This isn’t meant to coincide with Babbo’s regained Michelin star, since I visited Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s restaurant in early August, but it does. Fortuitous timing, which gives me some nice *ahem* food for thought as I write this. PUN INTENDED.Babbo’s look is remarkably modest and homey out front. While waiting for my friends to arrive, I felt like I was waiting outside somebody’s house. But walking in, the brightness and the noise and the energy of the dining room quickly dispel any quaint suburban notions. But being a huge fan of Pizzeria Mozza, I found the space to be familiar – lush, inviting, borderline raucous. Despite the clean lines and white cloth and wine shelves, which provided oomph on the comfort scale – no complaints from me. We opted for the pasta tasting. Our waiter nodded approvingly.We started with a bruschetta of chickpeas. Good enough, but I was ready for the pastas.The first was a black ink tagliatelle with charred corn & castelmagno. I approve of anytime that crisp summer corn can make its way into a pasta dish. I’m mostly thinking sweet corn ravioli, but having the corn atop tagliatelle, especially pasta that is generally more al dente, was a nice extra texture.The casunzei was a mixed bag – the buttery delicateness juxtaposed nicely with the light crunch of poppy seeds. Its flavor was mild, is all, relatively unmemorable. Plus, our otherwise very capable and affable waiter trumped this dish up (his favorite), and as is often the case, we didn’t agree.Luckily, the funghi garganelli followed right after, with all the pungent earthiness of trifolati (truffled mushrooms). Considering that the funghi pizza at Mozza was my favorite, that I loved this dish shouldn’t be very surprising. And I appreciated that the portion size in general across our tasting menu was fairly reserved., even if my taste buds wanted more.Next up was “agnolotti al pomodoro,” which had short rib filling. I liked the sweetness of the tomato sauce. The short rib filling was fat and velvety, fleetingly gamey because the agnolotti were small. The pappardelle bolognese was the last pasta before the sweets, and probably the most substantial – thin, wide strands of eggy pasta in a light dose of bolognese, which once again hewed to the sweet side. Must have been the tomatoes. I didn’t mind, not everything needed to be heavy and supremely meaty.In the transition between our mains and the start of dessert, we noticed the Italian sayings hung along the walls. The devil makes the pot but not the lid. I had to look that one up. I won’t translate it (mostly because I can’t), but it has a spirit along the lines of ‘no perfect crime.’
As a mi-dessert, Babbo served a plum yogurt coppetta. Creamy yogurt, the plum and jam were a pleasant combination of concentrated tartness and sweetness. I could’ve gone for a second one, but it was a nice set-up to the desserts.I appreciated the fact that after the synchronized dance of service wherein our pasta courses were brought out in unison and unveiled simultaneously, that the restaurant anticipated our willingness to share our desserts and thus gave us three different ones.
Pistachio and chocolate semifreddo:The rosemary olive cake with olive oil gelato:Saffron panna cotta:By this point, the panna cotta (and olive oil gelato) were the only things that I could sufficiently handle – the desserts were good (the pistachios in the semifreddo memorably flavorful, and the apricots in the panna cotta playfully tangy).
At the end, I was so full and tired from jetlag and the previous rounds of pasta that the only thing I could really concentrate on was the Notorious B.I.G. coming over the stereos. “Mario’s iPod,” our waiter said.Our meal in sum was pleasant – not every course was amazing, but the pastas were all very well-made, cooked right and graciously served. Other than the overt disappointment around the casunzei, none of the other courses let us down – and the garganelli, the agnolotti, and the yogurt coppetta (as well as what little I could put away of the desserts) were all very good. Plus the ambiance was a clever mix of understatement: understatedly posh (the decor) and understatedly fun (our confident, engaging waiter, the soundtrack that kicked in around 9, 9:30…). I think the experience was worthy of a one-star place.
I like what you did here, Mario. I hope to come back soon.
110 Waverly Pl New York, NY 10011