My favorite Christmas gift this year was a gift from my dear friend Carolyn: a gift certificate to Mario Batali’s famous Italian restaurant, Babbo. I couldn’t wait to use it…but considering tables are next to impossible to reserve there, I had to wait four months to do so. Thankfully, my kind boss knows Mr. Batali, so I was hooked up with a Thursday night reservation at 6.15pm – ideal compared to the other (if even available) choices of 5pm or 10.45pm.
I decided to take my fellow food lover Sonia, and we counted down the seconds leading up to the event. Sonia is not just a regular Babbo customer, though; considering Mario Batali religiously and exclusively uses her father’s olive oil, Da Vero, she is basically a celeb at the establishment. I had to embarrass her upon entering by revealing the fact that Da Vero’s daughter was in the house, and very glad I did – they basically bowed at our feet and even sent out a delicious freebie. Oh, the life of excess and hangin’ celebs…doesn’t get much better than this.
Bottom line is that Babbo’s ambiance is cozy and wonderful, its service is attentive and friendly, and its food is delicious. I have to say that though Babbo’s menu is more varied and extensive than that of Lupa, Mario’s other Italian restaurant, the quality of food is on par. That said, I think Babbo is a better and more popular establishment because of its gorgeous, upscale interior…you really do feel special when sitting amidst the warm, living room-esque surroundings.
Now, the food. I love surprises, and fortunately, the waiter brought out a small serving of chick pea bruschetta to start off our meal. It was much appreciated and definitely tasty, but nothing to rave about.
After a few sips of an incredibly stiff French 75 cocktail and the best glass of buttery, golden Italian chardonnay I’ve ever had, we started with fettuccine with housemade pancetta and asparagus. With the overwhelming list of incredible pastas, deciding was not a simple task, but our waiter recommended choosing one with seasonal ingredients. The pasta was, of course, amazing. Though it was served on a butter sauce, it was surprisingly delicate and light in flavor – the asparagus was very subtle, and the pancetta, much more like thin crisp pieces of bacon than thick cut fatty chunks of meat, added the perfect textural variety that the soft noodles and asparagus needed. A classic spring dish.
One of my favorite dishes of the night was not featured on the menu, and came out on the house: fresh mozzarella di bufala served with sauteed ramps and charred italian bread. The dish sounds simple, and it was, but its simplicity served a purpose by allowing the quality of each individual ingredient to shine. The mozzarella was milky and soft, perfect to smash on top of the grilled bread and layer under the salty ramps. Loved it!
For my main, I ordered a seasonal special: sauteed swordfish with sweet peas, morel mushrooms, and an incredibly delicate broth poured tableside. The fish was perfectly cooked – skinless, yet seared to a crisp on both sides. No salt needed – wonderfully seasoned, and some of the softest, most delicate sword fish I’ve tasted.
Sonia ordered very well, also – a beautiful duck with radicchio and house made pancetta. Both the breast and the leg of the duck were served, and I was stunned at the light, crispy-crackle-ness of the skin. I am not an avid duck fan, but I can accurately profess that this duck dish was out of this world.
To finish off our wonderful meal, Sonia and I shared a cheese plate of tallegio, triple cream cheese, and pecorino (I think). Though a light serving, it was just enough to top off a night of buttery chardonnay, buttery pasta, and buttery fish…or should I say Olive-oiley? Either way, the food was glorious, and I’ll be back as soon as I feel so inspired to bug my boss for hook-up or dine out at 5pm on a Monday.
Address: 110 Waverly Place between 5th and 6th avenues