Yesterday was my first time at Babbo. Although our reservations were at 11:15, the service was great in all respects and neither of us felt any push out the door even though we were the last two to leave the premises at 1:45.
The two of us decided to share 4 appetizers and 2 pastas, skipping entree courses all together since we preferred sharring a couple of more dishes, and the general consensus on this board is to try as many dishes as feasible.
Steamed cockles in spicy tomato sauce. Tender with a great sauce with just the right amount of kick as to not overwhelm the cockles. More similar to clams than I had previously guessed. The portion was also a lot bigger than I had expected. Too bad we ordered too much food and left most of the sauce which would have been great for dipping bread.
Grilled octopus. I didn't know octopus was supposed to taste this way until I had this. There was a wonderful char on the outside combined with the natural sweetness and saltiness of the meat, with the and the fried mint leaves and the vinagrette providing just the right balance. The different textures between the skinny and the fat tentacles also made for a welcome contrast.
Roasted beet tartare. I'm a sucker for beets, and this dish did not disappoint. The garnishes of spring onions, anchovies, rock salt, capers, and mustard made for lots of fun and unique combinations. The seaweed or kelp (?) was a nice touch. That said, the dish did not floor me as did the others.
Lamb's tongue vinagrette. Enough has been written about this dish on the board that I dont need to elaborate much. The egg, mushrooms, and tomato blended together seamlessly. Perfection in 12 bites. Sounds like hyperbole, but I have a new favorite dish in all of New York.
Mint love letters with spicy lamb sausage. When I saw the dozen or so fried mint leaves on top and popped open the first letter and saw the mint-cheese filling, I thought the taste would be overwhelming. Surprisingly, I did not get sick of the smell or taste at all. The lamb sausage was quite a pairing. The finish was long and smooth like a good Bordeaux.
Beef cheek raviolis. By this time, we were too full to thoroughly enjoy this. And the back to back stuffed pastas were probably a bit of an overkill. My friend thought the pasta was undercooked; I thought it was overcooked: it probably means that it was done just right. It took us quite a while, and we managed to eat all but half a ravioli. We did clean up the decadent truffle shavings though.
The sommelier (too bad I forget his name) was simply extraordinary. I professed to being an ignoramus when it came to Italian wines, and the three of us agreed it would be best for us to order first, then choose the wines. His first recommendation was a little pricey (as I had assumed we would get a bottle of red and thus mentioned a price that I was not entirely comfortable paying for a white), but his second one of the 2004 Bastianich Vespa Bianco went just about perfectly with each course. At its price, versatility, and drinkability with a meal (unlike most of the CA chardonnarys), I should be dropping by Italian Wine Merchants shortly to fetch at least half a case. He also recommended a quartino of Barbaresco whose winemaker and vintage I did not jot down to go with the beef cheek raviolis. It was a solid, high quality wine, but a pretty uninspiring Barbaresco at that.
Babbo really was all it was hyped up to be. The staff seemed to be on top of their game with both food and service. My only complaint, and a small but seemingly common one at that, is the strange and "eclectic" music that seems to belch out of Mario's IPOD. It wasn't bad, not by any stretch, but this might have been one time when I would have preferred some elevator jazz or generic U2 to fade immediately into the background. Maybe it's just me, but trying to figure out what was playing unjustifiably took some of my attention away from the food! I'll definitely be going back again, provided I can get an earlier reservation so I don't have to digest through the night and into this morning...