BABBO: Round 1 (West Village)

So Saturday night was Round 1 of dining at this legendary NY restaurant which opened 12 years ago and is still cranking out fully booked dinner service every single night..weekday or weekend.  So this culinary adventure started a month ago…which is the earliest they will accept reservations.  9:30am… 9:43… 9:55… start dialing the reservation hotline that opens up at 10…10:05, still trying to get through…10:09, dialed about 12 times already and keep getting a busy signal…10:14…10:19, haven’t put the phone down yet and still trying to get through but I have a conference call in 11 minutes…11:25…”Hello, thank you for calling Babbo…”  HOLY SHIT.  I’ll take the prime 8pm spot for…(hmmm, better make a good number just in case!)… I’ll take 8pm for 4 people.

So here we are, Chef Michelle, her hubby Chris and her sous chef Mark (did I mention he’s also an environmental scientist?!) being led up the staircase in the middle of the restaurant up to the main dining room upstairs.  I could have sworn that rays of white light were beaming down from above as we walked to the staircase…but it could very well have been my delirium setting in at that point.

So the pictures below are all of the dishes, minus two (no love letters and no asparagus antipasti pics).  We opted not to do the tasting menu and decided to go a la carte by each picking our own antipasti, primi, secondi, dessert and 1 contorni so we could all try everything.  Every single bite was different and just spectacular.  Some of the highlights…  The Gulf Shrimp were cooked to perfection, chilled and served over finely shredded fennel doused in this jalapeno vinaigrette topped with ramps.  I was shattered when I was down to my last bite.  I kid you not, I think I shed a tear.  To be able to enjoy some of the most delicious things this city has to offer, you have to be willing to step a little out of your comfort zone…like the Pig’s Foot Milanese and the Sweetbreads.  I enjoy sweetbreads, but I am sure glad that Chris opted to order both because they were hands down two of the top three dishes of the night.  In his words…it was “porkalicious”!  I believe the sweetbreads are a signature dish at Babbo and it showed.  On a scale of 1-5, I would be giving them both a 10. 

Marinated Gulf Shrimp with Cardoons, Budding Chives and a Jalapeño Vinaigrette

Warm Lamb’s Tongue Vinaigrette with Chanterelle Mushrooms and a 3-Minute Egg

Pig Foot “Milanese” with Rice Beans and Arugula

Now something else to know about Babbo is that it is truly one of the best places in NY to have high-quality pasta.  I have my favorite trattoria in SoHo, but this is a different level of pasta.  Yes, it’s homemade of course, but every single bite just melts in your mouth.  Chef Mark and I opted for the raviolis…he beat me to the beef cheeks ravioli, so I went with the goat cheese tortelloni option.  They were eyes-rolling-to-the-back-of-your-head good.  Chris got the Mint Love Letters, which were delicious and probably the one dish of the evening that invoked visions of tulips, bunnies and springtime when you took a bite.  Just. SO. Fresh.  I couldn’t eat a whole dish of it because I am not a mint fanatic, but it was good for one or two pages of the love letters.  The spicy lamb sausage sauce kissed by the mint was just a perfect fusion.  Michelle got the spaghettini with lobster which was good, but not my-mouth-is-having-an-orgasm-right-now memorable. If that dish were served at another restaurant, yes, it would be probably the best dish on their menu, but at Babbo it was mediocre…high-level mediocre, but mediocre nonetheless.

