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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.

                            1. it's always a pleasure to dine at babbo. the sense of fun and "good eats" increases the more you go. familiarity lets you appreciate the bar, the menu, the wines and so on. don't treat the place as a major destination. rather, treat it is a comfortable neighborhood spot with really good food and a few minor quirks.

                              1. I would go VERY far out of my way to eat at Babbo. Spent my birthday there in August and the wife and I had the tasting/wine pairing for two. I think she referred to the meal as her "electric chair" meal. Easily one of the best meals we've ever had.

                                1. If you are, or know somebody who is, an American Express Platinum card member, then you can have their concierge service make the reservation fro you.

                                  IMHO, Babbo is, arguably one of the best Italian restaurant outside of Italy. Having said that, I still believe that no restaurant is worth severe disruptions to travel plans. However, even as I'm impressed with, and a fan of, the restaurants in your list above, I'd willingly bump off any one of them if I can score a reservation Babbo.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: RCC

                                    That is a bold statment considering Le B, Daniel and Yasuda are on that list...

                                    Haven't been to Bouley in a very long time so I can't speak to that one...

                                    1. re: tpigeon

                                      I'd go to Babbo over Le Bernadin or Daniel, though I've never been to Yasuda.

                                      1. re: a_and_w

                                        I actually would too because of the dress code at Le B and Daniel. I don't like wearing a jacket, but in my opinion Le B and Daniel are better foodwise with babbo being a much better value.

                                        Yasuda rocks and it would obviously depend what you are in the mood for between the two. I think Yasuda is better than babbo too but that is a difficult comparison given the type of food they serve.

                                      2. re: tpigeon

                                        Depending on what I'm in the mood for, then it's a tough call. But after having endured non-Babbo caliber Italian when I was sent to work in the West Coast for 5 years (SF), Baboo is a must for any visitor from anywhere in North America.

                                        Yasuda is a tough one to forego, but I'm biased because I live a few blocks from Yasuda and have easily been able to get reservations within 1 week.

                                    2. I'll provide a dissenting opinion ... but from the sounds of things, it won't be worth much. I wasn't all impressed. I ordered all of the items I was supposed to, the mint love letters, warm lambs tongue vinigarette, etc .... I wasn't totally blown away like I was believed to think I would have been. I didn't find what was so particularly Italian about it, I mean, the ingredients sure were, but I've seen similar dishes in new-american type restaurants done much better. Never found any food like Babbo's in Italy, I mean, no dishes prepared the way they did. I thought it was more of a scene (fake tits and men who love them), than the pinnacle of foodie temples which some build it up to be. I'd love to give it another shot, but the process of getting a reservation is just too much of a pain in the ass and I don't feel like eating at either 5:30 or 10:30. I've talked to many people who whare the same opinion as me. My $.02

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: jimnorton

                                        Fake tits and the men who love them? It's a Batali place, not Scores.

                                        It was a 15 minute phone call to get a 9:00 weeknight reservation; didn't seem like a big deal. If you're coming in from out of town and have a scheduled itinerary, I'd skip it, because, while it's worth a little trouble, it's not worth ruining a trip; nothing is, really. There are plenty of great Italian restaurants that posters have mentioned that can hopefully fit snugly into your schedule.

                                        For those who live in Manhattan and snub it, just give it a shot. I liked my experience a lot, despite misgivings about it being "loud" and "touristy", and would recommend it as a "must" to try out. We 'Hounds are supposed to be adventurous, right?

                                        Experience is subjective, so I understand that other people's differ, but on my night: nary a silicone boob in sight.

                                      2. In answer to your question: Not very.

                                        1. I just went to Babbo for the first time this past week and it was phenomenal. Granted, I wasn't the one who jumped through hoops to make the reservation, and I'm very grateful that someone else did, because it was truly exceptional. We had the pasta tasting menu with the wine pairing and I loved every one of the eight courses. Also, I thought the service was good and the music was exactly what I would have wanted to hear. I definitely can't wait to go back.

                                          1. I wouldn't go out of my way for Babbo - but then again, I've haven't been there in a couple of years but tried it twice and wasn't impressed either time. Besides the snooty staff and the food trying to go out of it's way to be interesting - and being of Italian/Sicilian decent, I've eaten much better meals out of my families' kitchens. I think it's more of a "status" place than a real place. I still love Le Bernadin, Balthazar, Cafe Boulud. If you're not set on Italian,you might want to try Mas Farmhouse, it's in the West Village. To die for food. No set menu, it's like whatever the chef wants to make, but it's that whole French Laundry/Per Se experience. I think it's on Downing Street.

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: luluhaha

                                              I was having this same dilemma - except that I have no reservation, and had planned to show up at 4:30 and line up outside the door to try and score one of the 6 bar tables. This would not be a huge disruption in my travel plans and I don't mind eating ridiculously early if that's my opportunity. Anyone ever eaten at Babbo at 5:00 pm in the wine bar?

