The Girl Who Ate Everything

Blogging about food and whatever since 2004.

Babbo: Everything But Dessert

[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.]

Tina and Helen, deciding!
Tina and Helen

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.

mm chunka bread
BREAD! The carb of kings. And peasants.

First, a thick round slice of chewy, crusty bread. Not revelatory, but nothing bad about it either.

complimentary chickpea bruschetta
Mm, peas of chick.

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.

Pig's Foot “Milanese” with Rice Beans and Arugula

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.

Grilled Octopus with “Borlotti Marinati"

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.

Warm Lamb’s Tongue Vinaigrette
Mm, tongue

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.

Wild Arugula with Parmesean

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
Beef cheek!

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”
Brain of lambs

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
Mint love letters

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
Chianti Stained Pappardelle

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.

Pile of duck!

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.

And underneath the breast meat is...

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.

macaron-y things and biscotti
dessert things

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.


110 Waverly Pl
New York, NY 10011


Julite / April 17, 2008 11:41 AM

I'm always thinking what a lucky duck you are to get to try so much awesome-looking food, but this time, I wished more than ever that I could've sat there with you to try all that. It looks great, it's unique, and I have faith that it was incredibly well done. If I ever hit NYC, I'm making a beeline to Babbo!

Also: Caribouuuuuu!

Glad you got rest the next day. =)

Alex / April 17, 2008 11:42 AM

Did you ever read Bill Buford's Heat? It's well worth the read, particularly after your visit to Babbo.

auntjone / April 17, 2008 12:51 PM

First, I heart Tina for her incredible organizing powers.

Second, lamb's tongue? I can't imagine they are very big, so was your serving miniscule or did they gather up baby tongues from the whole herd to make it? I'm very curious.

Third, your description of the desserts was phenomenal. I think you are very well on your way to becoming an exceptional food writer.

G / April 17, 2008 3:57 PM

Oh boy! Some serious gourmet stuff going on there on your plate. Not for the faint hearted either with the brain raviolis and other not so much run-of-the-mill animal parts and slash or ingredients.

Wish I could've been there too :)

SuperChomp / April 17, 2008 4:38 PM

I agree with you that we (er.. everyone in general. Except vegetarians perhaps) should consume more tongue. I had some reindeer tongue in Finland and it was far superior to the moose steak I had.

I know this post sounds like a rampant stereotype of Finland, but I'm being serious. Honest! lol. It was a Lappish restaurant :)

mike / April 17, 2008 7:40 PM

@auntjone: tongue can get pretty big. The cut extends to the back of the head so the whole tongue is 2-3x bigger than what you can see in the mouth. My favorite quote from Mario Batali is when one of his guests on Molto Mario pointed at a huge beef tongue (it was like a foot long) and asked if it was from a cow, Mario gave him a look and said "no, it's a porn star's tongue." They'd probably edit that out nowadays.

Omg Robin octopus can be soooo tender. I had it at a good greek restaurant and was shocked! Up til that I've only had octopus from Korean panchan and it was always super chewy. Maybe that's just how asians cook octopus?

Mila / April 17, 2008 8:14 PM

On my last trip to NY (long ago and far away), I made sure to have one dinner with my best friend at Babbo's. We both had a tasting menu and enough wine to make it a wee bit hard to walk back to the hotel. Oh and since we were seated at the 10:00pm slot, we sort of stayed past midnight. They did give us an extra complimentary dessert though!

kimmaaaay / April 17, 2008 10:05 PM

Caribou! I just saw them last Thursday and they were two kinds of awesome! (not just one, but two!) the drummer = brilliant.

also, i must try octopus. have had squid, but not octopus.

whitney / April 17, 2008 10:26 PM

Hey Robin! Well if it makes you feel any better I lost/had my wallet stolen on my vacation. it had $10. but my visa and ID, which I got back easily. So I understand your annoyance, although $500 is a lot to be out.

