what to order at Babbo?
What's your favorite dish at Babbo? I'm going there for dinner for the first time.
I'm copying and pasting from another board I frequent but here's my take:
If you are interested in great writing about great food, I emphatically endorse picking up a copy of Heat by Bill Buford. Buford is a great writer, Mario Batali is a great character, and you'll be salivating as you read through life in the Babbo kitchen.
Make double (triple) sure you confirm your reservation the day before via the confirmations-only phone number, with confirmation code.
Request to sit on the upper level, where it's more spacious and less noisy. I like my rock'n'roll music but hearing the Pixies or MGMT blast at a nice restaurant is odd even after dining there a few times.
Arrive on time and with your entire party there. Be prepared for some chaos in the bar area (coat check is the worst-designed coat check ever at Babbo). Smile and be nice to the host. I've heard he can be crabby but he's never been anything but nice to me.
Don't order the tasting menus, none of the greatest hits are on there. I don't know anyone who has been disappointed by the tasting menus, but the most-discussed dishes are not found on there. The one criticism I've seen about the pasting tasting menus is that it's a lot of pasta by the time it's done -- only you can be the judge of whether or not it's a good thing. A friend of mine who is a food critic/writer went to Babbo and had the kitchen send out their best dishes, as a custom tasting menu....and it contained most of the dishes that people rave about (which aren't on the regular tasting menu). That fact, to me, is telling and very counter-intuitive.
Order wine and take advantage of a really interesting wine list and knowledgeable sommeliers.
Service can be hit or miss, but most of the servers there know the menu like the back of their hand if you're having trouble deciding. The worst service I've had was just a waiter who was a bit absent during our meal. Bartenders are nice but the bar is often packed full of people dining or waiting for a walk-in table.
Don't eat the bread, it's kind of boring. Save room. Note that they don't offer olive oil or butter with bread service (supposedly the more traditional Italian way to do it). The amuse is typically chickpea bruschetta.
For two people I've done two antipasti, two primi, and split a secondi between the two of us, sharing plate the whole time. They can also divide portions onto two plates if you wish. Ordering conservatively on the secondi dishes leaves some room for dessert. The secondi are pretty big by the time you get around to that course. Note that the secondi don't come with any sides, you should order sides separately if you want them. IMO, the antipasti and primi menus are stronger than the secondi menu.
Assuming you are adventurous/don't mind offal, I'd do for the appetizers: the lamb's tongue vinaigrette with three minute egg, crispy pig's foot (don't worry, it doesn't really look like a foot), grilled octopus, or tripe (comes with bread, very messy). If you are trying to save space, the salumi plates are also very good but a much smaller portion. You can get the salumi they make in-house (prosciutto, lamb's tongue, lardo, spicy salami, and more) or the salumi that Mario Batali's father makes (slightly smaller selection).
For pastas, they are second to none. Everything is cooked perfectly (al dente). I love the goose liver ravioli the most and so has everyone I've ever taken there. Others like the beef cheek ravioli, chianti stained parpadelle, gnocchi with oxtail, or mint love letters, but I think the goose liver wins over those four (still haven't tried the lamb's brains yet though -- one day, one day). (IMO Hearth's gnocchi is better but it's in a butter sauce not a red sauce) Personally, I am not a huge red sauce fan and though the gnocchi and mint love letters were good but not great. YMMV.
For the main, the fennel-dusted sweetbreads are fantastic. The pork chop is excellent: well-cooked and juicy. Easily split between two. The rabbit is also nice, too. The skirt steak is only OK. I've also heard wonderful things about the duck and lamb chop. There are often very good specials too (had some braised pork cheeks once time). For the big chops, you can spot a big rack of meat coming from across the room! It smells divine. If only I had a second stomach....
Save room for dessert. If you are very full, you can get the assortment of gelati and sorbetti. A recent trip yielded: olive oil gelato (perfect as usual), hazelnut gelato, bittersweet chocolate gelato (so intense, and dark, like a punch in the face with chocolate), espresso gelato (so smooth and gone in about two seconds flat), coconut gelato (wonderful even if you don't like coconut), pineapple sorbetto (nice and sweet), green apple sorbetto (sharp and tart but refreshing), rhubarb sorbetto (very tart), mango sorbetto (addictive and reminiscent of Indian mangos), and huckleberry sorbetto (nice and with bits of real huckleberry). I also like the seasonal fruit crostata (right now Tristar strawberries are about to go out of season so it might change to something more autumnal). The chocolate hazelnut cake is also nice. Other popular desserts are the maple cheesecake or the semifreddo.
Really, I've never had a bad meal there food-wise and in comparison, the other complaints (space, noise, service, difficulty obtaining a reservation) seem to disappear by the time the petit fours come around. And the check is surprisingly reasonable for a celebrity-chef, three-star restaurant in Manhattan.
Hello, we are hoping to get a reservation for November. If we get lucky, does anyone know if they do half portions of pasta? There are four we would like to try, but that in addition to appetizers would be way too much from the looks of the portion sizes. Can you get the sweetbreads as an appetizers too?
Ideally tongue and sweetbreads then four half portions pasta..
The pasta portions are actually not that big. They're bigger than your average appetizer, but smaller than your usual main dish.
A lot of people aren't that excted by the desserts at Babbo. I disagree. I actually thought they were wonderful. No matter which ones you pick, make sure to get at least one scoop of olive oil gelato on the side. It's lick your bowl delicious!
I second Kathryn's recommendation of the pork chop and the pig's foot- so wonderful it's a dish I could eat again and again.
Thanks for all of the suggestions!
Dinner was great, service was great, and I surprised myself by finding a bottom to my bottomless pit of a stomach.
We ordered the pig's foot and the tripe for apps. I told my BF go ahead and get the tripe, but I wasn't going to help him eat it. to my surprise it was delicious, unlike any other tripe I ever had, and a big serving that we could barely finish between us. Not smelly or tough, just savory, complex, earthy. The pig's foot was scrumptious, unusual, rich, and a little bit like scrapple. I got the goose liver ravioli and was actually a little disappointed - the balsamic reduction was sweet and strong and overshadowed the pasta and filling. But next was the pork chop, which was a wonder. How do they make such a simple thing so delicious? It was thick and perfectly cooked throughout, salty, just the right amount of fat, and it was huge. We also ordered sides of potatoes and brussels sprouts which we barely touched. For dessert we shared the 7 sorbets/gelati, which were chocolate, vanilla honey, green apple, cinnamon, mango, coconut, and something else I can't remember... all wonderful, especially the chocolate. We would have been full and perfectly happy with just the tripe, pig's foot, pork chop, maybe the potatoes, and the dessert. Yes, we're carnivores. Happy carnivores.
The leftover side dishes made a nice dinner... Brussels sprouts with big hunks of pancetta, and a variety of little potatoes roasted with garlic, rosemary and a lot of salt. If you ate there with a large group they'd fill out the menu nicely with simpler food and provide vegetable accompaniment, but we just plain overordered!