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Babbo - terrible experience!

I hadn't been back to Babbo in a while, but have had great experiences there, and have been dreaming about the ravioli so thought I'd give it another try - it was one of the worst experiences I've ever had!

Food and service was poor all around, and dining on a Sunday should not be an excuse for a second rate meal, and third rate service.

Upon arriving, we were treated wonderfully, and felt right at home; but that was short lived. Our waiter was technically good (with ingredients, explanations etc), but brusque - I kept on thinking of used car salesmen.

We asked to speak to a sommelier, as the extensive wine list was a lot to contemplate, and we needed some help navigating it - anyway, that's the sommelier's job. We also ordered at that time (asparagus, sardines, goose liver ravioli, king salmon, sweetbreads). The first course was brought out BEFORE the sommelier even showed!

Sorry, but I think that's so unprofessional and sloppy! We complained and the waiter came over and said, "I guess he's too busy, or forgot," and then corrected my pronunciation of "sommelier!" We were shocked at the rudeness, and sloppiness. The waiter did find us a nice bottle (as i said, technically he was knowledgeable, but of course, our food had already arrived), and service was non-existent after that: water glasses were left empty, wine wasn't poured, plates weren't cleared, and the waiter made one cursory stop to ask how things were, but did not stick around for an answer - perhaps he saw our half-eaten plates, and decided it was better not to have an answer.

Perhaps we should have spoken to the manager immediately, but waited until we exited and then had a short discussion with him.

Regarding the food: the ravioli was underdone, the sweetbreads were lifeless and runny, the salmon was average.

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  1. ive been saying for years that batali can't cook...he's just a great salesman.

    babbo has never impressed me and ive given them 3 opportunities over 7 years.

    10 Replies
    1. re: sam1

      In the great city of New York, the choices for great dining are almost endless. It is time to UNITE against overpriced, pretentious, absentee run "celebrity" restaurants. I vote with my wallet and appreciate the owners that actual are IN the kitchen and COOKING in their restaurants (often 7 days a week due to pride and passion about their food and the desire to make sure their guests have a great experience every time).

      When the rude waiter corrected your pronuncitaion of sommelier you could have said, "Oh, perhaps my pronunciation is the reason why he never showed up at my #$%^ table you snooty %&^$^&* " !

      1. re: TonyO

        I don't mind it if the celeb cooks aren't there, as long as the staff is well-trained, with oversight - something sorely lacking at Babbo; they're just coasting. Perhaps an easy example of a well-trained staff/kitchen is Les Halles? I've always found that restaurant reliable, personable and consistent.

        Some years back I went to Daniel, and when a waiter brought out a dish before we had finished with the plates we had, someone in charge ran over (chef? maitre d?), told the waiter in no strong terms to go back to kitchen and wait until we're done, and apologized to us - that's just common sense and manners, and showed they cared about quality and our experience there.

        1. re: peckslip

          I fully agree that a staff should be trained so a guest can't tell (and shouldn't care!) if the Greay Clogged One is in the house. However, in my many years in the restaurant business (and as a customer) there seems to be difference in performance between places that have the owner (assuming they are hands on and competent) and those left to a manager / staff. Granted, there are exceptions and it is unfortunate that when the "cat is away......" . I find that this holds true on many levels of dining from casual through fine dining. Places like Les Halles and the maitre d' at Daniel should be applauded. Maybe someday more establishments / employees will act in such a manner and employees like the overcompensated/spoiled waiter at Babbo will be unemployed (or at least out of the restaurant industry).

          1. re: TonyO

            Les Halles downtown is so inconsistent I stopped going along time ago. He needs to get in the restaurant and off of the TV show.

          2. re: peckslip

            I can't say I agree with you regarding Les Halles. I think they have an incredibly poorly trained staff. Even when its empty, I find it hard to locate my waiter/waitress to get another drink or place my order.

            I've never had anything but great food and service at Babbo and I'm sorry they let you down. There is no excuse for being treated like that.

            1. re: ESNY

              I guess I've been lucky at Les Halles - but I've also gotten to know people there so maybe that smooths things.

              This morning I spoke to the manager at Babbo, and he was very concerned took my complaints very very seriously - i relayed only my feelings about the (lack of) service, and not about food. He did want to know whether this tainted any possibility about my returning, and I said that it did.

        2. re: sam1

          I'd say almost the opposite. What he CAN do is cook--although it's clear he hasn't been in the kitchen in a heck of a long time. What he can't do is come up with a restaurant that is anywhere near commensurate with his cooking talent. He manages to find people who can cook, but the rest of the operation is sadly uneven at every one of his restaurants. Anyone who would design a restaurant like Babbo (cramped, noisy, dark) obviously doesn't think that anything matters but the food, which is an opinion I'm willing to go along with at a taco truck, but not a place with much higher prices.

          1. re: jasmurph

            I completely disagree with sending a meal back to the kitchen to wait. It will sit on the counter and get cold and they will either nuke it when you are ready or throw it back on the fire and it will be over cooked. Just eat it when it comes because thats when it was meant to be eaten!! I would rather have 2 dishes served together and bee good then spaced out perfectly and be flat.