Also I thought of you when I was taking some pictures in Mexico (especially seeing all the horchata (I cant spell)). If you haven't been and are interested in seeing some grocery store pictures, let me know and I can email them to ya.

roboppy / April 18, 2008 12:11 AM

Julie: If you come to NY, you're welcome to COME ALONG ON THE GORGING TRAIN, CHOO CHOOO...which will stop at Babbo. Eventually.

I need a lot more sleep than i actually get. :(

Alex: Yeah, I love that book! But I read it nearly two years ago. Or something. I think I gave it to a friend, but I'd like to read it again after having actually eaten at Babbo.

Auntjone: We're all in awe of Tina's organization skillz.

I figure the tongue was cut into small pieces, not that I was eating a whole hoard of tongues. I HOPE.

And glad you liked the dessert description. I do love my desserts. :)

G: Brain raviolis! It's the wave of the future!


SuperChomp: Oo, there's a place I haven't thought of visiting. I would like some reindeer tongue though. And maybe moose steak.

Mike: Thanks for the tongue explanation!

And octopus at a Greek restaurant...I should try that. I rarely eat Greek food. Like once a year it seems. :\ You're right about the super chewy Asian octopus; I don't like that stuff. Wah.

Mila: I can't say I'd ever want to eat dinner at 10 PM, but that seems to be about when Chileans like to eat dinner. Among many other people around the world. But damn IM TIRED, I WANT SLEEPIES. Especially with all that wine. ;)

kimmay: YEAH, the drummer is brilliant...I mean, they all are, aren't they?

Make sure you get good octopus! It can vary a lot. ;_;

Whitney: Aw, that sucks. :( Everyone has a "I lost this/got robbed on vacation" story. My $500 loss got a kick in the butt when my bank also charged me $5 and a conversion fee for taking out money in a foreign country. ARRGHRHRGHRHGR FAIL.

HORCHATA!! SO GOOD!! Do you have photos of bakeries? And horchata? Those might be nice to look at. :D

Viv / April 18, 2008 3:07 AM

ooh, those octopusly bits look good. delectable. scrumptious. delumptious. [a cross-bred word of the previous two]

I need to sit down with a good octopus and devour it. So far, my cheek ... muscles ... ache with the tough, tasteless task of chewing through one. FAIL.

And I can relate to the not-eating-tongue thing. I mean, it's tongue. DOOD. But man, it looks tasty. I'll eat it, sure. Just gotta not think of what the tongue's touched before *I* ate it. Huh.

Marcia / April 18, 2008 9:07 AM

Oh my, the duck looks cooked to perfection!

Robin, I just want to say that I'm sorry about your monetary loss. I'm not one those people who always try to look on the bright side but... I would like to say that I'm relieved to know that at least you were not phisically harmed or injured. Sometimes we do lose perspective of what really was at the stake. I know it was of lot of money, but you're safe and sound and at the end, that's what really matters. Money comes and goes, soon you'll recover that money again. I've been robbed twice with a gun on my neck, I still think I was lucky to be unharmed. Take care.

michelle @ TNS / April 18, 2008 2:22 PM

i want the mint love letters. the name is twee, but they sound damn tasty.

a lot of those dishes involve animal parts that i'm not normally a fan of, but i'd give 'em a try (especially now that i know that babbo is cheaper than i thought). my personal faves are still the pig and duck, tho.

Tina / April 18, 2008 8:58 PM

Me? Personal dining assistant? Noo...I'm just a control freak with planning on where the heck I'm eating.

We are soo going to Babbo next month! Problem is, Kathy's not willing to go! Know anyone else who's interested or I'll ask around?

Christina / April 18, 2008 11:41 PM

Awesome food! I have to say that I, for one, love tongue. Makes some of the best taco filling.

I want the plate of cookies!

roboppy / April 19, 2008 1:05 AM


Your cheek muscles shouldn't ache. IT IS WRONG! Must fine good octopus!

