Since I've been burning the proverbial "midnight oil" at work this week words can't describe how nice it was to finally relax this weekend. I spent my Saturday at a wedding held at the grand Oheka Castle in Long Island. After a sweet ceremony my girlfriend, MW and I found our seats in the stunning dining room. It wasn't long before the conversation at the table turned to food and each couple discussed how they spent Valentine's day. I mentioned that we went to Babbo and everyone asked how I had managed to snag a reservation. I told everyone that I just arrived in person at about 9:50 a.m. on January 14th and avoided all of the busy signals and redialing. Conducting due diligence on Chowhound revealed that this method was the best way to get reservations at the popular Mario Batali restaurant. Looking around the table, I noticed the women nudge their dates as if they now possessed the key to entering Babbo...I even was told by one guest that my suggestion was the most useful information he had heard all day.
So after spending an entire paragraph detailing the reservation process, how was my experience? In my opinion Babbo lived up to all of the hype. Arriving around 10 minutes early our coats were taken and we waited by the crowded bar area as our table was cleared. I noticed the tables in the front that other Chowhounders mentioned the restaurant reserved for walk-ins, which is another alternative to the reservations ordeal. After looking at the menu MW and I decided on the pasta tasting menu, as it presented the best way to sample the widest range of the much acclaimed Batali pasta dishes. FYI, the entire table must partake in the pasta tasting or tasting menus if chosen and although they both contain the same number of courses my date and I weren't allowed to each have a different tasting menu. To view all of the pictures from this meal click here.
First, we were presented with the Babbo signature amuse-bouche: Chickpea Bruschetta. Simple and flavorful, the chickpeas were flavored with an olive tapanade and the toasted crostini provided a nice textural contrast; a great way to start the meal.
Bread service throughout the night provided a good crusty bread to eat with each course.
The first course of the pasta tasting menu was: Black (Squid Ink) Tagliatelle with Parsnips and Pancetta. This dish seemed to foreshadow how the rest of the meal would be; well cooked pastas and a well thought progression of colors, textures and flavors. The tagliatlle was colored with squid ink and while it seemed this effect was more for show than flavor I finished everything on my plate. The salty, crispy pancetta mixed with the sweet parsnips was most enjoyable.
The second course was: "Casunzei" with Poppy Seeds. Our waiter explained that the word casunzei means "pockets" in Italian and that these pastas were stuffed with smoked ricotta cheese and beets. The smokiness of the ricotta really came through and was the first thing that I noticed when were served the dish; another winner when paired with the sweet beets.
The next course was described as: Garganelli with "Funghi Trifolati." Again, our waiter came over to explain that garganelli is a penne-style pasta that is made in the shape of a throat. The mushrooms were cooked in the style of truffles, or in this case, with olive oil and garlic.
The progression of the meal shifted at this point to pastas that were a bit richer. The next dish was: Domingo’s Pyramids with "Passato di Pomodoro." So who is Domingo and why are are these pastas named after him? Turns out that Domingo is the name of the man who hand-makes all the pasta at Babbo and these were in the shape of pyramids; filled with beef short-ribs. The sauce was made with olive oil which created a velvet like texture. With each course being a success this was our favorite of the night.
Our final pasta of the night, described as the "main course" of the meal was: Papperdelle Bolognese. A staple of almost every Italian restaurant I usually choose the bolognese if offered. Babbo's version was not a disappointment, rich and full of flavor but not overpowering the fresh papperdelle this was a satisfying main.
For our first dessert course we were served: "Frittelle d’Ananas" with Ricotta Salata. A poached pineapple, deep fried and dusted with ricotta salata; a hard sheep's milk cheese that is very salty in flavor compared to the milder fresh ricotta. I enjoyed the salty element of the cheese working well with the sweetness of the pineapple.
It would be a crime to have a dessert tasting without a chocolate course and Babbo presents: Chocolate "al Diavolo," or the devil's chocolate. While the dish failed if was meant to encompass a spicy element; the dish did succeed in being a decadently rich chocolate dessert that was enjoyed.
Our last course of the evening (or so we thought) was described as a: Tyrolean Carrot and Poppyseed Cake with Olive Oil and Orange Gelato. This type of cake is common to the Northeastern region of Italy that boarders Germany. Wherever the cake is from, this version was nice and moist and went well with the gelato providing a citrus flavor.
We were then presented with a complimentary course instead of the check. The chef's favorite: a Saffron Panna Cotta with Marmalade and Grapefruit Sorbet. The panna cotta silky and the tartness of the grapefruit sorbet kept the dish balanced.
As if we weren't stuffed to the brim accompanying the check was a plate of petit fours: Almond Biscotti, Chocolate Baci and Almond Meringue Cookies.
From Molto Mario to Spain...On the Road Again and the title of Iron Chef America, Mario Batali is the definition of a "celebrity chef." Although Babbo lost its Michelin Star in 2009; the meal I enjoyed was every bit as representative of the James Beard nomination it earned in 2010.
Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca
110 Waverly Place
To see all of our pics, please view the flickr link.