                                              1. re: pizzajunkie

                                                My wife and I have eaten at Babbo many times, it is very much worth going out of the way for. You have a great line up of restaurants, defintely not a bad choice in the bunch, at Babbo you will feel like your in a really vibrant alive place. Its not formal but not overly casual, its loud and you can feel the action in the place and the food is fabulous. The service is freindly but can be a bit all over the place.

                                                we always keep waiting to be disappointed by the place and even after its past its prime as an "buzz worthy" restaurant it never lets us down.

                                                eating at the bar can be the way to go..but its cramped as hell.
                                                keep calling the closer you get to your visit and ask for cancellations, especially on the day you want to go, we have managed reservations many times by doing this.

                                                1. re: jvish

                                                  jvish, thanks so much for the response and the info! I'll keep trying. As long as someone's behind isn't right in my face, I can deal with it being cramped, I think (or are the bar tables high up, like bistro tables? oh well, I guess it doesn't matter LOL!).

                                                  1. re: pizzajunkie

                                                    at the bar the worst that you'll get is some people reaching over you occasionally for a drink. then there are 3 tables by the window that are tight but no one will be bumping into you, then there are 2 tables that look brutal they are near the bar and the coat room and people will be getting there butts in your face!!...good luck, hope you grab a table

                                                    1. re: jvish

                                                      Yes! My first two meals at Babbo were sans reservation. One time I showed at 6:00 on a Saturday night...stood up with my butt in someone's face for an HOUR! loved the experience, but then, I'm a tourist, and not the one with a butt in my face...we got a real table when we were finally seated. Second time we got there at 5:20 and were seated immediately, again at a real table. Third time I called and made a reservation. I mean, if you KNOW 30 days in advance when you're going, then how much friggin trouble is it to write a note on your calendar and pick up the phone?

                                                      The bar tables are normal as I recall. I hate those damn "bistro" tables.

                                            2. I've been there three times and you're guaranteed a high quality meal in a beautiful setting-IF you request upstairs. However the "wow" factor really wasn't there for me with any dish I had there, even the beef cheek ravioli. Everything is good mind you, but if you're looking for something where you're just blown away by the food I would try Alto or (and I've heard this from numerous industry friends who are obsessed with Italian food and wine), A Voce. The bar room at Del Posto was also better, actually. The rest of your lineup is pretty solid, I'd substitute L'Atelier de Joel Rubuchon for Bouley as the restaurant is a little dated and the meal I had there was uneven.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: lukebdonnelly79

                                                I'm curious why it's any more of a 'pain in the ass' to spend 15 minutes on a phone for a reservation 30 days in the future than it is to spend 15 minutes on the phone to make a reservation for that same night? It's still 15 minutes! Been to Babbo three times, twice with walk-ups, including New Year's Eve a few years ago. Sat upstairs, downstairs and at the bar. We enjoyed all three dinners and found the staff to be polite and efficient. No problem with the music. We've probably been lucky, but the walk-up seems so easy that I always wonder what all of the fuss is about when it comes to getting a table. Take a chance!

                                                1. re: Drew E

                                                  Most restaurants, at least the ones we've been to, do not keep me on the phone for 15 minutes when calling for a reservation. For example, I recently called Jean Georges on a Monday for that same Wednesday. The reservationist picked up immediately. I told her the date. She told me what times were available. I picked one. Booked! It took all of *one* minute!

                                                  1. re: RGR

                                                    All that really means is that JG either has more people taking reservations or they're just not as popular.

                                                    I absolutely love Eleven Madison. That being said, the last two reservations I made there were both same day (Saturday night no less) and around 6:30-7:30.

                                                    They still had availability for a Saturday night that same morning. They're just not as popular.

                                                    I wonder how far in advance JG or EMP begin taking reservations?

                                                    I don't feel like I can fault Babbo for being a popular restaurant.

                                              2. I'm not clear what kind of disruption you are talking about, but I would go out of my way to eat at Babbo.
                                                Making a reservation is not easy (I usually favor opentable.com) but is hitting the redial button and being on hold that hard? Is it any worse than, say, standing on line at the Shake Shack? I don't think you can blame a restaurant that is fairly small and extremely popular for the need on our part for advance planning.
                                                As to attitude, I have never experienced it either on the phone or in person. I read complaints about it, but have never had anything but professional service at Babbo.
                                                Noise-downstairs is noisy, but I've never had a problem upstairs-yes, they play rock-and-roll music, but it's not very loud-I never have a problem talking to my wife there without raising my voice.
                                                The food, especially the pasta, is very good-I've also enjoyed the duck and the lamb, and the sweetbreads. The wine list is great.
                                                You won't regret eating at any of the spots you listed in your original post. I don't know what you would sacrifice to eat at Babbo...but it's certainly worth some inconvenience. On the other hand, if you are a regular visitor to NY, perhaps you should save it for your next trip, and remember to call at the proper time.

