My wife and I came to NYC last year and we ate at Babbo. We were underwhelmed and prefer not to go back, however, looking at Italian options all over NYC and matching them with our tastes, Babbo is STILL the best fit on "paper". My wife strongly prefers not to go back, but I want to keep my options open for now.
Babbo is hard to make reservations for, so that is a hassle I don't want to deal with again. Plus $150 for a good but not great meal would be quite annoying, especially a second time around, and especially considering that we love Mozza in LA and can eat there anytime we want.
That being said, the menu speaks for itself and maybe we just ordered the wrong things the first time. Almost everyone says Babbo is much better that mozza, and I am sure it is, but that was not our experience, and I am wary of trying it again.
We ordered three things at Babbo and all three things fell flat.
We ordered the lamb tongue dish. It was a much larger app than I expected and it was plated in a way that I would expect at a much less expensive osteria in LA vs the premier ristorante in NYC. the lamb and the veggies were all tossed around together and braised to death. I expected the veggies to be put on top after the meat was braised to add a little texture contrast. The dish also had a heavy hand of vinagear. After the fifth bite I was a bit tired of the vinegar mush. I know the lamb tongue is supposed to be ultra tender, but the mush veggies, the vinegar, the plating, and the portion size made it so I couldn't wait to just get it over with.
We also had two pastas. A gargenelli and the duck liver ravioli. For the gargenelli we expected wonderful, flavorful, earthy, powerful mushrooms. Instead we got a mushroom essence, a very very light pasta sauce essence, and then the pasta. Gargenelli is hard to cook well as its non-uniform shape make some parts too soft while other parts are too firm. Ever since we got that pasta, we never ordered gargenelli again. It wasn't bad, we just prefer other pastas.
The duck liver ravioli was good for about one bite. The raviolis were cooked superbly. I really loved the goose liver stuffing inside. The thing I didn't care for was the heavy hand of balsamic. At first, the balsamic made the dish a brilliant masterpiece. After eating one ravioli though I tasted less and less pasta and goose liver and more and more balsamic.
I have eaten at many restaurants that use vinagerettes on savory/rich meat courses. They never seem to bother me because just like olive oil, they are in the background working to enhance the dish. For me, at Babbo, the ravioli and the lamb tongue seemed dominated by those flavors. I get the concept, its just that the vinegar dominated a bit too much for my taste.
Anyhow, looking at babbos menu, many dishes clearly specifcy using a vinegar, balsamic, or vinegarette. Duck with Five Lillies, Babbo Pancetta and Kumquat Vinaigrette sounds brilliant but I also thought that Goose Liver Ravioli with Balsamic Vinegar and Brown Butter sounded great too.
If I avoid pastas I don't like and the vinegars, there are still enough things that seem great to me. So, is Babbo worth the risk? Manhattan's a huge place, there should be other suitable options.
My only Babbo replacements thus far are Convivio and Scarpetta. Both of these places are my favorites so far. Apizz would be great if not for the lack of pasta choices. Esca and Alto are fancy, but I don't like Pre-fixe for Italian, and ordering nothing but Seafood is too limiting. Places like Lartusi, Aroma, and Gradisca seem intriguing but the menus don't speak to me the way Babbo's does.