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My Dinner at Babbo - Report

  • l

Three of us went to Babbo for dinner on Saturday night. I'd say that our experience was average.

Reservations were for 9 pm and we were seated close to 9:30 after standing by the bar constantly trying to keep out of the way of waiters, the host, other diners, etc. Very crowded and an awkward entrance area.

We were seated on the second floor and given menus. I spent some time going over the wine list but couldn't decide so asked the sommelier for a recommendation giving him some paramters in terms of what type of wine I was looking for and price range. He was extremely helpful and recemmended a bottle which we all enjoyed and was actually lower priced than what I mentioned. That was appreciated. Wine service was very professional.

Bread was brought but no butter or oil. The bread tasted exactly like the Italian loaf that I grew up with - I never did like it much even as a child! Later (after we finished our appetizers), when the waiter noticed that none of us were eating the bread he offered to bring butter or olive oil. We asked for the oil but he never brought it. After we had orderd everything we had also asked if he could bring a dessert menu to look at while we were waiting for our food but he never brought that either.

We ordered the following appetizers that we shared: the Grilled Octopus with “Borlotti Marinati” and Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette and the Mint Love Letters with Spicy Lamb Sausage . The appetizers arrived while we were still nibbling on the amuse bouche of chick pea crostini. All of these dishes were excellent and I thought the combination of flavours was wonderful. We all enjoyed them very much. Since we were sharing, they split the pasta on separate plates for us.

For mains, we all ordered pasta dishes. The Chianti Stained Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu, the Pappardelle Bolognese and the Black Spaghetti with Rock Shrimp, Spicy Salami Calabrese and Green Chiles.

When we were ordering, my sister asked if the bolognese sauce was a traditional bolognese (i.e., made with milk and little or no tomato) and the waiter looked at her like she was from another planet and said it was a bolognese sauce. She basically said nevermind and just ordered it as it was obvious HE didn't know what a traditional bolognese is.

The timing between appetizers and mains was well paced. The two pappardelle dishes were very good. The flavours were exactly as I expected them to be - nothing creative but solid, tomato based dishes. The noodles were stuck to each other though and required some effort to seperate them to eat. The spaghetti dish was more unique in flavours and very tasty. However, when my friend first took a forkful of the spaghetti, they were crunchy - clearly undercooked - NOT al dente. We each tried her spaghetti and all reached the same conclusion. She stopped the manager and informed him that the spaghetti was undercooked. He went on to "educate" us on how black spaghetti is not like normal spaghetti and that it probably wasn't undercooked but he'd bring it back to the kitchen if she liked. He spoke in a somewhat condescending tone like she's never had black spaghetti before. She basically said forget it and kept the dish. The spaghetti that was at the bottom of the pile was cooked more and then the dish was more enjoyable.

After this we were quite full but since it was my birthday, we ordered the Pumpkin Budino with Espresso Gelato to share. It was very nice.

Overall, I'd have to say I was disappointed. The service was spotty and I would have expected better attention to detail (the oil, the dessert menu). I wasn't blown away by anything. Maybe my expectations were too high. I've been to Lupa and enjoyed it much more both for the atmoshpere and the food. I'd go back to Lupa and would not likely make any efforts to revisit Babbo.

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  1. Babbo is a cut above most in town, but I agree with you. The first time I went, I was expecting to be blown away by new flavors, ingredient combinations and culinary magic. I'm not complaining, in fact it was good, but no where near my favorite (or even top 10) meal. Now, I think it's just riding on a name.

    www.thelunchbelle.com

    4 Replies
    1. re: LeahBaila

      "...Now, I think it's just riding on a name..."

      That is a pretty big statement....It would appear from your blog that you have only eaten there once, the first time being a year ago when you gave it a glowing review. It's hard to get that kind of prospective only eaten at a place a very limited number of times and without the perspective of time...

      from your blog:

      "Had it not been for tablexchange.com, this meal would have never happened! My experience was very positive with both the website and the restaurant. In conclusion, Megan and I were extremely satisfied with our highly anticipated dinner at Babbo. It's safe to say that all of my preconceived assumptions were incorrect: the restaurant wasn't insanely crowded, the prices weren't off the charts, the service wasn't snooty and the dining rooms weren't casual like Otto's. I highly recommend fighting with the rest of the city to grab a reservation at Mario Batali's crown jewel, and think it's a wonderful spot for a romantic date or a "dinner with the parents."

      http://www.thelunchbelle.com/2008/01/...

      1. re: Cpalms

        Right, I said the food was good and I wasn't complaining about my meal. Have I had a better Italian meal elsewhere? Yes. Were my TWO meals at Babbo in my top 10 "best meals in my lifetime?" No.

        www.thelunchbelle.com

        1. re: LeahBaila

          so you have had just two meals altogether, both in the last 12 months, however you have concluded that a restaurant that has been open over 10 years has been, " just riding on a name".... by what context did you use to determine this?

