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Babbo of Chicago

Hello All!

A recent transplant from Manhattan looking for a Babbo-style restaurant in Chicago. (I'm reading 'Heat' right now and missing Mario...) Any suggestions? I'm craving a plate of fresh pasta with a light sauce and a great glass of red wine.

I'm a city girl, so I don't go out to the suburbs, but anywhere in the city works for me!



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  1. Unfortunately for all of us, there really is nothing that comes to mind.

    1. I wrote about this once before. I do not believe there is anything that has the hipness factor of Babbo combined with the rustic simplicity Babbo offers. However, the pastas at Cafe Spiaggia definitely are up to par with Babbo. It just is a completely different atmosphere...more quiet and less bustling than Babbo. I think Cafe Spiaggia's pastas are unbeatable. There are usually no more than 5 ingredients in each, all amazingly fresh and tasty. Enjoy.

      1. OK, I haven't been to Babbo (despite several tries), but for excellent pasta with a glass of red wine I would go to Cafe Spiaggia or Coco Pazzo.

        Cafe Spiaggia is the less formal sister restaurant to Spiaggia, which is fine-dining Italian. The pastas there are fabulous. Their signature pasta is a "guitar-string" pasta with a wild boar ragu, which is not light, but I've had the guitar string pasta as a special with wild mushrooms and it was wonderful.

        Coco Pazzo also has great pasta. I haven't had a pasta there that I haven't liked. Their gnocchi is wonderful and light. Their risottos are not light, but they are consistently outstanding.

        1. What is Babbo and what makes it so unique?

          I'm sure there are places all over New York where you can get good pasta and good wine, just like you can here.

          1. nsxtasy...Babbo really is a special place. It is one of Mario Batalli's restaurants. Most of the food is very rustic in nature with very simple ingredients (maybe just pasta with olive oil, a bit of porcini, and some reggiano, etc.). What makes it stand out is that everything is impeccable in freshness. At the same time, Mario has built a place that oozes hipness without pretentiousness. When you get in to Babbo, which is a feat in itself, you feel lucky to be there.

            We owe a lot of thanks to Babbo as it was one of the firsts to start the charcuterie resurgence that is so popular in many of our restaurnats here.

            1. Cafe Spiaggia for sure. Great pasta, great wine.
              Doesn't have the bustling atmosphere of Babbo though, more subdued.

              1. Alternately, Follia might fit the bill.

                1. Thanks everyone for your suggestions! I'll start have to start making my way through the list!

                  nsxtasy, Babbo is hands down the best dining experience I've had in Manhattan. As NDJ mentioned, the atmosphere there is truly unique. It's a small place in the Village full of a wide range of people all there to enjoy Batalli-style Italian food. (Reservations are booked a month in advance, but they keep some of the tables open for walk-ins and you'll see a lot of regulars eating at the bar after work.) The pastas have a ton of fresh flavor, but aren't heavy and there are ingredients and combinations you don't really find elsewhere.


                  Check out the pasta tasting menu.

                  1. As NinaS just noted in another topic, Mario Batali will be at Fox and Obel for a book signing on March 10.

                    Fox & Obel Food Market
                    401 E. Illinois Street
                    Chicago, IL 60611

                    If you drive to Fox and Obel (which I love, BTW), they have free valet parking in front of the store. They also validate for free self-parking with purchase (up to 90 minutes) if you park in the garage for the AMC movie theaters which are on the block kitty-corner to the northwest from F&O (you can enter from either Grand or Illinois).

                    1. Babbo is unbelievably good. To say that Chicago has nothing to compare is not to put down Chicago because neither any where else and nothing in New York is as good
                      I went with an attitude thinking that the food network hype was perhaps just hype.
                      I was very happy with the well priced wined and delicious food. Many dishes not traditional Italian but nice renditions done a little more upscale and using local ingredients.
                      Many of the dishes can be found in his cookbooks.
                      When I visited I was on a 1 week tour of New York and I ate at all of the zagat mentioned upscale Italian places. Babbo was the best

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: foodbeast

                        In Bill Bufford's book "Heat", which recounts his time spent in Batali's kitchen training under Mario (and later, training in Italy under people who taught Mario), Bufford drops hints throughout the book that if one wants to get the same flavors as Batali, one won't find it in the cookbooks. In some cases, he explains that there are conditions unlikely to be duplicated in a home kithcen, such as the higher accumulation of starch content in the pasta water of a restaurant, a splash of which is added to many sauces. But in other places, Bufford refers to ingredients or techniques that are not included in the books that make all the difference.

                        Not sure if that's a "keep the secrets" thing, or merely an honest attempt by Batali and/or any ghostwriters/collaborators to adapt restaurant techniques to a home kitchen context, but Bufford mentions such things several times, enough to get the point across that the cookbooks are at best a starting point for trying to cook like Batali, even if one is using the cookbook recipe for the exact dish one is interested in. It appeared to me that Bufford thinks this is an important point.

                      2. If you want simple, great authentic Italian...Please run and don't walk to Sapori's on Halsted. Very friendly, cozy atmosphere. Not pretentious and the food is the star.

                        1. Rather than trying to find a Babbo clone, why not look at some of Chicago's great Italian restaurants on their own right...

                          A few in the more "semi-haute italian" category that you'll probably like:

                          A Tavola
                          Riccardo Trattoria
                          Va Pensiero

                          And there are many other solid offerings in the "trendy" and "basic/rustic" categories...I would look forward to your comparison/contrast...

                          1. While I agree there's no restaurant in Chicago exactly on par with Babbo (which I ate at once and thought was fantastic), I think Cafe Spiaggia and Follia come the closest.

                            1. I'm sorry to say I've never been to Babbo, but Terragusto in Lakeview/Roscoe Village has phenomenal handmade pastas. It's not a scene-y type place, but a cozy neighborhood spot.

                              1. My wife and I had a wonderful meal at Terragusto the other night and picked up some fresh pasta yesterday, which we cooked up at home for a great Sunday dinner. If you're in the neighborhood, it's a great choice. Food is simple, hearty and made with great ingredients - many of which are organic and locally grown, which is an added bonus if you care about that stuff. Pasta is definitely the star.

                                1. hate to say it, but we had an AWFUL meal at Terragusto. Long story short: Sat an hour after our reservation as it was "lost". Then, one of the chefs was out, so we waited FIFTY MINUTES after ordering our first two pastas and another THIRTY for the second two. We tried four different pastas, none tasted homemade. All were bland and average at best.

                                  1. Love BABBO, Love HEAT... I bought that book for my boyfriend (mario wannabe) after reading the first two chapters while still standing in the bookstore, that's how good it is! Ok anyway, back to food... it is not as 'classy' or 'stylish' as BABBO, but please try Enoteca Roma on Division in Wicker Park.. it is quite delicious!