                                                1. Hi all!

                                                  Thanks for the replies.
                                                  I think there is some misunderstanding about my disruption: by disruption I don't just mean taking 30 minutes to call (because they have no opening anyway) or trying to walk-in. I mean I have to cancel one of the reservations I already have (from my list), and I have to cancel one of the shows that we were planning to watch (let's assume I can get the money back, so it's just the cancellation of the show).

                                                  Moreover, it's not just the matter of walking in, right? I've heard that some nights they simply don't take walk-ins. So it's very possible that we, after canceling our show and restaurant reservations, and making the way to Babbo, will still come up empty, with no show, no Babbo, and no restaurant reservations anywhere.

                                                  So that's the situation. =(
                                                  Given this level of disruption, what do you guys think?

                                                  8 Replies
                                                  1. re: JohnnyBooy

                                                    I will just re-emphasize what I said in an earlier response: If you want to include a high-end Italian restaurant in your plans, go to l'Impero or Alto. You will have a wonderful dinner. Babbo is very good but is not the be-all and end-all and is not worth all this agonizing over.

                                                    1. re: rrems

                                                      But it is better than both those restaurants especially l'impero (just an opinion) Also eating in Alto is a fairly life-less experience dont you think. The food is good but the restaurant is a little "icy"...

                                                      1. re: jvish

                                                        My dinner at l'Impero was wonderful. Perhaps it depends what you order, but I liked it better than the several meals I have had at Babbo. I have not been to Alto yet, but it was given 3 stars in the same review in which l'Impero got 2 stars, so I would expect the food to be even better than l'Impero. I can't speak for the atmosphere at Alto, but my impression is that the OP is more interested in the food than the atmosphere.

                                                        1. re: rrems

                                                          I had a wonderful and convivial meal at Alto recently. I've not been to Babbo, but my sense of the difference is that Alto is more Italian "haute cuisine", while Babbo is very well done more rustic, hearty Italian food.

                                                    2. re: JohnnyBooy

                                                      Forgive me if I've missed this-but if Clinton Street Baking Co or Balthazar is one of the dinners, I'd trade that for Babbo. Frankly, I'd also trade dinner at Le Bernardin, but that's another kettle of fish, so to speak (it's a matter of what you really want.)
                                                      I wouldn't trade the others, or tickets to a show (well, depending on the show.)
                                                      Just to be clear-Babbo always takes walk-ins for the bar and the bar tables-you just have to be there by 5:00 (4:30 on Sunday) or be prepared to wait. If you expect to score a table anywhere else as a walk in-no, I wouldn't count on it.
                                                      I am worried that you will have gone to so much trouble to eat at Babbo, it won't be able to live up to the expectations...
                                                      I like L'Impero, but I would rather eat at Babbo anyday. Can't speak to Alto under the new chef.

                                                      1. re: David W

                                                        I think the OP is going to Balthazar for breakfast. Have you been to L'Impero since the new chef? Curious to try it after having been to Alto recently.

                                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                                          We had dinner at L'impero the saturday before Bruni's review. It was quite good, particularly the fusilli w/ pork shoulder ragu that Bruni mentioned. The room was stark and the wine list was average. Have not been to Alto since the change of chefs, Conant really F'ed that place up before....

                                                          1. re: MMRuth

                                                            I've been to L'Impero since the change, but the menu seemed mostly the same to me-they still had the polenta with mushrooms...it was early on and I haven't been back since (it's just outside of my usual area.)

                                                      2. go at 5:30 or 6, order a quartino or two at the bar, give your name to the man behind the lectern, and see what happens. Babbo is best experienced at the bar or in the front of the room, if you ask me. i've gotten a table in front every time i've done this, or sat at the bar, and this approach suits the soundtrack and the orange clogs and the energy of the place. reservations, schmeservations.

                                                        1. Johnny, if you're a foodie I think you'd have a blast at Babbo. Yes there is a wait if you don't have a table. But I'm pretty sure that in a few years as you're salivating thinking about the great meal that you won't also say "Wow, but that 45 minutes waiting at the bar sure ruined it for us."

                                                          Babbo is delicious. It's high end food that's hearty and in some odd way, always reminds me of the very best flavors of great home cooking. Think the meatiest pot roast you've ever tasted somehow refined into an incredibly complex pasta dish. I'm clearly not a food writer but I can say with confidence that you won't be dissappointed there even if your res is at an odd time.

                                                          Enjoy and please report back!


                                                          1. I lined up prior to 5pm for Babbo and got a table with 3 friends. Worth it 100%. It was on my list of places to eat at and I got there. They have 6 tables for walk-ins so I say 'go'. (and I flew from LA to go there...ok not just to Babbo..I was in NYC for 4 days)