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Babbo or Convivio...? Help me decide.

Okay, truth be told, I'm presently double-booked. I made the reservation at Babbo because I could -- it just so happened that the day I began thinking about where to take my daughter for an after-theater birthday dinner was exactly one month before the date of our theater tickets. I went to Babbo's website, saw they take reservations not more than one month out, phoned, and voila -- scored a reservation. FWIW, I'm an out-of-towner, I come to NYC maybe 6 times a year. My daughter lives in NYC. Neither of these are restaurants she'd go to on her own.

So, with my reservation secured, I began scouring CH for recent comments about Babbo. Although I found them to be generally positive, there were some mentions of a slippage in service and food quality. Then, this morning, I read a review of Convivio posted by steakrules85. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6894... I also saw Convivio recommended by quite a few posters in other threads. I quickly made a reservation at Convivio for the same evening as my Babbo reservation. Oh, I'll definitely cancel one or the other in plenty of time; the question is, which one to cancel?

I've never been to either of these restaurants. I've tried to get into Babbo several times, to no avail, primarily because I rarely plan my trips into NYC a month in advance. Before today, I'd never heard of Convivio. I do understand the two restaurants are quite different from each other.

The "celebrity" aspect of the experience is far less important to me than the quality of the food and service, and the overall dining experience. So, if you were me, given the choice of Babbo or Convivio for this particular evening, which one would you choose -- and why? Thanks!

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  1. Babbo. Probably easier to get to Convivio on another visit.

    1. ive always felt that batali restaurants are horribly overrated. babbo specifically should work but doesnt. the quality is not there...particularly years later as more and more high end italian places open in the city.

      the food at convivio is miles better and of higher quality than babbo. if i could get the food and service of convivio served in the babbo townhouse, then that would be ideal...

      1. Hi Cindy,
        I think Babbo is superb. I have to disagree with the negative post below. Some are bothered by the fact that while Babbo is indeed high end, it is also loud, a bit chaotic and the food quite rustic. Not a whole lot of fancy garnishes or small amounts of food served on huge plates or anything like that. It's hearty and I think the flavors are amazing. I also think it's one of the best wine lists in the city and I've never left there without learning a lot about Italian wine as they have lots of offerings from even the lesser known regions of Italy.

        Have fun. You can't go wrong either way but I would go to Babbo. You'll have a blast.

        1 Reply
        1. re: JeremyEG

          While downstairs at Babbo can be quite loud and chaotic-especially if you're anywhere near the bar- the upstairs is actually pretty quiet and not at all chaotic. So if you think you'll be bothered by the scene downstairs call mid to late afternoon one day (when it's easy to get through) and request you be seated upstairs.

        2. Babbo for sure. And I am not a Mario devotee by far. I just like his food and couldn't care less if I ever saw him there (or anywhere else for that matter). I agree with what JeremyEG says: it's not pretentious food by far. Just very good, quality food served like it should be. Thumbs up to Babbo!

          1. Babbo, easily. The execution are more true-to-traditon, imho.

            I like Convivio, but would easily recomend Babbo in your case.

            1. never tried convivio but i thought the food at babbo was incredible especially the octupus appetizer, pastas, and maple mascarpone cheesecake. only probblem i had with babbo was it was a bit noisy and crowded. if u go make sure to request being seated upstairs where it is quieter.
              the food takes awhile too, in fact i would give at least 3 hours before your theater show. but if i had to someone to a restaurant just to be wowed by the food, i think i would take them to babbo.

              1 Reply
              1. re: daffyduck

                I agree. Downstairs (I've never eaten downstairs because I can't stand noise while eating) is the place to "see and be seen." Upstairs is like another restaurant: it's a much more serene and gentle atmosphere. So glad to see others who still love Babbo. Seems like it's the "in" thing to bash Babbo these days.

              2. I whole-heartedly endorse keeping the Babbo reservation. His pasta tasting menu is the bomb! I've been to Convivio sereral times, and like it as well, but Babbo is just more, well, special. You can easily get into Convivio on another visit and when you're not celebrating your daughter's birthday. Go to Babbo and enjoy!

                2 Replies
                1. re: edwardspk

                  Does that mean that Convivio is not a good place to celebrate a special occasion?

                  1. re: CindyJ

                    Doesn't necessarily mean that. Convivio's dining room is perfectly fine and the service is perfectly fine and the food is perfectly fine. I just think Babbo feels a bit more celebratory. Plus, Convivio is just so inconveniently located way out in Tuydor City. But just my opnion, and as you'll see there are a lot of those here on CH. I don't think you would be disappointed with either choice - but if I were choosing, I'd pick Babbo.

