Entries in Babbo (3)



The pasta tasting menu at Babbo has been on my “to do” list for several years. I finally got around to it on Friday. (A copy of the menu is below; click for a larger image.)

Everything was very good, but the savory courses ended with a whimper. The last two — “Domingo’s Pyramids” (pyramid-shaped pasta pillows with braised beef), and Pappardelle Bolognese — were items any decent cook could make at home. Babbo prepared them perfectly, but the degree of difficulty seemed low.

Among the earlier courses, my favorite was a ravioli (called Casunzei) filled with layers of beets and goat cheese. I also loved a black tagliatelle with parsnips and pancetta. The three dessert courses were fine, but again, two of the three were not especially complex.

The bread service was peculiar, in that it came with neither butter nor olive oil, nor indeed anything but the bread itself (served cold). The omission was clearly not an accident, as we noticed complaints about it at other tables.

I have no complaint with the price: $69 for eight courses (five pastas, three desserts) is an outrageously good deal. I even found a good wine for just $34, a level seldom seen these days in practically any restaurant, much less one of Babbo’s quality.

Babbo remains one of the city’s toughest reservations to get. The reservation line opens at 10:00 a.m. for one month out, and the line is usually busy for hours. By the time you get through, they’re usually sold out, or close to it. The best they could offer on a Friday evening was 5:45 p.m.

On past visits (here, here) I’ve dined at the bar (or the Enoteca, as they call it). Indeed, no one at Babbo seems to use the bar for its usual purpose—pre or post-dinner drinks. By the time I arrived at around 5:30, every stool was taken, and place settings laid for dinner. I was therefore dismayed that the staff would not seat me in the dining room until my girlfriend arrived, as there is literally nowhere to wait. By the time we left, the scrum around the host stand was nearly impassable. We felt sorry for the people who were actually trying to eat in that space.

Once we were finally seated, Babbo offered a much more refined experience. There are a lot of very good things on the menu, but on the whole I am not sure it’s worth the trouble.

Babbo (110 Waverly Place between MacDougal St. & Sixth Ave., Greenwich Village)

Food: **½
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: **½

Babbo on Urbanspoon


Return to Babbo

Note: Click here for a more recent review of Babbo.

A friend suggested Babbo last night. I’d been there alone about a month ago, but Babbo’s one of those places that never wears out. We ate at the bar. At 7:00pm there were still several bar stools available, but they didn’t stay empty for long.

On a second visit, Babbo was even more impressive. I ordered the Three Goat Cheese Truffles ($12) to start. Three balls of cool goat cheese were covered lightly in colored spices, which the menu calls “Peperonata.” I could have eaten a dozen.

For my entrée, I tried another Babbo signature dish, the Mint Love Letters with Spicy Lamb Sausage ($18). These are squares of pasta, with mint and lamb pressed inside. It’s a wonderful explosion of contrasting flavors.

Apropos of my visit, this week’s NYTimes had an article about dining at the bar, a phenomenon that has practically deprived many restaurant bars of their original raison d’etre. In fact, the article featured the very bartender that has served me on both of my Babbo visits:

“I was told you were dining,” said John Giorno, the bartender at Babbo in Greenwich Village two weekends ago, snatching a menu away from me as I settled into my seat and explained I was drinking. Mr. Giorno’s smile vanished like the sun and his face went as dark as a sky before a storm. I asked to see the menu and contritely ordered food.

According to bartenders, managers and owners across New York, bar space at most restaurants has become de facto dining space. Even people with reservations for a table trying to enjoy a drink at the bar first, as an enjoyable prelude, have to fight the good fight as drinkers contending with diners at the bar.

For those involved, from the staff to the patrons, the new setup has its advantages and its disadvantages. And for every separate peace, there is a potential for awkwardness that requires diplomacy.

Mr. Giorno at Babbo, realizing his brusqueness in challenging me as a drinker, quickly served me a smile with my wine.

“I treat everyone the same,” Mr. Giorno said, “but that’s kind of what we do. We’re a dining bar.”

Babbo’s bar that night was solid eaters; the host’s station was taking reservations for the seats at the bar. Drinkers who had naïvely waited to sit at the bar were told by the bartenders that the seats were not available. They seated diners who had arrived later than the drinkers.

Tension was palpable. The manager spoke with one drinking couple about the seats they were about to take, because he was negotiating with another couple at his desk who had walked in to eat and couldn’t immediately get a table. We all held our breath. The other couple decided to wait for a table. The drinkers were allowed to stay, resting their red wine and beer on the bar with some relief.

“We don’t mind them, drinkers,” Mario Batali, Babbo’s creator and co-owner, said with generosity when I spoke to him last week. “But drinkers that don’t have dinner? That’s not what we’re about.”

It might be inconvenient for drinkers, but dining at the bar is win-win for restaurants and diners. You can walk into a place like Babbo on a whim, and although it’s booked solid, a seat is there waiting for you — as long as you don’t mind sitting at the bar. My companion last night said he does it all the time.

Babbo (110 Waverly Place between MacDougal St. & Sixth Ave., Greenwich Village) 

Food: ***
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: ***



Note: Click here and here for more recent visits to Babbo.

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)

Food: ***
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: ***