To celebrate our last day of work in New York, Mirna and I took ourselves to Babbo, a Mario Batali restaurant just off Washington Square Park. It was on my list of places to eat in New York and as we’d only managed to secure a reservation for 22:45 the following day on Thursday (their phone lines are insane), we tried to drop in that day, on Wednesday, much earlier. No problem! If you’re happy to wait by the bar with a drink in hand and delicious little olives and crispy parmesan-covered grissini to nibble on, a table can be secured for you. We were told an hour’s wait but we were seated in about half that time.
We already knew ahead of time that we wanted one of the tasting menus but which one – pasta or traditional – would depend on the mood that day. The mood was pasta. A little card with the pasta tasting menu printed on it was brought to our table so that we could keep track of what we were eating (and drinking, if we had ordered the wine pairings).
We started with the Black Tagliatelle with Charred Corn and Castelmagno. Tossed along with the pasta were chives, giving a lovely oniony greenness to the carby, cheesy mixture. And the corn! I never would have thought of incorporating corn into a pasta sauce but the toasted sweet corn was delicious with the pasta. The pasta was fresh and perfectly al dente (I’d expect it to be!) but didn’t have much squid ink flavour. I licked this plate clean.
Along with this first course, we were served this chickpea bruschetta, their now quite well known amuse that they serve to everyone there. I wish we had been served it before our first course rather than having it unceremoniously dumped inbetween our plates. The chickpeas were tender (though not as creamy as the ones I love in Spain) and tossed with an tapenade/olive oil/balsamic vinegar mixture. Tasty enough.
I have to admit, I became a little apprehensive when that first plate of tagliatelle was set before me. It was a very large serving of pasta for a supposed tasting menu. Luckily, the sizes of the following dishes were much more manageable.
The second plate was “Casunzei” with Poppy Seeds. (Why the quotes?) These were ravioli stuffed with roasted beets and potato. According to an Italian colleague, they’re from the north of Italy and are not very well known even in the rest of the country. But they should be – they’re delicious! I expected more poppy seeds on top but this was a fine amount; they gave just a hint of flavour on top of the creamy filling and tender pasta.
Next was Garganelli with “Funghi Trifolati”. (Again those quotes! Why?) The waiter came over with some goat’s cheese and while grating it over our pasta, we were told, “The chef recommends ____ cheese.” Shame I didn’t catch the name of it – it was quite noisy in the restaurant. The internet tells me that trifolati is a method of stewing involving olive oil, garlic and parsley – a most excellent way of cooking mushrooms. The mushroom and garlic flavour infused every bite of the dish – gorgeous.
Then came Domingo’s Pyramids with “Passato di Pomodoro” with a grating of the recommended pecorino romano on top. Inside was shredded braised beef. This was good but to me, the least impressive of the dishes. Perhaps the novelty of the first few pastas overshadowed this one.
So, who is or was Domingo?
The final pasta course was Pappardelle Bolognese. The chef recommended parmigiano reggiano for this one. This was extremely filling, with the sauce to pasta ratio highest of all the pasta dishes, so we were eating meat and pasta, not pasta with meat. It was a very classic Bolognese and the perfect pappardelle went superbly with it. (I was rather pleased that my own bolognese tastes rather like Babbo’s!) A great final pasta dish.
Time for the cheese course. These were “Frittele di Caprino” with Warm Honey. These goat’s cheese fritters were hot and creamy and flecked with what I believe was mint and crunchy on the outside. They were incredibly moreish and I ate mine slowly, wiping up the honey, to make them last longer. Two little fritters are not enough!
Our first dessert was a Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta with Licorice. This little thimbleful of rich, cold creaminess (heavier than a typical panna cotta) was very chocolatey but I could not taste any licorice. On a side note, I was shocked that in the time I took to eat my little panna cotta, the man sitting next to me managed to wolf down an entire double thickness pork chop.
Finally, while Mirna was served this Citrus Polenta Cake with Olive Oil Gelato,
I was presented with this Peach Crostata with Amaretto Gelato. It seems to be the norm at the restaurant to give each diner a different final dessert, though only the first was listed on the printed menu. We shared them both.
The first dessert I was keen to try as it had that olive oil gelato I’d heard so much about; however, I found that there wasn’t much olive oil flavour to the gelato and that most of it came from the olive oil drizzle on the plate. Perhaps the cold dampened the flavours? The citrus polenta cake was served on a slice of candied lemon but I wasn’t fond of the cake. Actually, we left it half eaten as the polenta gave it too much of a graininess that made it very dry in the mouth.
The second dessert was just perfect and was a warm peach tart with a crumble topping. I loved just placing my face over the plate and inhaling deeply as the scent of peach tart and lavender and rosemary wafted up to greet me. The two herbs were used as a garnish, crushed lightly before being scattered over the plate.
It was $69 for these eight courses and trust me, you’re not going to find a tasting menu in London at that price; actually, that’s the average price for a meal for many people eating out in this nation’s capital. Overall, while Babbo is not the most inventive of restaurants, the pastas were delicious and I was very happy to have tried it. We left full (but not uncomfortably so – does that make us pigs?), happy and ready to really do some proper sightseeing in New York.
110 Waverly Place, NW corner of Washington Square Park
New York, NY