Babbo, 1/4/03

Joined May 26, 2001
Last night, 5 intrepid eGulleteers plus the also-intrepid Paul (my hubby) set out on a mission: to determine once and for all, The Truth about Pasta – whether in fact it IS the most overrated food. Well, to be honest, we didn’t set out on that mission initially; at first it was just to have dinner at Babbo, where only one of our group had eaten before (the rest of us were very willing initiates). But given certain recent threads on eGullet, and the fact that one person refuses to eat any organ meats, we ended up getting the Pasta Tasting Menu. Three of us also got the accompanying wines.

Let’s get this out of the way: yes, there was butter in way too many dishes. However, that did not seem to stop anyone from wiping every plate clean with the excellent bread with which we were well-supplied (a good, crusty country white, a little singed on the crust as from an artisanal oven).

The amuse was a chick-pea bruschetta, an unexpected surprise instead of the more common white bean version (although is anything common at Babbo?). One person told us that the recipe is in one of Mario’s books. Gotta get me that one! The chick-peas were in a somewhat sweet-sour sauce that reminded a few people of barbecue sauce. But in a good way.

First course of the tasting, the Black Tagliatelle with Parsnips and Pancetta, with shavings of ricotta salata on top, drew immediate gasps of pleasure. The taste of the pasta itself was subtle, and between the sweetness of the parsnip and the meatiness of the pancetta (to me it looked as though there were tiny cubes of prosciutto as well) was well-contrasted. It gave me an instant crisis: if the first course is this good, how can the later ones get better? I needn’t have worried. The accompanying “Pinot Plus” (Bastianich, 2000) was a great match: very fruity but with strong acid. In truth, all the wines worked splendidly with their dishes.

Second: Fennel and Potato Ravioli with Opal Basil and Brown Butter. “Irish ravioli” according to one guy; reminded someone else of pierogies. Earthy in flavor, but in a good way. This time they came around offering to grate cheese on top, unlike the tagliatelle that came already showered. (What cheese was this?) Supposedly the Toscana Sauvignon “Con Vento,” Castello del Terriccio 2001 had notes of fennel – no one tasted them, though. It had a gewirtztraminer-ish bouquet, and it was yummy.

Third: Garganelli with Funghi Trifolati. The funghi were sliced porcini, ahhhh. Cheese grated at table was (I think?) a parmigiano reggiano. This was as close to a “favorite of the table” as any one dish came. Definitely my favorite – the mushroom flavor was so strong in the sauce. Unfortunately the plating was uneven, so some of us got lots of mushrooms and some only a few. We tried to even it out. The wine with this was a piemontese Ghemme Riserva, Dessilana 1996. 75% Nebbiolo. I found the bouquet a little floral, but in a good way.

Fourth: Alejandro’s Pyramids with Butter and Thyme, stuffed with shredded braised short ribs; cheese added was an aged goat from Coach Farm – the only non-Italian cheese source used there. Who, we asked Susan our waiter (whom I recognized as having seen before – at Montrachet, as it turned out), is Alejandro? “The guy who makes the pyramids,” she responded. Oh. Well, he does a great job. My second-favorite, because the meat and the thyme were so tasty. “Tastes like pot roast,” someone said. Yeah, but infinitely better than my mother’s, and hers was pretty **** good. It was at this point that I marveled at how the filled pastas had been perfectly cooked – not undercooked at the points where they joined, nor overcooked on the rest. How do they do it? Art? Craft? Anyway, they do, and kudos to them for it. More butter on these (wipe, wipe). So what? The Montefalco Rosso, Arnaldo Capri 2000 was a blend of Sangiovese, Sagrantino, and Merlot. I thought it was fabulous with the goat cheese; not bad at all with the pasta, but I just loved how it held a conversation with the cheese.

Final pasta course: Pappardelle Bolognese (plus pecorino?). Very straightforward. Quite delicious. At this point, someone said something about the noodles seeming not to be noodles, but something more otherworldly. They just tasted better than one could ever imagine flour and eggs together could taste. Yes: with all due respect to those on eGullet who believe the contrary, the truth about these pastas was that they were consistently interesting and exciting. And not only because of their saucing; these guys each had CHARACTER. As for the mostly-Sangiovese Rosso di Toscana “I Pampini,” Fubbiano 1998 – this was my least favorite, only because it was still quite tannic and didn’t open up until after my last bite. (Rachel made quite an interesting face upon tasting it; I think she agrees.)

At this point, while we weren’t looking, they cleared the table and removed our bread. :mad: Maybe we were focusing too hard on the sparkling Moscato d’Asti “Clarté,” Elio Perrone 2001 – I even made the never-drinking 201 take a sniff. Very sweet but very clean and not at all syrupy. We missed our bread, though, because we all agreed that the “pre-dessert” of Apricot and Carrot “Marmellata” with Goat Milk Curd would make THE best breakfast, spread on bread. Or on a bagel or brioche. The tiny slick of XVOO on the plate almost went unnoticed, but definitely added something.

Finally: the tasting menu offers Saffron Panna Cotta with Kumquats and Blood Orange Sorbetto. Yes, we got that. But they also served us: apple-walnut torta with maple cream (garnished with a paper-thin slice of dried apple), AND cranberry tart with vanilla ice cream and some sort of intensely fruity, gooey sauce. Two of each, so we didn’t have to fling the plates too far across the table. Good idea, considering all the wine some of us :blush: had consumed. Personally, I was glad, because saffron and kumquats are not high on my list of favorite flavors. A good rendition of panna cotta, but VERY saffron-flavored. The blood orange sorbetto, on the other hand, was great. The cranberry tart was great – bitter/tart/sweet fruit in a cookie crust – and whatever that sauce was, it was terrific. The apple-walnut torta had the advantage of a strong walnut flavor without having yucky bits of soggy nuts, and was well-spiced. Reminded me of my grandmother’s honey cake, but in a good way. The wine was from Friuli, a Picolit, Giovanni Dri 1999. It was described as off-dry, and honeyed. All I can say was, by then, it too was yummy.

Petits fours were miniature fig-and-something biscotti, teeny tiny nut macarons, and itty bitty oblongs of some very moist cake topped with a thick layer of chocolate ganache. Excellent espresso, and the mint tea smelled lovely.

So: as far as we were concerned, The Truth about Pasta is that in the hands of a master, it is food fit for gods, goddesses, and lesser mortals, too.

PS: as Paul and I were walking home, I noticed the Master himself, St. Mario Batali, standing on a corner across from Washington Square Park, talking on his cell phone. I kept hoping he would hang up soon so I could genuflect to him and babble in adulation. Alas, no such luck.
Joined Jul 31, 2000
Excellent review Suzanne,

Jill and I went to Babbo shortly after it opened and had a great meal (also the pasta menu)

We found it innovative and cutting edge without being over the top.

Just pure flavors.

We ate upstairs and enjoyed the kind of cozy feeling,the wines offered we're excellent choices.

The only downside of our evening was a waiter who put his foot in his mouth.
Joined Mar 4, 2000
Nice description. Judging by what I already know about Batali, I would have expected an amazing meal. After trying to get a reservation there several times, I'll have to try again, a little further ahead of time. It's worth the wait.


Joined Apr 4, 2000
Thank you Suzanne for sharing this great meal. One day I hope I can eat there myself. meanwhile I'll be happy reading your wonderful review over and over...:lips:
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