To fully appreciate Babbo, one should arrive 15 minutes early. Stand outside, check out the menu listed that includes today’s specials, and pretend that you are waiting for someone. But more importantly, check out the people arriving. There will be the boring arrivals – the locals and those who have eaten at Babbo before. And then there are those with that special sparkle in their eyes. The same sparkle you get when you finally reach Machu Picchu. I saw a grandma with her well dressed family, pausing in front of the sign, exhale a huge sigh, followed by a smile (unless it was gas). I watched a family of four taking their time, taking it all in, with a particularly thrilled dad who asked me to take a picture of the happy with family. I happily obliged, and charged them $20 (the Times Square Elmo going rate at the moment). The only time I’ve seen this type of foodie pilgrimage in NYC was the last time I waited for a slice at Di Fara. There’s always something special about visiting a place that means so much more to other visitors. Much like visiting the great churches of Europe, or the Taj Mahal
Babbo Ristorante is Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich first out of many ventures, opened in 1998. One of the most celebrated Italian restaurants in NYC history, still going very strong even with an ageless menu. Not many realize that Batali’s first was not Babbo, but a partnership at Pó, also in West Village, 5 years earlier. Outside Babbo looks like just another neighborhood Trattoria, oddly situated on a quiet residential part of Waverly Place (may mean something to the 16 and under, unless they are like my kids who’ve been to Taim Falafel too many times). Talking about Waverly Place kids, there were surprisingly quite a few on this particular night, some even arriving with their American Doll lookalikes. The irony here comes after a tweet the other day where someone asked Batali if he would be willing to open a predominately kid friendly establishment. In which he replied, kids are more than welcomed in any of his establishments already, and that he wouldnt want to alienate adults. After all, we are talking about Italian, the granddaddy of kid friendly cuisine.
The transformation from Babbo outside to inside, is like that of a Minetta Tavern, a time machine. Buzzy atmosphere, full bar, best of Batali ipod blasting in the background, and a VERY full staff. Some looked busy, while some could have easily gone on a late afternoon siesta, even with the full house. This is to me the one major difference between eating in the US and Italy. The traffic around you is undeniable, which is why louder than usual music is required sometimes. Not so much a complaint, but an observation. When you score the friendliest waiter in the city of New York as we did on this night, complaints become observations. On to the food….
Grilled Octopus with “Borlotti Marinati” and Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette – Although it was somewhat unevenly cooked the last time, it was still good enough to not share one between four octopus loving freaks. “Two Octopuses please”. This time perfectly cooked, with a nice snap, and tenderness all around. The tangy Vinaigrette, and the Borloti, aka Cranberry, aka Pinto and Cannellini had a baby beans, just add to the joy.
Pig Foot “Milanese” with Rice Beans and Arugula – Once in a while, not too often, I bump into one of those “I dont get it” dishes. Its a popular staple on the menu, but I just dont get it. It tasted like a potato latke gone wild. The one that Jewish mothers throw out because it didnt come out as the other potato latkes. Stringy, gelatiny, fried, and very flat cutlet, with a surprisingly flat flavor profile. The only miss of the night.
Beef Cheek Ravioli with Crushed Squab Liver and Black Truffles – Great dish, and by far Mrs Ziggy’s fave. If you feel any affection toward chicken liver this dish is especially for you. Here its much about the sauce making its best Marsala interpretation, but with Squab liver mixed in with mushrooms, adding more richness to the buttery beef cheeks pureed inside the triangular ravioli
Black Spaghetti with Rock Shrimp, Spicy Salami Calabrese and Green Chilies (top)- Another menu staple that I’ve had before. Its a fairly dry pasta, but packed with flavor and txture. The squid ink Spaghetti has that nice sweet heaviness to it, with that crunchy salami, shrimp, and occasional garlic, like the gift that keeps on giving. This is one of those dishes that makes you Google recipes when you get home.
Mint Love Letters with Spicy Lamb Sausage – Like a love letter from the Mario to Ziggy. “Dear Ziggy, in honor of your unconditional support and love for Eataly, Lupa, Po, and other establishments I’ve been involved with over the years, I’m sending you these refreshing, delectable ravioli filled with peas, mint, and cheese, topped with spicy sausage tomato ragu. As you can see, the mint and the sausage, compliment nicely, and dont overwhelm… unlike your wallet by Eataly’s Venchi chocolates. Seriously, I know you are obsessed with Piedmont chocolates, but look at you. Time to give it a rest. And please please shave next time you come to Babbo. Its a Ristorante, not a trattoria so show some respect. Idiot! Love, Mario”
Barbecued Skirt Steak with Endive “alla Piastra” and Salsa Verde – Just a perfectly cooked, and marinated Skirt, sliced and arranged Jenga style, on top of an ultra thick salsa verde. A very respectable meat dish
Rabbit with Honey-Glazed Baby Carrots, Peas and Salsa Verde – I normally dont have high expectations from Secondis in Italian, no matter where I go as they rarely satisfy as much as the primis and the rest of the menu. But here they are given proper treatment, starting with this sweet, flavor packed rabbit
Dessert – A fine chocolate cake, and a finer Semifreddo. Another great meal at Babbo, a Z-List staple for
hopefully many years to come
110 Waverly Pl
Recommended Dishes: Octopus, Mint Love Letters, Beef Cheek Ravioli, Black Spaghetti, Skirt, Rabbit, Semifreddo