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Nov 4, 2007 08:24 PM

How far would you go out of your way for Babbo?

I'm planning a culinary trip for my fiancee. We'll be eating at Le Bernardin, Blue Hill, Bouley, Gramercy Tavern, Yasuda, Balthazar, Clinton Street Baking Company, Daniel, and Aquavit...

I called a few days late for Babbo, so I could only get odd times for reservations which would completely throw off our schedule.

So my question is, is it still worth it? How far would you go out of your way / how much disruption to your plans would you tolerate for Babbo?

Thank you!

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  1. It's obvious to anyone who reads this board with any regularity that Babbo has a boatload of Hound fans who might be willing to sell their first-born to snag a reservation there. lol I have never been to Babbo for one reason: I don't do restaurants where they make you phone up one or two months to the exact day of only to find yourself dialing and re-dialing and re-dialing.... In my view, there is no restaurant anywhere on the planet that is worth jumping through those kinds of hoops. There are plenty of Italian restaurants in NYC where you can get a superb meal and make a reservation with relative ease.

    Btw, you certainly have an excellent line-up there though I'm sorry that my favorite, Eleven Madison Park, is mia. :-(

    18 Replies
    1. re: RGR

      RGR: Thank you so much for the reply. And I have to say, I really respect your principle.

      And you'll be glad to hear this: I deliberately left out EMP because I know it's good. I already have Le Bernardin and I don't want to overload this one trip. That's the same reason why I didn't include Per Se, Masa, Jean Georges, Gordon Ramsay, Robuchon, and I'm thinking of leaving out Bouley and Daniel for something a little different / more casual.

      Although, my guess is that you'd be upset that EMP is compared to the other restaurants on this list!

      1. re: RGR

        I've got to disagree with you here.... Babbo is the most relevant italian restaurant outside of Italy, period. It has faults,you may not like the music, the crass service sometimes or Batali's rampant commercialism but the food still kicks ass after all these years. So yeah, I think it is worth the 15 minutes of my life on the phone 30 days in advance.....A good easy and relatively inexpensive alternative is to sit in the bar room at Del Posto, you dont need reservations most nights.... if you need more casual, Momofuku Ssam continues to have the local foodies atwitter with Chef Chang racking up the awards...skip balthazar (touristy) and daniel (way past its prime)....Joel Robuchon would be a good replacement for Daniel....

        1. re: Cpalms

          Hi Cpalms!

          Thanks for the reply. Balthazar is for breakfast, we'll be in the area so I thought it's a pretty safe choice.
          And as I mentioned above, I'm thinking of crossing out Daniel altogether.

          Anyway, so going back to my original question: given your love for Babbo, how far would you go out of your way / how much disruption to your plans would you tolerate to eat there?


          1. re: JohnnyBooy

            I like Balthazar for breakfast for what it's worth - and seems to me that there are usually quite a few "locals" there.

              1. re: JohnnyBooy

                Are you going to the main dining room at Aquavit? I was a little disappointed at the cafe recently, but that foie gras ganache people talk about in the main dining room sounds wonderful.

                1. re: MMRuth

                  Yeah, dining room. The thing is we don't like going back to the same restaurants, so if I have to go to one of Aquavit / Cafe I figure we may as well choose the dining room...

                  1. re: JohnnyBooy

                    Good - sounds like a wonderful visit you have planned!

              2. re: MMRuth

                Ditto, and weekend brunch there is quite good (waffles, french toast, le panier bread basket) and lively.

              3. re: JohnnyBooy

                I like the Balthazar breakfast, I had a saturday dinner in mind when I said skip it....

                If I was from out of town and had never been there, My culinary trip to NY would be incomplete without Babbo but then I again I live for Italian food. My guess given your other choices is that you and your husband are far more francophiles than italophiles (is that a word?) so it may not mean nearly as much to you as it would to me....another option is eating at the bar (no reservations) in Babbo, this could be your casual dinner (relative to other high end places in manahatan Babbo is a bargain) do a search here it has been discussed extensively...

                1. re: Cpalms

                  fiancee is wife! =)

                  I am from New York myself, but my fiancee is not, nor will she return any time soon.

                  Yeah you know what, I'm thinking I may try walk-in option late one night...

              4. re: Cpalms

                While i like that you mentioned some of the downsides (music, service, etc), i gotta say that "most relevant" made me cringe a bit...i understand the rationale, etc. but i just hate to give Batali any more self-importance than he already has...but i do get the meaning: if the OP wants to widely survey the NYC restaurant scene, then, yes, to visit/review Babbo is in order...

                That said, i've eaten at Babbo twice: the first meal rocked, mainly because of the roasted porcini starter, which i admit was one the yummiest items i ate that year (2006?)...the second meal was mediocre at best: i sent back a horrible candy-like beet salad and the pork chop was forgettable...i might have gone back again but, a) i boycotted Batali places entirely because of snotty service/attitude at all of the restaurants, and b) i moved to Bangkok

                but i'll also add that, just on personal preference, Babbo wouldn't even make it into my top five Italian places in NYC...

