Babbo is one of Mario Batali’s flagship restaurants. It was named the Best New Restaurant in 1998 by the James Beard Foundation, and has been given three stars by New York Times food critics Ruth Reichl and Frank Bruni.
Located in a residential neighborhood and occupying a former residence, Babbo is on the smaller side and has a definite intimate feeling.
As you enter, there is a small bar are which opens up into the dining room on the first floor. A large, steep stairway leads to additional dining upstairs.
The meal started with amuse bouche of spiced chick pea crostini. It seemed to be a very rustic Italian take on hummus. The chick peas were nice and creamy, and whet the appetite for things to come.
The Gnocchi with Braised Oxtail ($20) is a great pasta dish. The gnocchi are soft pillows that just melt in your mouth. The gnocchi is not over sauced, while the oxtail adds a bunch of flavor. Since the oxtail is braised, it is super tender and not at all tough.
The Spaghettini with Spicy Budding Chives and One Pound Lobster ($28) is an absolute steal for the price. The spaghetti was a little too al dente for my taste, as it certainly had a “chew” to it, but was almost on the verge of having a little crunch as well. The lobster was well cooked and tender. The sauce is not too spicy, but did explode with a strong tomato punch.
The Barbecued Skirt Steak ($29) is a nicely balanced dish. The skirt steak is cooked to perfection, still juicy with a lot of beef flavor. The pickled onions help to cut through the richness of the beef. The eggplant adds another “meaty” texture to the dish. The only downside of the dish was the “salsa verde”, as I am not a big fan of any type of parsley.
The “Brasato al Barolo” Braised Beef ($29) is a super tender short rib that is full of flavor. The Barolo wine adds depth of flavor and richness. The creamy polenta is a great vehicle to sop up all of the braising liquid. The celery tops adds a bit of bitterness to the dish to add another dimension.
The Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta ($8) pairs the earthy, slightly bitter and “sulfury” Brussels sprouts with salty, crispy pancetta. The Brussels sprouts are tender and slightly sweet due to caramelization.
The Rapini with Roasted Garlic ($8) adds some serious bitterness to the meal, while the roasted garlic adds some zing and sweetness. Rapini may not be for some due to how bitter it is.
The Saffron Panna Cotta ($13) is silky smooth, creamy and refreshing. The rhubarb marmalade and sorbetto helps to add some bitterness and sweetness. This is a well-balanced dessert and on the lighter side. Perfect after having a rich, heavy meal.
The Warm Apple Crostata ($13) is a perfect finish to a meal on a cold night. Paired with maple gelato, maple cider caramel and finished with Sicilian Sea Salt, the dessert is not cloying sweet. The crostata is not overly sweet and depends on its counterparts to help balance the dish. The sea salt acts both as a flavor enhancer and palate cleanser at the same time.
Although considered fine dining, Babbo definitely has a lighter side. The background music is rather loud and consists mainly of rap, such as Kanye West, Dr. Dre and the like.
Service was somewhat lackluster, as our server would go missing for long stretches at a time. The wait staff also provides a floor show of sorts. On the ground floor in the middle of the dining room, there is a large table in which many bottles of wine, dishes, bread and pitchers of water sit.
The bottles of wine are opened, and are apparently those sold by the glass. Many servers would pour themselves a small glass and taste it. At first I thought it was to make sure that each new opened bottle of wine was okay, but as the night progressed I noticed several servers going back and kept “sampling” every time they passed the table. I would guess that one server had at least 15 glasses of wine during my meal. After seeing what transpired, I’m not surprised that service was a little more lax than what I would expect.
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