            1. re: sam1

              this babbo ripping is absurd. i think the hyperbole on chowhound is laughable at times. you may not like a place, but to indict a very accomplished chef as a hack is very silly and smacks of one's own general negativity.. i love batali.. even if he is famous and babbo is enamored with itself ( which i have never encountered for the record). babbo (two visits) was a top five meal in 13 years of serious manhattan eating....

            2. I had an experience at Babbo with waiter like this once. He continually saw fit to correct the pronunciation of the person who was treating us all to dinner there, because English was not his first language and he had an accent (although he and his wife understand the language fine, and have lived in NYC, Europe, and various places in Asia for over 35 years). He continued to serve us with an air of being put upon and treating every interaction with obvious exasperation, at one point looking right past my friends and asking me what "they" wanted for dessert. And finally he saw fit to be both personally and ethnically insulting when presenting the check, using a mock accent to remind my friend to tip him properly, and then turning it into a completely tasteless ethnic joke. I was floored! When I complained to the restaurant's (deeply snooty) host, and asked to see the manager, I was told that the manager didn't have time to talk to us, and anyway that people of my friend's ethnicity needed to learn to tip better so that waiters wouldn't act that way towards them.

              The food may have been OK, but the experience was one of the worst I have ever had in a restaurant anywhere in the world. Needless to say I have never darkened their door again.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Woodside Al

                You were much too kind. The obnoxious jackass that somehow felt he (and the jackass host) were better because they worked at Babbo needed to be read the riot act, on the spot, without mercy. Maybe then, the all too busy manager would have been able to have been pulled away from Lindsay Lohan's table.

              2. Babbo is a rip. I don't need an acne-faced waiter to tell me the significance of different wines and cheeses after growing up in Italy. There are many places I'd prefer to eat with better food and half the attitude. I think they get so many tourists for whom Italian food is a whole new adventure, and for them I think Babbo is probably a great night out.

                2 Replies
                1. re: sing me a bar

                  just curious - what are the places you prefer to go for good italian food than babbo? i know there are lots of threads on italian food, but probably none that directly compare themselves to places with lots of hype such as babbo. i myself have not been there. but i'd love to hear your pics!

                  1. re: shirlotta

                    I like Perbacco in the east village, but more for their pastas and starters; not crazy about their entrees. I've also had real good experiences at the Italian restaurant at the corner of White and Church - forget the name, but it's in the location of the old Baby Doll Lounge.

                2. SPEAK UP........BABBO DOESN'T COME CHEAP

                  1. I haven't been to Babbo in about a year: i went twice last summer: the first time was excellent all around, the second was uneven at best...but given a recent bad experience at Lupa (and dozens of other Lupa troubles reported here), i'm not surprised at all by your Babbo story...my gf and i were just discussing this evening whether we wanted to hit any of the Batali joints this summer, and my vote was to look elsewhere...

                    sidenote: my current fav upscalish Italian in the city is Il Giglio...totally different food from Babbo but the Caesar salad and the Shrimp Fra Diavolo are great and i'll take their old-school Italian faux-formality over Lupa/Babbo/Otto faux-hip snottiness any day...

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Simon

                      That's too bad to hear about Babbo. I went there for the first time last fall with my boyfriend and my parents. I had been a little worried that we average folks might not get treated too well at such a high end restaurant, but our waiter was charming and attentive (and it's not like we ordered a ton of wine) and we were mesmerized with the food.

                    2. I have to say that I'm really surprised to hear these Babbo stories. With the exception of one slightly snotty waiter, I have had nothing but great experiences there. I have found the food to be remarkably consistent over the course of dozens of visits. I also enjoy the lack of stuffiness. I remember a dinner at Cru a couple years ago where I was seated next to a woman who barely touched her food. Course after course she poked at the food and then put her fork down. It was clear she just didn't eat. The annoying part was that all night, waiters and managers would come over to see if they could bring her something she might like more and asking her if the dishes were to her liking. At a certain point, it's the diner's problem if he/she just doesn't like the food.

                      I think Babbo truly believes that they serve good food (and I agree). If it's not your thing, don't waste your money there. It's not for everyone and you should never have to tolerate prententious or innattentive service. But they serve their food, and provide you with simple, reasonable, service and that's it. If you like it go, if not, you're not going to get a staff of people crowding around you wondering how they can make your night better.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: JeremyEG

                        You shouldn't be surprised to hear these stories at all on this board. It is instead a reflection of what it's become, Not a celebration of wonderful food, but a place where people can complain about their experiences and feel superior of their "knowledge" of food and the industry. All of Mario's places have between good and amazing food. They are well run, and he has NEVER made any assertion that you will find him in the kitchen. In fact, what well known, top chef will you find regularly in their kitchens. And if he did, which one would he be in? Otto? Lupa? Babbo?

                        I have had wonderful experiences in every one of his places. The food is unique, of high quality and more than makes up for service that can sometimes be lacking.