                2. Actually, I've had it with Babbo. Last time I was there (last month), I started with Marinated Fresh Sardines. I know sardines are tiny, but three teeny tiny fish for $12? Flavor was just ok - compare that to, for example, the incredible Shrimp Alhinho at Aldea for just $3 more. I'll take George's shrimp over Mario's sardines any day.

                  My next Babbo course was the Goose Liver Ravioli. Babbo fans know this is served with balsamic vinegar and brown butter. It sounds delicious, but the delicate flavor of the goose liver was positively killed by the amount of vinegar. I wince even now just thinking about it. In retrospect, perhaps I should have sent it back; but, having been to Babbo before (many times), I'm afraid that is actually how the dish is meant to be. On the other hand, I have never had a sub-par past dish at Convivio. Their fusilli with pork shoulder ragu and fonduta is rightly famous.

                  My secondi at Babbo was the "Brasato al Barolo." As there ever been a smaller brasato placed on a dinner plate? And for the princely sum of $29. I felt a bit taken (especially when comparing the dish to, for instance, any one of the courses on Eleven Madison Park's tasting menu, which are similar in amount but far, far superior in quality).

                  So I'm afraid I must say ciao, Babbo. It was nice, but better dining experiences await. Many, many, many of them. If I were you, I would choose Convivio or Scarpetta.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Jeffo405

                    Jeffo405, you've really proved the point that this is all very subjective. We went to EMP last September and I found the portions on the regular menu to be quite small for what they were priced at...and not anything special in the taste department. The experience I had for the $500 and 3 1/2 hours I spent there did nothing for me. I have never once said to myself, "I must go back to EMP." Most on this board would disagree with me. Like I said, subjective.

                    1. re: ttoommyy

                      Your point about subjectivity is well taken. That said, I'm basing my opinions about Babbo on several visits. In my subjective view, their quality:value equation has gone down over the years while other very worthy restaurants have opened.

                      As for EMP, my recent dinner there was as good as - and sometimes better than - other restaurants of that caliber, including The French Laundry. But again, subjective.

                    2. re: Jeffo405

                      Did you complain at all about the dishes that didn't appeal to to you?

                      1. re: RCC

                        Situation wasn't right that night. Besides, they weren't about to run back to the kitchen and bring back a larger brasato. People can love Babbo, but for me it's time to move on.

                    3. Okay, so at least 3 of the Babbo-boosters on this thread have never even been to Convivio, yet they are certain you will like Babbo better. There is nothing wrong with Babbo, but ever since Convivio opened I have felt no desire to return to Babbo.

                      23 Replies
                      1. re: rrems

                        What? 3 Babbo-boosters think Babbo wil be better? Than Convivio? As far as I can tell, they didn't claim anything about Convivio being worse than Babbo. Of course, these 3 would claim Babbo is the better choice. All these 3 Babbo-boosters claimed was that they had such terrific experiences that Babbo that they recommended it. I don't see any of them putting down Convivio, nor were they certain that the OP will not like Convivio better.

                        I've been to both a few times. Yet, I recommended Babbo based on the OP's celebratory requirement. Plus, I reallly really believe that the dishes at Babbo is still better than Convivio's.

                        1. re: RCC

                          So you prefer Babbo and I prefer Convivio. Nothing wrong with that, but at least we have both tried both restaurants. My problem is that the OP is asking which to choose and without having tried both, how can anyone answer that?

                          1. re: rrems

                            Yes it's clear where our preferences lie.

                            However, you made-up assumptions about how the 3 Babbo-boosters that I really can't make out from their posts. Where did you come up with the fact that they are certain that the OP will like Babbo better? Plus, you also made the assumption that they've never been to Convivio, which one poster already disputed.

                            We are in a forum board where everybody weighs in with opinions. When I ask for opinions between restaurants here, I'd l generally expect that I will not get many responses posters that's been to both. Then I weigh my options based on the responses, whether they've been to both or not. I didn't see anything in the OP's post where the OP required opinions only from those that's been to both. Did you?

                            1. re: RCC

                              From the original post:

                              "which one would you choose -- and why?"

                              1. re: rrems

                                You made your assumptions based on that?

                                I still didn't see anything in the OP's post where the OP required opinions only from those that's been to both.

                                1. re: RCC

                                  That's true, but anyone who's been to only one of these restaurants can report on their experience there, negative or positive. Anyone who's been to both can compare and contrast.

