In New York, there’s hardly a tougher table to come by than at Babbo, chef Mario Batali’s flagship in Greenwich Village. Reservations are accepted up to one month to the calendar date in advance, and if you want one you’d best call at 10:00am on that exact date.
But if you don’t mind eating at the bar, you can amble in any day at the 5:00pm opening time. Babbo offers wonderful service at the bar itself, and there are also several tables in the area that are first-come, first-served. I gave Babbo a try last Saturday night, sitting at the bar as many reviews had recommended.
I had my heart set on the pasta tasting menu, but I was surprised to learn that they won’t serve their tasting menus to parties of one. What an unfriendly policy! It’s their loss, as I ended up spending less money.
Anyhow, I proceeded to order à la carte. Babbo is well known for offal, so that’s where my priorities lay. I started with Pig’s Feet Milanese. This looked a bit like a large potato pancake, crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside. It was a wonderful taste sensation.
I then had the dish so much talked about, the Beef Cheek Ravioli. Perhaps it was inevitable that it couldn’t exceed its reputation, but it is a wonderful creation, putting traditional raviolis to shame.
Babbo offers plates of 3, 5, of 7 cheeses for dessert, priced at $12, $15, and $18 respectively. I chose the 5-cheese plate, which was really far too much for one person after a full-size appetizer and main course. A waiter came around and gave a back-story for all five cheeses (one of them came from a farm run by Mario Batali’s wife’s parents) and recommended the order in which they should be eaten, from least-to-most “assertive.”
In an unusual custom, Babbo serves its single-serving wines by the quartino, rather than by the glass. A quartino is about 1/3 of a bottle, so you get about two glasses for around the price many restaurants charge for just one. I’m not a big drinker, so that was about all I needed to pace myself through the meal.
The New York Times’s new restaurant critic, Frank Bruni, chose Babbo as his first review, re-affirming a three-star status first conferred by Ruth Reichl six years ago. I agree with Frank Bruni that Babbo is a bit too crowded to qualify for four stars, but he complained of “relatively hard rock” music, played too loudly for comfort. I found none of this. Perhaps the soundtrack changes later in the evening?
Although I was there alone on this occasion, I believe my dining companions — had there been any — would have heard each other a lot easier than in most New York restaurants I’ve tried recently. The Bruni review led me to expect the hustle-bussle of a brasserie, and that Babbo is not. Service was excellent, particularly considering that I was a bar patron.
Babbo has so much to offer, and I felt that I saw just the tip of the iceberg. I will have to go back.
Babbo (110 Waverly Pl. between MacDougal St. and Sixth Ave., Greenwich Village)