Is Babbo resting on its reputation?
Babbo has long been one of my favorite places - I've often posted comments about past visits on this board. I hadn't been for a while. I returned with out of town friends Saturday night.
While some of the dishes were still terrific, others were not - a marked change and a really big disappointment. Here's a rundown:
For starters we ordered the lamb's tounge, octopus and the pig's foot milanese. The pig's foot has always been one of my favorite items on Babbo's menu, and it was as good as ever. The lamb's tounge was also very good, but the charred octopus disappointed all of us. It lacked any flavor.
We shared two pasta dishes- the beef cheek ravioli with truffles - which in past visits has been fabulous. It was good, but not great.- absolutely no discernable taste of truffles or sauce. The second pasta dish was a very simple penne with mushrooms, in a simple sauce (butter with a bit of cream?) which was great. The mushrooms had been cooked very slowly, which brought out every bit of flavor. All of us loved it.
My friends split the osso bucco. While it was okay, it was not any better than osso bucco you can get at any mom and pop Italian all over the city,( or for that matter, that I can make ) and certainly not anywhere close to the fabulous osso bucco I've had at Babbo in past years.
I ordered the fennel dusted sweetbreads. I love swetbreads- they're one of my favorites. But boy, were these ever a big letdown. Maybe it was their size- the three sweetbreads on my plate were the largest sweetbreads I've ever seen. But where was the lovely buttery flavor characteristic of sweetbreads? These were absolutely bland. Even the balsemic sauce and fried fennel leaves could not save them.
For dessert we had the walnut torte and olive oil gelato. Again, okay, but not great.
On the plus side, service was very good. Unlike some people on this board who complain about the servers at Babbo, I've never had anything but professional, warm and friendly service.
I was surprised when I heard last week that Michelin had downgraded Babbo. But after Saturday night, I see why. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this is just a temporary downhill slump.
I've eaten there a number of times over the past few years, and I have definitely had some misses few times. I have not enjoyed it as much recently as I did the first couple of times I went; that could be because the food was not as strong, or because it felt less "special" to me. I've always thought the wine program and wine service were superb.
I wonder if one thing that may affect quality and perception is the fact that, as Mario Batali himself puts it, the crowd is "50% tourists and 50% Wall Street dudes," implying, to some degree, that it's a bit of a victim of its own popularity, or at least, that it lacks a diverse New York crowd. I notice that it's pretty much the number one place that people on this board recommend to folks from out of town; that's great, but there is also no denying that the expectations of non-New Yorkers (especially American non-New Yorkers) may be different. These "tourists" may also be people less familiar with Batali's style, and thus more apt to like the place in general because it feels newer and fresher to them. Either way, I feel like if audience expectations are not quite as high, it can cause the place to slip a bit.
More than likely, Babbo just needs a bit of a revamp. Gramercy Tavern is another of those "must visits" that everyone talks about, but it was in serious need of a reboot before the new chef arrived.
"it (Babbo) was in serious need of a reboot "
I love babbo. always have, always will, have had dozens of great meals there.....But the menu is tired, it never changes, even the specials seem to be the same year after year depending on season ...its sorta like it is set in stone. Almost all of the original poster's meal could have been ordered 10 year ago. I know if it aint broke and the place is packed every night why change but for Batali, who claims to always be pushing the envelope, Babbo is frankly, staid maybe even passe.....rememeber 15 years ago when u first went to Nobu and were blown away and now the place seems tired and way past its prime, thats how i'm starting to feel about Babbo...