Bountiful Babbo

Whole grilled branzino.

Of all the places I wanted to dine during my recent trip to New York — and believe me, there were many — the one I probably wanted to go to most of all was Mario Batali’s Babbo.

I’ve long admired his exacting techniques and his way of paying hommage to old-country traditions while giving them a fresh, modern interpretation. I also love pasta. Moreover, you have to give it to a man who can get away with a red pony-tail and bright orange clogs.

The first clue that you’re walking into an establishment very much molded into the chef’s image is by what hits your ears. Loud, loud music. It was a lively mix of country and blues the night we were there. The New York Times once famously said it would have annointed Babbo with four stars if not for the pounding music. But Batali wouldn’t have it any other way. The soundtrack is what he wants to listen to. You have to admire that.

Plus, the energetic beat adds a convivial feeling to the restaurant. Amid the striking, huge spray of flowers in the center of the first floor, you’ll find tables of families enjoying a night out with their young kids, as well as couples clad in chic little black dresses and jeans with sports jackets.

The service is top-notch. Knowledgeable to a fault. They make a point to tell you that pasta dishes are entree-sized, and that you can have your whole fish filleted by a server or do it yourself if you wish. Servers can expertly recommend wines to go with your dishes, and tell you exactly why they would marry well with the flavors in the particular dishes you’ve ordered. You gotta like that.

Nuggets of fried goat tongue

Batali is known for his love of offal, and you’ll find many dishes featuring organs not often found on many other menus. When we heard there was a special of fried goat tongue salad with arugula ($13), we had to get it. We also had to have the lamb’s brain “francobolli” with lemon and sage ($19). And we couldn’t resist the starter of fresh cured sardines with caramelized fennel and lobster oil ($12).

Fresh sardines done up like modern art.

The fried goats tongue were crispy like fried sweetbreads in texture. The taste was a little gamy, almost duck-like. The sardines were velvety, their robust flavor nicely tempered by the licorice taste of the fennel.

Pasta heaven

The lamb’s brain pasta? Simply incredible. The filling was soft, and slightly creamy like forcemeat. There was an aged cheesy taste to it. The pasta wrappers were tender as can be. I had split the order with my hubby, but we agreed we each could have easily polished off a full plate.

Beef braised with wine and porcinis

For our secondi, my hubby, aka Meat Boy, opted for braised beef with porcinis and wine ($29), while I went for the whole grilled branzino with lemon oregano jam ($28). The beef was succulent with the earthy flavors of the wine and mushrooms infused throughout. My fish was cooked perfectly, with a smoky edge and moist flesh.

Irresistable banana upside-down cake

We ended the night with a banana upside-down cake ($12), a twist on a tarte tatin,  that was served with a scoop of banana buttermilk gelato and cardamom-scented pecans. Tiny almond, chocolate, and anise cookies preceded the check. A sweet way to cushion the dent in the wallet, which was not an unreasonable one at all. In these times especially, you have to love that.

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Date: Wednesday, 13. May 2009 4:13
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Chefs, General, Great Finds, Restaurants, Travel Adventures

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15 comments

  1. 1

    What gorgeous looking food! Everything looks fantastic!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. 2

    I haven’t had a chance to eat at Babbo yet. I have his cookbook and was never brave enough to try anything but I love looking at it and admiring the dishes :)

  3. 3

    I LOVE mario batali and his orange shorts and crocs! but esp his enthusiasm and passion for cooking and food. His restaurant is definitely on my wish list of restaurants!

  4. 4

    one of my BEST restaurant experiences ever… dinner at Babbo (back in 2005).

    Great photos!

  5. 5

    This post is the reason I can’t be a food writer! Goat tongue will never touch Marni tongue! (Having said that, I do still dream of going to Babbo, just for different dishes on the menu…or maybe just for that banana upside-down cake!)

  6. 6

    Mmm, sardines!

  7. 7

    I’ve tried Batali’s original restaurant Po and then his more casual Lupa (love that) in the village, but I have to say most of the buzz seems to be for Babbo so I really need to try there after your visit. I’m really enjoying eating vicariously with you in New York!

  8. 8

    You lucky duck that you got to go there!

    Everything looks amazing!

    I’ve been to Emmeril’s in New Orleans, but I would also love to go to one of Bobby Flay’s restaurants too!

    Your pictures turned out great!

  9. 9

    bananas and cardamom. never tried that combo before…but it sounds good!

  10. 10

    this looks fantastic! Its on our list for next time we go to NYC.

  11. 11

    Although I enjoy offal and would love a bit of goat tongue, I have never had brain of anything before. For now, I’ll enjoy your description of the experience!

  12. 12

    Marni: You make me howl as always. No worries. There are plenty of other dishes that would tempt Marnie’s tongue. In fact, when I go back to Babbo, I’m sorely tempted to order the pasta tasting-menu. Yes, a whole meal of nothing but various pastas. Carbs, be damned!

  13. 13

    OMG, I don’t think I dare to try the goat’s brain and tongue. But they look tempting …. :)

  14. 14

    Goats tongue and lambs brain huh? Shudder. I keep repeating to myself, food is an adventure and I’m along for the ride and sure I’d try the stuff. Maybe.

  15. 15

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