                          2. re: RCC

                            "I've been to both a few times. Yet, I recommended Babbo based on the OP's celebratory requirement." RCC - can you say more about that, please?

                            1. re: CindyJ

                              First of all, just as mentioned by others, the noise level in Babbo is higher than that at Convivio, especially if one happens to be at a table in the downstairs dining area (the upstairs area is relatively more sedate and quieter). Babbo plays classic rock music, which I’ve not found intrusive nor obstructive to enjoying the food and the ambiance. All the parties that I’ve been a part of when in Babbo, have found the music, the food and the ambiance part of the total celebratory atmosphere that we came there for.

                              Babbo has a lighter and brighter atmosphere. Convivio’s is darker and, to be honest, will make the better “date” place.

                              Regardless of what others say, Batali’s dishes at Babbo is still as close as anyone can get to the regional, traditional and rustic dishes in Italy. I like Convivio, but the dishes are more toward s the modern /fusion side when compared to Babbo. This is a huge selling point for me when I want traditional Italian.

                              If you are a wine-drinker, Convivio doesn’t come close to half the robust Italian wines that Babbo has. Even as I am personally acquainted with Convivio’s wine director, it is acknowledged that Babbo has one of the country’s deepest list of any Italian region and/or price point. It is well documented here that even if the diners wanted an expensive bottle, Babbo’s sommelier have always been quick to provide suggestions and steer diners to a similar but much lower-priced wine, that is at least as good as what the diner originally wanted. I love this about Babbo.

                              I’ve never had a bad service at Babbo. Also, at Convivio. Some claim about having stiff maitre’d and reception staff at Babbo, and, to be honest, I’ve witnessed the same exact stiffness at Convivio. It doesn’t bother me as it’s just the way they are, but they’re not mean or anything like that.

                              At the end. It’s really your choice as to the type of food and ambiance that you’d like to celebrate in. However, it always seems easier to fondly remember with out-of-town friends about our celebratory dinners at Babbo. I’m not sure if we'd remember and talk about it the in the same way had we dined at a place like, say, Convivio.

                              1. re: RCC

                                Thanks! That's VERY helpful!

                          3. re: rrems

                            I've been to Convivio and it was fine; in fact, I'll proabbly go back. I prefer Babbo, so I found no need to mention Convivio.

                            1. re: ttoommyy

                              Sorry, that was not clear from your post. I guess a lot of us have strong opinions one way or the other, which is why questions like this come up.

                              1. re: rrems

                                Funny, when I posted the question, I sort of expected a clear consensus. It's interesting how polarized the opinions are, which of course still leaves me with the question -- Babbo or Convivio. I must say, not only am I'm finding your opinions useful, I'm also learning a lot from the reasons behind your recommendations.

                                Maybe I'll ask my daughter to read through this thread and make the choice, and not surprise her as I had originally planned. There's a part of me that's leaning toward Babbo. I imagine the dining experience there would be soooooo New York! That might sound strange, but hopefully you understand what I mean. Then again, I don't want to choose Babbo simply because it's trendy, and those of you who are singing Babbo's praises are helping me to understand that there's far more to this restaurant than a celebrity chef owner.

                                At the same time, Convivio is sounding to me like a place where the food reigns supreme, and that's very important to me. I hate leaving a restaurant having paid what I consider to be a huge tab, and feeling let down by the food and/or service. My sense is that that is more likely to occur at Babbo -- not that it IS likely, but more likely to occur at Babbo than at Convivio. And that's more from reading between the lines than from anything specific that anyone's said.

                                It also sounds like I have two really good choices, and that regardless of where we end up, it'll be wonderful. Decisions... decisions... :)

                                1. re: CindyJ

                                  Just wondering how your decision came down to Babbo and Convivio. Why not, for example, Scarpetta?

                                  1. re: Jeffo405

                                    Babbo I had heard much about, and have tried in the past to get a reservation. I just learned about Convivio in reading through a few threads about Babbo -- and I'd read enough to make me wonder if it could be a good choice instead of Babbo. I wasn't at all familiar with Scarpetta until I started seeing it mentioned on some of the other posts I had seen, and while it looks wonderful, and looks like a place I'll definitely consider for another trip into NYC, I wasn't about to drive myself nutzo by adding a third option to the mix for this particular dinner.

                                    I mentioned that I'm not from NYC; I'm not familiar with all the dining gems the city has to offer.