Beef Cheek Ravioli with Crushed Squab Liver and Black Truffles

Goat Cheese Tortelloni with Dried Orange and Wild Fennel Pollen

Spaghettini with Spicy Budding Chives and a One Pound Lobster

Then we got our secondi orders with a side order of ramps.  I will be discussing ramps in a later post this week because they definitely deserve a little love of their own because they are that good!  I was originally going to order the lamb chops, but I always order lamb, so I figured let me try something…different.  I ordered the bunny.  Sorry Mich-!  Now I can’t pass up the opportunity to comment on the irony of my rabbit being served over carrot vinaigrette.  Clearly when Frank Langello was thinking up this dish we was feeling sassy.  It was a great pairings of flavor for sure.  The meat was not over-cooked–nor under and was hugged by delicious cuts of pancetta.  Deelish!  It was my second favorite main course of the evening.  The chefs ordered the braised beef and the duck dishes.  The duck dish was my least favorite despite such a wonderful preparation.  Duck is very hit or miss with me due to it’s tremendous gaminess.  This is coming from a diner who ordered rabbit–I know I know, I get it!  But regardless, it still underwhelmed me.  The braised beef served over translucent polenta was fantastic also.  But the highlight of the main course parade was the sweetbreads dish.  OMG.  They were fennel-dusted and fried, which seems to be the way many chefs opt to cook these delicacies due to their extremely soft texture.  But it was the rest of players in the dish that just put it over the edge.  Sweet and sour onions–check.  Quince vinaigrette–check.  Dishes like this seperate the upstart restaurants from the masters.  Just perfect.

I am going to discuss two other dishes that we didn’t order.  But before I get into that tangent, one thing I have not mentioned up until now definitely needs to be addressed about Babbo.  The service and the presentation of your experience there–not really one thing, but you get it.  You walk in and you are truly pampered and taken care of.  They will address every question, food concern, wine query with just grace and knowledge.  Even if you are not a foodie, you can go in here and feel so welcomed and comfortable with what you are about to eat and drink and know it’s completely ok to ask.  That, my friends, is worth the price tag alone

Rabbit with Peas, Babbo Pancetta and Carrot Vinaigrette

Braised Beef over polenta

Fennel Dusted Sweetbreads with Sweet and Sour Onions, Duck Bacon and Membrillo Vinaigrette

Duck with Radicchio, Parsley Root, Babbo Pancetta and Mostarda di Cremona

The first dish we didn’t order is the branzino.  Branzino is a freshwater, Mediterranean sea bass which is actually one of my favorite fishes due to it’s delicate texture and flavor.  The party next to us who we shared the service table with did order it and I was green with envy.  I clearly didn’t taste it, but the presentation was remarkable.  They bring the whole grilled fish out to the service table and skillfully de-bone the entire fish right in front of you and plate it into the shape of the fish.  This is the first time I have seen it done so skillfully and fast where the preparer is not participating in a Quickfire Challenge on Top Chef.  Just spectacular and kudos to him for that.  Now, Babbo just cannot be talked about without mentioning their deconstructed osso bucco for two.  I am going to have to visit again just so I can share this dish with someone.  The big hunk of meat is brought out and deconstructed and plated for the two of you with the saffron orzo and chestnut gremolata along with two bone silos filled with…yes, you guessed it buttery marrow.  Next time…must try.

I’ll wrap up with the desserts.  They were all mind-numbingly perfect.  If you are a chocoholic and want to die a slow, sweet death at the hands of a quintessential chocolate dessert, the chocolate hazlenut cake with orange sauce and hazlenut gelato would be it.  I literally let each bite sit in my mouth for a minute and melt.  Incredible.  The rest of the deserts were also fabulous and would have gotten a full paragraph write-up too if it weren’t the for the chocolate cake showoff who just completely stole the show.  We each ordered a desert and literally rotated the plates around the table until we were done. 

Would I go back?  Well, does a fish swim?!  Food was spectacular and is exactly how it should be done.  The bottles of wine were perfectly suggested by our sommelier.  Last but not least, the service was impeccable thanks to a staff that is so smart and warm that you just can’t go wrong in how you navigate through the experience.



DESSERTS:  Banana Walnut Olive Oil Cake with Banana Yogurt Gelato and Creamy Caramel, Chocolate Hazelnut Cake with Orange Sauce and Hazelnut Gelato, Rhubarb Tart, Blueberry and Cherry Tart.


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