[I started writing this entry in the airport on Saturday, but only finished it now while trying to edit my Chile photos and write emails, among other things, like thinking about how I should be snuggled under the covers of the bed a few feet away from me. Babbo probably deserves a better entry than this one. I'm planning on going back next month though, so I'll get another chance.]
I couldn't tell you how many times I've strolled past Babbo during my three years of walking around NYU's West Village campus and thought, "Isn't that the place everyone loves? I should probably eat there." And over the three years, never actually eating there. Although it's not a restaurant you'd casually walk into for dinner, it's not that impossible to get a reservation, nor is the price extravagantly out of reach for a "splurge" restaurant. I just wanted to make sure I went with the right people who would further enhance the food with their gleeful presences.
Thankfully, Tina did all the grunt work for our girls' night (including Helen and Giulia) at Babbo, securing the reservation and going as far as making a spreadsheet outlining the dishes we could order based on other people's recommendations and calculating the final bill of each of us, including tax and tip. If anyone needs a personal dining assistant, she's your gal.
Although we were nearly an hour late for our reservation (pointing the blame towards Ariel and his lateness to Tina's pre-dinner meal at Tailor), we still managed to fit in two relaxed courses before assuming that they would kick us out to make room for the next seating. The host was clear about our time limit: "You can stay until 10 PM; after that, we unleash the hounds." A reasonable request, of course.
And here comes the food porn.
First, a thick round slice of chewy, crusty bread. Not revelatory, but nothing bad about it either.
The complimentary chickpea bruschetta was also in the "non-revelatory, not sucky" category. I mean, it tasted god. Chickpeas. In. Stuff. Tina says it was "nutty and slighty tangy," which sounds right to me. While we were eating it I was thinking more about what we were going to order for dinner, not about the chickpea matter I was crushing with my molars. Oops.
One small bite of Tina's (more description) pig's foot "milanese" (with rice, beans and arugula) was enough to get me hooked on pig fat for life. I mean, I was already hooked, but I had never eaten something that tasted so purely of pig fat before, something I wasn't expecting from a pig's foot dish. Fried. Crisp. Rich. Fat. Or in one sentence, fat encased within a crispy crust. Don't tell me you don't want a piece of that. I don't care if each miniscule bite shaves a year off my life as it glazes my digestive system with a layer of saturated fat. It brought to mind the first time I ate bronte pistachio gelato and felt like the gelato tasted more purely of pistachio than pistachios themselves. The pig's foot tasted more like fat than just plain fat. That probably doesn't make sense. I don't care.
Helen's grilled octopus with "borlotti (beans) marinati" was unlike any other octopus-like creature I had ever eaten before—it was either cooked in a way to taste nothing like octopus, or my impression of what octopus should taste like was horribly off because every previous experience I've had eating octopus was a lie. (Probably the latter.) No unsightly chewiness. No toughness to speak of. No elasticity. It was as tender as a fish ball. One of those heavier kinds of fish balls, but still. At least, that's what I perceived from the tiny bite I tried. It tasted like a cross between seafood and meat of the land; definitely something worth ordering again.
I don't know why I (or the general public) don't eat tongue more often; it's just another muscle. A very tasty, soft, tender muscle. Does it make sense that it kind of reminds me of thinly sliced roast beef? In Babbo's warm lamb's tongue vinaigrette with chantarelles and a 3-minute egg, the awesomeness of the tongue is heightened by the accompanying poached egg—pierce the egg and out comes a river of creamy egg yolk goo to mix your sliced lamb's tongue with. Slather every piece in cholesterol. And then eat the plate off clean, like I did.
Giulia's wild arugula with parmesan salad was a nice way to interrupt the onslaught of meats. I can't recall much about it aside from...liking it. It's hard to make me love a salad if it doesn't include either fried potatoes or foie gras. Or both.
I'll tell you right now that I don't know how to judge pasta. Babbo is known for making exceptional pasta dishes—naturally, I liked all of them. A lot. "Love" would be too strong of a word for me to say about any pasta; for some reason I've just never loved pasta the same way I love noodles, nor ravioli the same way I love Chinese dumplings. Flavor preference, I guess. Each pasta dish was accompanied by a different kind of cheese, freshly grated on the spot. Naturally, I cannot tell you what each cheese was—I just wanted to give some more evidence that Babbo means business.
Due to lack of brain functionings (or will to make my brain function), I'm keeping my descriptions short and unhelpful. I'm sure all the pastas are good; just get the one with the flavor you like. All their textures were very al dente...not that you would expect something floppy and overcooked.
Beef cheek ravioli with crushed squab liver and black truffles: ravioli filled with smooth beef cheek mash in a livery sauce. I want more beef cheek.
Lamb's brain "francobolli" ravioli with lemon and sage: not knowing what to expect, this dish took us all off guard. It didn't taste bad—the first flavor that came to my mind was "fungal." Creamy brains taste like earth? An interesting flavor; I'd get it again.
Mint love letters with spicy lamb sausage: minty. Actually, I could go for more mint. This seems to be a favorite dish of Babbo customers.
Chianti stained pappardelle with wild boar ragu: Helen was the only one to go for a non-filled pasta. It's a big plate of super-wide pasta strips with boar bits and winey sauce. Not that it tastes like wine wine. But you know.
The four of us shared the duck (accompanied by stuff I can't remember) for the sake of trying one of the secondis. And by "shared," I mean I ate half of it. Not on purpose; the duck happened to be placed in front of me and everyone else looked more food coma-ed out than I did. By ridding them of the responsibility of eating their part of the duck, I was doing them a favor. Right.
Underneath the tender, juicy slices of duck breast was an unexpected duck leg. My favorite duck part. Fatty, lightly crisp layer of skin atop fork-tender chunks of duck meat. I love fat. Yes.
We didn't have enough time to eat desserts off the menu, but the complimentary plate of biscotti and bite-sized cookies (chocolate and almond meringue) was enough to satiate my sweet tooth. The biscotti's fragrance invaded my nose just as my teeth were about to bite into the crisp cookie. As for what the flavor was...I can't recall exactly. Something fruity, something herbal, and lots of almond. Another example of intense, pure flavors—like the pig's foot or pistachio gelato—that don't overwhelm but just wash over the flavor receptors of your brain. The resulting feeling is of contentment and slight surprise to eat something that tastes familiar, but never before so delicious.
Although it probably would've been a bad idea for the well-being of my stomach to eat dessert, I totally could've done it had we had more time. If it helps to guide your first meal a Babbo, an appetizer, pasta dish, and shared main dish should be enough to stuff one person and cost around $60 (our bill with tax and tip came to $56 per person, split between four people). If you have time, you should add a dessert. :)
As someone who doesn't splurge on meals very often (I spent more on this dinner than any other in NYC that I can remember, ignoring the time I bought an entire bo ssam at Momofuku), I thought Babbo was worth the price. Tina and I are already planning our next meal, before which I plan on stretching my stomach.
After dinner, I rushed to the Bowery Ballroom to meet up with John for a Caribou concert, and then after that, onwards to to Brooklyn to stumble upon an already sleeping Tristan. Admitted, I was sleepy during dinner, and the concert...and that morning during work. The next day I must've taken something like three well deserved naps.