Babbo for Beginners

“Gosh, I love Babbo,” sighs kathryn. She’s not alone. But as a savvy regular, she knows more than most about how best to enjoy New York hounds’ favorite upper-end Italian restaurant. Some tips for the uninitiated:

• “Make double (triple) sure you confirm your reservation the day before.” And ask to be seated on the roomier, quieter second floor: “I like my rock ’n’ roll music but hearing the Pixies or MGMT or They Might Be Giants (so weird!) blast at a nice restaurant is odd.”

• Skip the bread; “it’s kind of boring. Save room.”

• Many have enjoyed the tasting menus. kathryn advises newbies to pass; the set meals aren’t bad, but they don’t include Mario Batali’s greatest hits. Her mantra: “A la carte, a la carte, a la carte.”

• First courses are stronger than entrées, she says. A party of two could dine happily on two antipasti, two primi, and one secondo. Smart orders among the starters include house-made salumi, tripe alla Parmigiana, crispy pig’s foot Milanese (“don’t worry, it doesn’t really look like a foot”), and the much-discussed lamb’s tongue vinaigrette with chanterelles and three-minute egg. Pastas are “second to none,” delicious and always perfectly cooked; some winners are goose liver ravioli, gnocchi with braised oxtail, beef cheek ravioli, and Chianti-stained pappardelle.

• Among the secondi, fennel-dusted sweetbreads (with sweet-and-sour onion, duck bacon, and membrillo vinegar) are a standout. Also recommended: grilled pork chop (with cherry peppers, cipollini, and aceto Manodori), grilled lamb chops (with sunchokes, grilled onion, and lemon yogurt), and rabbit (with Brussels sprouts, pancetta, and carrot vinaigrette). Barbecued skirt steak is skippable.

• Do save room for dessert. If you’re nearly topped out, a fine lighter option is the assorted gelati and sorbetti; memorable flavors include hazelnut, coconut, espresso, the signature olive oil, and bittersweet chocolate, deep and intense, “like a punch in the face with chocolate.” Other best bets are pistachio-chocolate semifreddo, chocolate hazelnut cake, and the seasonal fruit crostata (currently apple, with cinnamon gelato).

“Really,” kathryn concludes, “I’ve never had a bad meal there food-wise.” Common complaints—about noise, service, the difficulty of snagging a reservation—“seem to disappear by the time the petit fours come around.” “And the check,” she adds, “is surprisingly reasonable for a celebrity-chef, three-star restaurant in Manhattan.”

Babbo [Greenwich Village]
110 Waverly Place (between MacDougal Street and Sixth Avenue), Manhattan
212-777-0303

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