Babbo

by Susan on July 22, 2008

[Food:4.5/5]

Sometimes, after a restaurant receives the highest of accolades, year after year after year, the food and service slip ever so slightly. At Babbo, even a hint of complacency is undetectable. After ten years, Mario Batali’s Italian is as bold and mouth-watering as ever.

Before last week, I hadn’t been to Babbo in over a year. During this hiatus I had built up the food to such neck-breaking heights, it seemed impossible for the experience to live up to expectations. But Batali and his crew managed to one-up me; the meal was better.

Babbo’s modern Italian menu can be overwhelming. Four sections – antipasti, primi, secondi, and contorni – are filled with tantalizing options. There will likely be a handful of unfamiliar items, some of which you’ll want to try, some of which you won’t. There is tripe. There is testa. There is lamb’s brain.

Informed and friendly servers graciously answer diners’ questions. They’re patient and helpful when you shyly ask, “What is Garganelli?” The answer, small, rolled tube pasta with ridges, is delivered as though you’re the first person to ask such a good question. I’m quite sure you’re not.

There has been much discussion about the rock music that blares from Batali’s iPod. It certainly affects the atmosphere. During my last dinner at Babbo, head-banging AC/DC boomed too loudly as I tried immerse myself in Mint Love Letters with Lamb Sausage. It was hard to be completely wooed.

On this recent visit we were seated in the brightly lit, upstairs dining room where the music was less conspicuous and the atmosphere more relaxed. It felt distant from the pounding music and crowded bar I remember all too well from last time.

Babbo is a lifetime away from red sauce Italian and I often hesitate to recommend it to those who might not appreciate Batali’s culinary greatness. Less exotic pasta preparations, or perhaps a fish, fowl, or meat option from the secondi section of the menu will blamelessly appeal to any diner. At Babbo, even the simplest of dishes are wonderful and the pasta, regardless of filling or sauce, is flawless. But to me, Batali’s heart and true ingenious lies outside the boundaries.

Fennel Dusted Sweetbreads sit in a pool of Sweet and Sour Onions. Sugar and acid render the crispy and savory meat into an almost dessert-like dish. It’s candy and thyroid meeting for the first time. There are fireworks.

While Grilled Octopus graces many a menu these days, Batali’s version, soaked for days in Limoncello before being charred, trumps all in flavor and tenderness.

Babbo’s homemade pasta dishes are also triumphant. The ravioli casing, so thin and translucent, becomes a window into the dark and succulent filling. This time, we chose Beef Cheek with Crushed Squab Liver and Black Truffles. Last time, it was the Goose Liver. Both times, it was decadent and delicious.

A seemingly tame choice, Prosciutto San Daniele, was cured so delicately, the dried slices of meat were elevated to another level.

Whole Grilled Branzino, perhaps the most benign dish on the evening’s menu was seasoned, grilled and filleted to perfection. Sure you’ve had this fish before, but just not this good.

Scrumptiously roasted Funghi were served room temperature and then drizzled with peas and caramelized onions while a traditional preparation of Veal Medallions were pounded thin and served with preserved lemon, capers, and rapini. Both were robust in flavor and expert in preparation.

Grilled Guinea Hen was not as mind-blowing as the version at Batali’s long, left behind Po, but the moist fowl did not disappoint.

The desserts were also successful, holding court on their own without being too showy.

The wild strawberries that topped the Crostata were the juiciest and sweetest I’ve had all season and it took great restraint not to lick the plate on which the creamy Cheesecake drizzled with Maple Syrup arrived.

Savory to sweet, simple to complex, Babbo is one of the best start to finish meals you’ll have in New York.

Now all you have to do is get a reservation.

Babbo
http://www.babbonyc.com
110 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10011
212.777.0303

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