              5. re: RGR

                RGR, I completely agree that no restaurant is worth making a reservation one month in advance - I can barely tell you where I will be tomorrow or the day after. I also have never made a reservation at Babbo. That being said, if you show up at or after 9 on a weekday, you most likely won't have to wait more than 30 minutes for a table in the front area (and if it is too crowded you are in the middle of the W. Village and can go almost anywhere). While the meal is not worth the pain of calling a month in advance, but it is worth a 20 minute wait at the bar with a quartino of Italian red wine.

                I enjoy reading your posts as you always have insightful commentary on NY restaurants, but I think you are doing yourself a disservice by not checking out Babbo.

                1. re: john

                  Thanks for the compliment, john. :-)

                  I'm aware that one can do a walk-in at Babbo. However, with very few exceptions, my husband and I don't go to restaurants, especially very popular ones, without a firm reservation. Furthermore, I don't drink, so I wouldn't find hanging out in a bar area waiting for a table for 30 minutes a very exciting prospect. The bottom line here is that I'm not a huge Batali fan, and I have no burning desire to go to Babbo.

                  1. re: RGR

                    Understood, but perhaps you should employ the strategy my girlfriend takes - sends me early to wait and shows up basically when the table is ready...

                2. re: RGR

                  I absolutely agree with you about Babbo's reservation policy. It's ridiculous, and whoever answers the phone is very snotty.
                  I did eat there one evening- had an awful time. We sat upstairs - it was horrible noisy, and the food was ok. Maybe we hit it on a bad night, but I don't think we will return.

                  1. re: poolers


                    Even though I posted a reply on this saying there are better restaurants that are easier to reserve, I feel you cannot blame Babbo for its success, and the reservation policy gives everyone an equal shot. You just have to plan in advance. The woman with the British accent who usually answers the phone is one of the most polite and cordial reservationists I have ever spoken with, and on the rare occasion that someone else took my call I don't recall any snottiness. I have never found the upstairs room to be overly noisy. I think you may have had an off night and should give it another chance.

                    1. re: poolers

                      By "policy" do you mean the fact that they begin to take reservations 30 days in advance (or is it 60, I can't remember?)

                      When do the restaurants you dine at begin taking reservations? Can I make one for next spring?

                      Maybe they're just not as popular? I can't find fault in a restaurant for being popular.

                  2. If you cannot get the reservation you want, It is not worth it. Try l'Impero or Alto instead. I've been to l'Impero and liked it a bit more than Babbo. I have not been to Alto yet, but they were both reviewed in the Times last week and l'Impero got 2 stars, Alto 3 stars. Alto is priced slightly higher than l'Impero, but they are both roughly in the same range as Babbo.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: rrems

                      totally agree here. babbo is meh in my opinion...your other choices are solid. go to alto instead.

                      1. re: rrems

                        Another sensible reply. Thank you!

                      2. Hi JohnnyBooy,

                        I think you should try Del Posto if you really can't get a reservation at a good time for Babbo. The food at Del Posto is very similar to Babbo flavor-wise. The differences are the presentation of the food (more "sophisicated" or others refere as "pretentious"), portion (smaller at Del Posto), and the ambience and decor (Babbo much more rustic and causal; Del Posto more grand and refined). The service was MUCH more attentive at Del Posto, and the price is slightly higher.

                        In terms of food, Del Posto actually has more selections, but I will not recommend any dishes that are listed as "XX for 2" as they are overpriced and not particularly special.

                        Other dishes are very much at the same level. The pasta which are the winners at both restaurants, are certainly comparable.

                        Reservation at Del Posto is 10 times easier!

                        While L'Impero and Alto are fine restaurants, I wouldn't recommend them as a substitute for Babbo as they are completely different from the food and styles of Babbo. If you are thinking about trying something different then they are fine options.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: kobetobiko

                          Very informative reply. Thanks so much!
                          I'm definitely thinking about Del Posto. But, you know, I'd always have the lingering thought that it's not Babbo. It's like eating at Per Se but still wanting to try French Laundry one day, you know?

                          Anyway, thanks!

                          1. re: JohnnyBooy

                            I have been to The French Laundry and am glad I experienced it, but would not go out of my way to return. On the other hand I took a 10:30 pm reservation at Babbo the last time I was in New York and can't wait to go back. I thought it was one of the best italian meals I have ever had. That said I am a Batali fan and had another memorable meal at Mozza when I was in LA a few weeks back.

                            I am one of those people who will rearrange other events to dine, so I think it depends on your perspective. I also think you have an outstanding line-up already and might not need to add another place.

                            1. re: Annapolis07

                              Haha, I feel like you're pulling me back towards the Babbo option...

                              1. re: JohnnyBooy

                                Hi Johnny,

                                You know you can try walk-in and sit at the bar without reservation at Babbo right? If you line up at around 5pm and wait for the restaurant to open at 5:30pm, you are likely to score the bar seating.

                        2. If you have a reservation - do it; doesn't matter what time it is - my one meal at Babbo will eternally be the favorite of my life. Granted I had amazing company and it was a fantastic evening but I have never had an experience close to it.

                          1. Babbo is phenomenal -- one of my top high-end meals in the city -- but it isn't worth jumping through hoops. Go to Lupa instead.