          1. re: Cpalms

            While I found Babbo's food to be good, I do think a lot of its success has to do with the Batali name behind it. That's not a negative thing, by any means. I just find that most of the time I go to an overly anticipated meal, I'm not as wowed as I expected to be. Perhaps this is grounds to return for a third meal.

            www.thelunchbelle.com

    2. "...When we were ordering, my sister asked if the bolognese sauce was a traditional bolognese (i.e., made with milk and little or no tomato) and the waiter looked at her like she was from another planet..."

      there is no such thing as "traditional" bolognese. As you move from region to region even from town to town in Italy, what is considerd traditional changes, well considerably. Typically the further south you go more tomatoes are used and less lipids.... and remember in Italy, traditionly you are not given oil or butter with your bread, although some of the more forward thinking place have begun to do so...sorry to hear about the service, your expierence is pretty typical at Babbo....

      4 Replies
      1. re: Cpalms

        You're right about the variations in bolognese sauces but seeing as it originates in Bologna, the northern part of Italy, I would expect "traditional" to be in that sense. my family is from the south and we make our meat sauce with tomatoes. And yes, bread with no butter is also common in Italy. I usually don't eat the bread there either! :-) I just expected that if he offered the oil or butter, then he'd bring it.

        1. re: Cpalms

          even though the bolignese varies regionally, i think Lula's waiter could have done better: at a top restaurant with good servers, the waiter would have at least tried to answer Lula's question, described how the version there might be similar/different from others, asked about her preferences, etc...i love when the servers at a restaurant are knowledgable about the food and happy to discuss it...at Batali restaurants, imho, the waiters are more likely to be condescending than helpful...

          1. re: Simon

            clearly, Babbo is defined by great food and potential crappy condescending service...the place is packed to the gills everynight so why bother to change I guess...It should be noted that the bartenders have been uniformly been great over the years...

            1. re: Simon

              Simon I agree. I think I would have at least expected the waiter to be aware that milk can be used in a bolognese at that it can vary. Especially after telling us that his father was a chef and he loves food. No expectation on our part to suit our preferences but just to know. My sister was actually hoping it would be more "northern" style since we always make it with lots of tomatoes.

          2. lula,
            Your experience sounds very similar to ours last June. The main reason I wouldn't go back is that it just wasn't "comfortable" somehow, and the food wasn't good enough to make up for it. It was definately the wrong place for an anniversary celebration-not romantic in the least.

            Of course, since this was our only visit, we apparently aren't allowed to have an opinion...

            1. Have to say, I think they must treat different tables differently since there are reports of this type of service, quite often, but I and many others contend they have not. Granted, I have not been in quite some time but I have been many times.
              Also, since I have not been recently, I will not say the food has not gone down a bit. I would think with the crowd now skewing more towards out of towners, it is possible. But I really hope not, that would be another place ruined. My biggest hope is that this type of food is not what pleases the tourist crowd's palate but that it is still just as it was in the past.
              Perhaps, I will try it again soon. Oh, how that might really be a disappointment.

              1. I think it is interesting how varied the service could be. I was there too on Saturday night, except our reservation was at 6:30. We were seated 10 min early. This was our third time going and were seated downstairs. Everyone from our sommelier to our server were very courteous and professional. The only thing that made me raise my eyebrows is when I did not finish all the beans in the pigs foot Milanese, someone who was not our server quite snooty replied " I guess you do not like beans". Which is not true, I just did not feel like scraping up every last bean on the plate. I think babbo is a place where you need to know the right things to order because some dishes can be lackluster while other provide the opposite.

                1. It would agree with those who have said it sounds like the service is inconsistent. I had my first experience at Babbo on Saturday night and we were treated very well. Our We arrived at 7:15 to grab a drink at the bar before our 7:30 reservation and were seated upstairs within 5 minutes of our arrival. And after reading so many reviews here, I am really happy to report that our server was very attentive, informative and generally pleasant. She did say they were "slower" this time of year, which allowed her to spend more time with her tables, but looking around, I would never have described it as slow! We asked if we could create our own custom tasting menu (some of chowhounds greatest hits, if you will) and if she would pair wines with each course, and she was more than happy to oblige.

                  The Black Spaghetti you mentioned was by far our favorite dish of the night and that's saying a lot. Sorry to hear yours was a little undercooked for your liking. That would have disappointed me as well, no question, but ours was a perfect al dente (not any different from how you would want other pastas cooked, as they implied to you). The only dish we found disappointing was the Chainti Papardelle with Wild Boar and it wasn't bad, it just wasn't GREAT. But of course, that's just my opinion. We thought the octopus appetizer, goose liver ravioli and maple marscarpone cheesecake (wow, wow, wow) were all incredible. We also enjoyed the pig's foot milanese, but it wasn't a highlight compared to some of the other things we tasted.

                  Anyway, to get back on topic - I'm wondering if those with earlier reservations experience better service and/or less wait time than those with later reservations? I imagine they must get more and more backed up as the night goes on...

                  1. Sorry to hear of your experience at Babbo. Every time I've been there, I've always thought it superior to a lot of other Italian restaurants that fit into the same category. I personally cannot stand either Mario or his partner in food, Joe Bastianich. But I have to say, I really do like their restaurants and their passion for food. It shows.

                    BTW-- About your friend and the crunchy spaghetti: "She basically said forget it and kept the dish." Whenever anyone is dissatisfied with a dish in a restaurant, ALWAYS send it back. If you are not pleased, it is the only way they will know. By keeping the dish, your friend sent a message that it was OK for the restaurant to serve sub-par food and that she was not very serious regarding her complaint. "When it lacks, send it back!" lol