The tongue will be full disinfected before it reaches your table NO WORRIES!

Ailene: Make sure you try lamb brains before you die. Ye know..whenever!

Marcia: Oh, I definitely thought about how lucky I am to NOT BE DEAD! Yeah! Bright side! Bright side is kinda dim, eh? My can't say my experience is anything like being robbed at gunpoint though; that is much much much...scarier. :( I'M GLAD YOU'RE ALIVE AND WELL!

Michelle: Pig and duck pig and duck pig and duck!

And tongue, maybe? :D

I hope you get to try Babbo. It won't totally clean out your bank account, YAY!

Tina: Hm...well if Kathy can't come we can just have a group with one less person? Or you can ask around!

Christina: OH YES, I did have a tongue taco some weeks ago and that was my fave! Tongue taco + horchata = happy belly.

Carl / April 19, 2008 8:35 PM

For the octopus, I was told (but could never independently verify) - during the one time we couldn't get frozen breaded calamari at the place I worked at during one summer in high school and we had to get raw octopus and cut, bread, and cook it ourselves - that it goes through several stages of tenderness. It goes immediately tough, then soft (but not really cooked) then tough again, then soft (THIS is when it should be served)....but the problem is that most places over cook it and it goes tough again. Very chewy. "Like a rubber band" my maestro told me.

Again, I've never been able to read this anywhere else, but it sounded real logical at the time. And we made some marvelous calamari that day in the pavilion.

Danny / April 21, 2008 3:35 PM

how does the duck rank amongst the other ducks in the city?

and i always feel weird about ordering salad at a 'fancy' restaurant because it is just leaves. do you recommend the wild arugula salad?

roboppy / April 21, 2008 3:40 PM

Carl: Whoa, I never heard to that before! Very interesting...tough, then soft, then tough? WHAT THE HELL, CALAMARI HAS TO MAKE UP ITS MIND!!

Maybe you need to do an experiment for your website? ;)

Danny: I haven't had duck very often, but in my lifetime of eating duck I'd was definitely one of the better ones. The breast wasn't too tough (that's happened to me and the left was of the fork-tender sort. It wasn't too salty either, which I've come across. No dryness, of course.

You're right, I wouldn't order a salad either. "WAIT, I CAN DO THIS AT HOME!" But if you're trying to eat a vegetarian meal (or as veg as possible), it's a nice option. I wouldn't order it myself; give me the meat!

Anna / April 30, 2008 8:49 PM

This was very helpful. Every time I go to NYC, I walk past Babbo thinking the same things you did. Everyone recommends Babbo. However, now that I know what's on the menu, I'll skip it. I think maybe the only thing I'd eat would be the bread and biscotti.

Maybe I'm just more cut out for Lupa.

Oh, and now I have to go find out what "Caribou" is. You kids....

roboppy / May 1, 2008 12:17 AM

Anna: Oh noes, I'd hope there's more you can eat than just the bread and biscotti! the desserts I didn't eat! Haha. Ah. Hm. I'd love to try Lupa someday.

Before he took on the name Caribou, his name was Manitoba. CRAZEH NAMES.

LAG / May 5, 2008 6:27 PM

I feel your pain about the $500. My $300 camera got stolen when I went to Shanghai, along with the other 900 photos that I'd taken in Japan. Thus, I have no photos to remember and cannot regale anyone with evidence of yummy Japanese food. It's sad to think that in many countries, robbing is a commonplace event. Hopefully the rest of your trip kind of made up for it!

roboppy / May 6, 2008 10:28 PM

lag: Oh nooes, I just read your "MY CAMERA GOT STOLEN, RAWR!" entry! :( I would be totally devastated if that happened to me. You get a virtual huggle. Maybe it's a good thing that my camera is so heavy, I don't think anyone could ever just steal it from me. (The downside is that it's so heavy I'm probably gonna have shoulder problems for the rest of my life.)

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