In New York, there are tons of great traditional Italian restaurants, but Babbo is something different; something amazing! At most restaurants okay is good enough, but at Babbo, they go the extra step in everything that they do. You can appreciate every subtlety, every detail, every nuance of texture and flavor that was labored over to create the perfection that shows up in front of you. Every facet of Babbo is refined. Starting with the knowledgeable waiters that can clarify any questions about the menu items and can illustrate, with unequivocal devotion, the food that they are serving. It is striking how much they know about the ingredients, how they are prepared, and what they taste like. Similar to the service, the food goes above and beyond. The food is an anthology of Mario Batali's greatest masterpieces and is a testament to why he is such a renowned chef. The superb food is made from their superb seasonal produce, Italian cheeses, meat, game and seafood, all accented with fine Italian products. Another instance when Mario Batali's greatness is shown is his ability to take strange ingredients, such as tripe and beef cheeks, and make something so surprisingly tasty. Any chef can make lobster or a steak well, however it takes a different kind of chef to make garbage cuts and unfamiliar ingredients enjoyable. Unlike many other restaurants that serve subdued flavors, Babbo serves intense and rich flavors that are clear-cut.
The restaurant itself is an uncomplicated two floor townhouse in the West Village. As you walk in, you immediately see their fully stocked old fashion looking bar with its wood paneling and leather bar stools. This old timely elegance runs throughout the first floor. The dim lighting, darkly stained wood floors, simple decor, and leather booths give the feel of the formality and classic simplicity that really keeps the food highlighted. On the second floor the feel of the room is much more lively, strongly affected by the huge skylight that lets the sunlight stream through. On each floor there are huge bunches of budding branches overflowing from a vase on each floor. It takes away from the almost ominous feeling of the dark rooms and makes the dining room feel more welcoming. Though the decor is very understated, the atmosphere is invigorated by playing what I would imagine is Mario Batali's personal iPod full of rock music. It is somewhat distracting and a strange genre to play at this caliber of a restaurant. However, that is a small price to play when the food I ate there is some of the best Italian food I have eaten in my life.
Before the meal, they brought us over a plate of Crostinis topped with chickpeas and tapenade. As most amuse-bouches are, the crostini was incredibly salty because of the tapenade and it was very hard to eat. The bread was hard and the chickpeas were rolling all over the place, but it did get us ready to eat. For the antipasti, we ordered the Babbo Caprese and the Steamed Cockles. Though visually pleasing and still pretty delicious, the cockles were in this broth of tomatoes and chilies that overpowered the flavor of the seafood. Another issue we had was they were sandy. Yes, the cockles at Babbo had sand in them! I do not blame them though because it is something that is hard to control and the staff was so kind to not include it in the bill after we sent them back. Normally, I never order a salad at a restaurant, just because of the sheer terror I have for how boring they can be, which is why I was skeptical when the waiter recommended the Caprese Salad to us. After the first bite, I was hooked on the out of this world creamy buffalo mozzarella mingling with the beautiful, sweet heirloom tomatoes and the herbaceous, pungent basil. Who knew three ingredients put together so casually could be so insanely, distinctively delicious. The tomatoes were the best I have ever had. They were so colorful and had a fruit-like sweetness that was complemented by the luscious cheese and the aromatic herbs. How can something so simple be so good?
Beef cheeks and crushed squab liver. Those are two ingredients that I have never even thought about before and they are together wrapped in pasta at Babbo. The Beef Cheek Ravioli was something that I was still thinking about after the meal. The beef cheeks were cooked down to the perfect consistency. Right at the point where the meat melts into sauce, but still has the structural integrity to have that meaty stringiness. It was such a rich dish, but I loved that so much. Eating those perfectly combined ingredients cooked perfectly in perfectly al dente raviolis was a treat. I also ordered the Mint Love Letters, which in my opinion needed more mint because I could barely taste that. The love letters had the smart combination of the mint and spicy sausage, which I enjoyed. I thought that the fresh mint flavor had a very clean, mouth watering flavor and the spicy sausage gave a kick at the end that kept the dish from being two dimensional. All the pasta we had was not left in the water a second too long or short. The al dente of the pasta added to the overall success of each dish. The pasta was perfectly cooked as it always is at Babbo.
Continuing on the my love for the simple dishes, the side of roasted potatoes, on their own, are good enough to go back for. They are life alteringly flawless due to the astounding preparation that makes the simple potato a star that could stand on its own. The fingerling potatoes are tender and soft all the way through and so audibly crispy on the outside that is a feat to prepare it that well, but combine that with seasoning that seeped into the very commonly bland interior of the potato, puts you in a state of euphoria after every single bite. The potatoes have this great rosemary and garlic flavor, both of which are roasted with the potatoes and served. The cooked rosemary is crispy and lets out a strong aroma from its oils and the roasted garlic explodes into a paste of tastiness and sweetness after being roasted. Another dish that I thought was extraordinary was their duck. The duck at Babbo was the best that I have ever had. It was plated as a pile of slices of the roasted duck breast heaped on top of a duck leg and thigh. The slices of duck breast were immensely tender and juicy; so unbelievably soft that I can't even describe that other worldly phenomenon. The flavor of the duck is strong, but has none of the off putting gamey flavor. Then, once you dig the leg out you get to experience this fork tender, beautiful, flavorful piece of dark meat. The hunks of meat are on a bed of radicchio that not only cuts the intense richness of the duck with its bitter notes that add another layer of flavor, but also adds texture to the superiorly cooked duck. So good.
The food at Babbo is undeniably perfect in its preparation, taste, ingredients, and literally everything else. Though the atmosphere is not the best you can find, who cares? Once you get to take your first bite of the food, it speaks for itself. If you want the best Italian food that you can find no where else for a price that is reasonable, there is no where else to go but Babbo Ristorante.