurants than most other chefs with his celeb status. (...I've seen him at Babbo and at Otto...) I give him a lot of credit for that.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: nychowgirl
                                    King of Northern Blvd Feb 8, 2007 11:31 AM

                                    I read in an interview with him that he actually works the line alot at Babbo during the 7-9 crunch. I don't know how true that is but that's what he said.

                                  2. w
                                    wingman Feb 8, 2007 10:45 AM

                                    I thought Becco was awful but thought Babbo was one of the meals of my life; I've also really enjoyed Otto and Lupa - not sure what your rant is really about to tell you the truth. Are you upset that Mario isn't in his clogs in the kitchen; or is there a particular restaurant you're complaining about?

                                    1. jfood Feb 8, 2007 10:17 AM

                                      My first meal at Felidia was in 1981 and it was fantastic. Ate there regularly in the early 80's then changed offices. Fast forward to 2006 and an invite comes for Felidia's. Very excited to re-visit an old haunt.

                                      Ordered a buch of food and I was somewhat disappointed. Not only was it not as great as I remembered (I know when is it ever) it was not great to others in the recent past. Was it because Lidia was not there. Well she walked out of the kitchen mid-meal in her famous flowered grandma dress and greeted many tables.

                                      Are they being driven by "Marketing Departments"? Gimme a break and stop the corporate bashing, enough already.

                                      1. b
                                        bac528 Feb 8, 2007 10:11 AM

                                        Although Babbo and Del Posto are two of my favorite restaurants, I have to agree with you...without fabulously talented chefs in their kitchens, they'd be out of business....neither one of them is anywhere to be seen, although I heard from my sister in law that she spotted Mario eating in, of all places, Otto, which I detested!!

                                        1. pitu Feb 8, 2007 10:10 AM

                                          I had a pretty good, occasionally great meal at Babbo that made me cook out of Batali's books alot more . . . you have to order some of the signature fresh pasta dishes and things with ingredients you don't have access to, to get your money's worth imho. And even then . . .
                                          I totally agree that you're paying for the tv fame, and the tv fame keeps these folks out of their kitchens.

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