                        Bottom line is, don't be discouraged to enjoy Otto and make an opinion of your own!

                        1. re: MrNubbins

                          With respect to JeremyEG and MrNubbins, my issue was with the service, not the food (tho that was mentioned - perhaps the service tainted our entire experience?). When I spoke to the manager, I said not one word about the food, as that is subjective (to a point); the issue was with protocal, rudeness, sloppiness, and no oversite (the manager having to come over on his own to fill our wine glasses because the wait staff is absent??) - diners can forgive an evening of food being off, but managers can never forgive a poorly run establishment; he even said that it was unacceptable, and this wasnt the first time that he's heard this.

                          I go out to eat to enjoy myself, to try something new - I am certainly not above any restaurant, and no restaurant is above me, and have no desire to trade off terrible service for good food - if anyone wants to pay to be treated like dirt, be my guest.

                          And yes, I've heard good things about Otto, and yes I have had good experiences at Babbo in the past. But this was beyond the pale.

                      2. Sorry to hear about your bad experience. Conversely, I was there last Thursday night with my wife and 18 year old daughter and, I must say, my experience was just the opposite. We were given respectful and constant attention from numerous waiters and assistants. The food (we all had the pasta tasting with the wine pairings for my wife and I) was absolutely flawless and showed amazing creativity.

                        My only complaint (if you can call it that) is that it was really just way too much food (8 courses). If I could suggest one change to them, it would be to offer the pasta tasting in a 6 course option as well as the usual 8 course option.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: JPAub

                          That sounds really great! The way it ought to be.

                          The wait staff works the entire upstairs or downstairs rooms, not just individual tables, so I'm wondering if on Sundays, or other off days, all supervision is out the window? Probably why the general manager was upset, but not surprised.

                          I'm really glad you had a good time.

                          BTW, anyone have any good recommendations for sweatbreads? I've had them at Prune (not recently), and thought they were wonderful there.

                          1. re: peckslip

                            it was a while ago that i had them there, but casa mono's sweetbreads were really good. and the langostine. mmm.

                            1. re: shirlotta

                              I had those sweetbreads (again) on Thursday night - simple and fantastic!!!

                        2. I was there recently. Everything was fine.

                          1. We were there 3 weeks ago on a Friday for dinner. Very busy night, but just like the previous times that we were there, our dishes were very good ( as close to the presentation, flavors and ingredients of very good restaurants that we've been to in Italy), our waiters were courteous, attentive and not overbearing; the sommelier was very helpful ... and he poured for us whenever he sensed that our wait staff were busy.

                            Based on our experiences, we're excited to go again.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: RCC

                              We had a lousy experience at Babbo that was the result of the staff, not the food, which was good. I'd made a reservation online, which was confirmed via telephone. When we got there, we were told our reservation was for an hour later, which was not true. The host/mgr. whatever he was, was rude about it. Unfortunately, I did not bring my cell phone, on which I had the voice mail confirmation. So we stood there by the bar, figuring we would roll with it. I ordered a Bellini and the bartender said they had a pitcher of rhubarb Bellinis all ready to go, did i want to try that; I said yes. The rhubarb Bellini was super-sweet. I've had Bellinis before and this was overly sugary, so I told him I didn't care for it, that it was too sweet; he looked at me like I was an idiot and said, "It's a Bellini." Like: it's supposed to taste like that.
                              We waited for over an hour for our table, standing, since when the seats at the bar open up, they go to people who want to eat at the bar. Once we were at our table, the food was good, but then they cranked up the music, which was Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti -- an album I really like, but don't want to shout over at dinner.
                              I wouldn't go there again b/c it was just an atmosphere of ungracious arrogance.

                              1. re: exiledcal

                                My few visits to Babbo have been generally happy ones, but I did have one episode that makes me laugh. The waitress asked if we were ready to order, I said yes, and nodded to my partner to order first. He ordered, and the waitress turned and disappeared. It took nearly ten minutes to get someone's attention to tell them I had not yet ordered. The waitress then took my order. In 2 minutes the first course was brought to the table (the one my partner ordered). We had to tell the clueless person who delivered it that we were both eating and to please bring the courses at the same time. No apologies, no acknowledgement of error. Otherwise no problems.

                                1. re: rrems

                                  My husband and I had dinner at Babbo this past Wednesday. It was our second time there. The food was superb as was the wine service and waitstaff. The pasta dishes, especially, were incredible. Battali was cooking on Wednesday, maybe that made a difference, maybe not. We love the room, the energy and yes, the music, in addition to the well-executed food.

                                2. re: exiledcal

                                  I never had issues with the volume of the music at Babbo. Lucky you that you were dining while having one of the best double-album of all time, i.e. Physical Graffiti, playing.

                              2. My experience there was similiar, food was incredibly bland and sweetbreads came out cold. I was especially underwhelmed by the pasta--it tasted like bad red sauce pasta and there was too much sugar in it. The overall ambiance was not good and our meal was very disappointing. Not sure why there's so much hype around this place.