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Jul 3, 2008 07:34 PM

Dining Disappointment from Chowhound Favs!!

Hello all!

After weeks of research and days of earger anticipation, we finally started our NYC culinary adventure two days ago by having meals at some of Chowhounders' favourites - Aquavit, Babbo and Sushi Yasuda....We chose to avoid the 'French' because both Fourseasons and myself have eaten in Per Se, Daniel, Le Bernadin......etc

At Aquavit, though the Smorgasbord appertizer and the Venison loin with white asparagus and Lingonberry sauce entree were both fantastic, however, the meal was marred by a 'way-way-way' too salty Scandinavian potato and leek soup, which I was forced to complain and returned to the kitchen. With Chef Samuelson vying for a coveted Michelin star, this type of mishap should never be allowed to leave the kitchen! Strike One!

At Babbo, our party of five was met by a 'borderline hostile' Maitre D'. The reason being, he had to rearrange their 'even' number seating table to accommadate our 'odd' number party!! Thus, our evening started off with one big dose of 'atitude' . For food, we ordered almost all the favourite dishes mentioned on CH - Lamb's tongue, grilled octopus, crispy pig's foot, goose liver and beef cheeks ravioli, mint love letters, spaghetti Bolognese, sweetbread...etc. When we told our waiter that we would like extra side plates since we wish to share the dishes amongst ourselves a la ' Chinese' style, we were given another dose of 'atitude'. As for the food, sorry to say, none of the aforementioned dishes was good enough to 'wow' us, though a couple like the goose liver ravioli with its thick balsamic reduction and the Bolognese ragu with its sensational aroma did come close. Unfortunately, these were not enough to offset the overly charred and dry octopus, the heavily battered and bland sweetbread, the undersauced and lack of filling beef cheek ravioli and the mediocre tasting mint love letters. Based on these calibre food, why Michelin actually awarded the restaurant a star really puzzled us?!!! ( Both 'Fourseasons' and myself ate at three Michelin one star Italian restaurants in Tokyo - Aso, Honda and Suzuki, a few months back and every single one of the Japanese establishments produced far better executed and superior tasting Italian food and the service was much much better! ) Strke two!

Seriously looking to avoid a strike three, we all went to Sushi Yasuda for an Omakase sushi meal the next day. Thank God for Yasuda San, we finally have a meal to remember! Though not as good as the Michelin 3 star Jiro or Mizutani of Tokyo, however, the sushi was the best we have sampled in North America. The variety, freshness of the fish and seafood and most importantly, the quality of the rice were all top notch. We had at least 22 miscellaneous nigiri pieces each. The most interesting being a side by side tasting of Russian vs American Uni ( sea urchins ), Floridian vs Chinese vs Japanese anago ( sea eel ) and the first time sampling of an Alaskan ' white' salmon as well as Sea of Japan cuttle fish tentacles! Once again, service was only so-so! A definite hit thats just shy of a home run!

Lastly, a steak dinner at Keens was disappointing whilst an oyster/clams luncheon was pretty good. I'll let Fourseasons fill in the detail if and when he's got some free time!

Next time we'll give Grammercy Park and Eleven Madison-Park a try. BTW, has anyone tried Ducasse's Adour yet?

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  1. howdy charles,

    i'm sorry your visit was not all it might have been. eating at yasuda's station is sure to put a smile on most faces. babbo always works for me but there is no discounting your experience. looking forward to your next visit.


    1. You pretty much set yourself up for disappointment eating in a country with an OCD food culture, and amazing service and expecting the same in NYC or any place in the US.

      I'm kind of shocked that Yasuda served chinese anago.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Ricky

        ocd? obsessive compulsive disorder?
        please explain.

        1. re: Ricky

          According tp Yasuda San, the 'Chinese anago' were 'live' sea eels from NYC China town and their origin was not from the States. Of the three, this China town varietal tasted the best!

          1. re: Charles Yu

            Hi Charles:

            My recollection is different than yours. I think Yasuda said he bought the eel from Chinatown and marinated and prepared it himself but the origin of the eel is actually from Florida.

            1. re: FourSeasons

              Hello CH friend!
              I believe you were right here! Can you remember where 'the other' eel came from? With description from Yasuda on almost every one of the over 20 pieces we tried, I guess I must have had an information overload! Ha!

              1. re: Charles Yu

                Yes, with over 20 pieces, I was overloaded with the sushi as well.
                I just recall we had one unagi sushi, which is the one he source from Chinatown with origin from Florida, and one anago sushi, which I did not recall he said anything about it.
                Anyway, I was actually disappointed with above both pieces even though I enjoyed the meal there.

        2. Hi Charles,
          I ate at Babbo last night. Our party of 6 was lucky enough to have gracious service from the Maitre D', and the servers on the whole part. The only minor service slip was when one member of our party asked our main server if they served Creme Brulee, and the server slightly condescendingly (unless I read this into her tone) replied " This is an Italian restaurant. Creme Brulee is French. We serve Panna Cotta which is Italian".Sure, she was correct, but I just didn't think the school teacher like correction was necessary.

          To start, I tried the Rhubarb Bellini (not sure if it was made with French! Champagne), which was innovative and delicious- a light pink rather than a ruby red. I actually preferred it to Peach Bellinis I've had in the past.

          We had an amuse bouche (not sure of the Italian term for a small freebie at the start), which consisted of marinated chickpea crostini. Nice tang from a heavy dose of vinegar and rosemary.

          My antipasti was the Agreppi (I think?) alla Romana, a seasonal green from the Rome area (if I understand correctly) which was blanched, tossed with Champagne vinegar (French! Not Italian!), and served with shaved fennel and romano (I think) This was perfection. I absolutely loved it. Tried a bite of the grilled octopus, which was grilled nicely. Good, but not mindblowing.

          The primi I ordered was a spaghettini with lobster and chives. It was served in a light tomato based sauce and the pasta was cooked perfectly. I can't remember if the tomato sauce was mentioned. Very generous serving of tender, sweet lobster, and more pasta than I expected, especially considering the price point of $26. I'm used to paying more for much less. And I was surprised by the serving size. It was a good dish, although it didn't wow me. It was what I'd expect from a high quality, traditional Italian restaurant. I would order something else if I return again.

          I tried a bite of the saffron Panna Cotta- it was ok, it was novel, but I guess I don't like saffron in dessert. I feel like its taste belongs in paella, not panna cotta.The bite of the hazelnut and chocolate was rich- but I'm glad I didn' t order any of the dessets. I was amused that they served a marscarpone and maple dessert (Canadian! or Vermontian! not Italian!).

          I finished my meal with an espresso, and the tiny baci (which I really liked), amaretti and biscotti.

          Overall, I was happy I tried Babbo, and I think I would return if someone wanted to give it a try. It's certainly better than most Italian restaurants I've visited in New York.

          1. Keens was definitely not a good choice - but I remember Four Seasons wanting to stay in Manhattan. Prime rib was seriously oversized and pretty bland, and the porterhouse simply not up to the standards of Peter Luger or even other Manhattan steakhouses like Ben and Jack's and Wolfgang's.

            1 Reply
            1. re: yt28

              Hi yt28:

              Yes, I was disappointed with the steak at Keens. I don't know if it is because I have not acquired the taste bud of NY style steak, but found the Prime Rib and T-bone steak too dry and not juicy enough for me even though the flavor is rich. I just prefer the steaks in LA where I tried the Prime Rib at Lawry's, the Porterhouse at Morton's and Ribeye steak at Ruth Chris. Maybe I should have gone to Luger, like what you wrote.

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