                                    1. re: Jeffo405

                                      As someone in a similar boat -- i.e. having to decide which Italian resto will be deemed worthy of my visit in a week '-), maybe the reason is Scarpetta's online menu? While the execution of their dishes may be fantastic, it just didn't read as interesting as the Babbo or Convivio menus. I mean, pasta with tomato sauce? C'mon. You're gonna have to serve up something more engaging than that to spark my interest.

                                      1. re: linguafood

                                        Don't make the mistake of understimating the spaghetti with tomato sauce at Scarpetta. That dish is sublime.

                                        1. re: edwardspk

                                          Yup, easily one of the best, if not the best, Spaghetti with tomato sauce I've ever had..

                                          1. re: RCC

                                            Well, that would have to be one crazy impressive tomato sauce. Any idea what they put in it to make it so fantastic (my guess is butter)? Crack cocaine?

                                            1. re: linguafood

                                              The recipe is all over the Internet. Here's one link. There is indeed butter in it.


                                              I'm wondering if the dish would be better in the summer when tomatoes are in season.

                                              1. re: Miss Needle

                                                It's so rich, I'm not sure I could eat it in the summer! But, heck, I'd sure give it my best try! :-)

                                                And thanks so much for the recipe link! I had no idea it was out there. Mmmm, I just rethought my dinner plans for tonight. Might be cooking at home instead....

                                                1. re: edwardspk

                                                  Summer, fall, winter, spring, monsoon season .... damn, I can eat that dish any time.

                                                2. re: Miss Needle

                                                  Ah, thanks for the link. That's a tomato sauce. Can someone explain why it is so incredible? Is it the basil oil?

                                                  I mean, I like tomato sauce and all, I just cannot imagine ordering it in a restaurant. I make spaghetti with tomato sauce at home, and it's pretty damn delicious.

                                                  When I go out for Italian food, I like to order a pasta I can not easily recreate at home. Maybe that's just me.

                                                  ETA: I did have some pretty awesome spaghetti primavera at one of my fave Italian haunts in Berlin, which I was reluctant to order myself (b/c of above mentioned reasons), but my man had it, and it was quite delish. Simple tomato sauce with basil and mozza.

                                      2. re: CindyJ

                                        FWIW, aside from the food, I prefer the atmosphere and service at Convivio, and do not feel it is in any way less "celebratory". One of our recent dinners was with two friends who were celebrating a special occasion, and they were thrilled with the entire experience. They felt it was warm and festive, and that the servers really cared.

                                2. I went to Babbo, an old favorite of mine, a month ago and was very disappointed. Everything was over-seasoned, and the pastas were just not as good as I remember them being.
                                  I had a delicious meal at Convivo, and highly recommend it, as well as Michael White's other 2 restaurants (Alto and Marea).

                                  1. babbo babbo babbo. I am a chef, long-time food lover, and for service and just plain consistent and wonderful food...BABBO

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: hnp332

                                      Still, I have to wonder: is that goose liver ravioli SUPPOSED to have that much vinegar?

                                      1. re: Jeffo405

                                        I would guess if it was served that way, that is the way it was intended to be served. Now, SHOULD it have had that much vinegar...that's the real question.

                                    2. CindyJ, as you've already read, having been to both of your choices many times, I recommend Babbo for your particular occassion. There's a reason I've chosen to celebrate New Year's Eve at Babbo every year for the last 4 years and have always had fantastic experiences. There is no way I can imagine you would be disappointed with the pasta tasting menu, which is my favorite option there and which is surprisingly reasonably priced.

                                      Having said that, and not intending to confuse your choices, I would have to agree with HB1906 that Aldea is a worthy option to consider. In fact, I would probably even choose Aldea OVER Convivio (but still not over Babbo).

                                      1. Hi Cindy - I haven't dined at Convivio, but i had the pleasure of dining at Babbo just a few nights ago for my birthday. I had the Pasta tasting menu (8 courses) and it was pretty amazing!! Service was good, and I thought the tasting menu was worth the price ($70 i think).

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: termehm

                                          Cindy - NB: There's a lot of pasta in that tasting menu! I loved it, but my wife was pretty much done after the third or fourth one...

                                        2. In case anyone happens upon this post years hence hoping for an update post 2010, I am here to say three years later this face off has been decided and Babbo is squarely the winner. I don't think Convivio is even open anymore.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: HungryNihilist

                                            In that case, I chose well because we did dine at Babbo -- and it was wonderful, as I recall. We still talk about the stinging nettle pasta we had that night.