Review - Babbo (110 Waverly Place , 212 777 0303)
After finally securing a table here after a few days of playing the dial / busy signal / repeat game, I was looking forward to trying this place. Thanks to the CH'ers various posts on this place; we largely stuck to their proven signature dishes and were delighted.
We found their service gracious, warm and welcoming at every point from the hosts, to sommeliers, servers, barmen and even coat check girls. The ambience is good, although the tables are pretty snugly spaced, perhaps to maximize the patrons they can serve.
After our group was seated we started with a bottle of 05 Barbera d'Alba ($30). The exact name eludes me but it wasn't on their website. Their wine list is vast (800 names) and stocked with all kinds of regional treats. Happily it has both great values (plenty under $30) and cellar gems.
They brought out some chickpeas on bread, while our first two appetizers were prepared. We started with the Tripe Parmigian ($11) which was pretty squishy and not all that flavorful. I had a few pieces but wasn't really that excited by it; the others on the table were kind of grossed out by it. Then we had their well regarded Lambs Tongue salad ($12) which I thought was delicious, but was a little too avant garde for the others. The meat is moist and well flavored, and the 3 minute egg on top is the perfect combination of golden yolk and just solidified white.
We moved on to some pasta courses. First up was the Goat Cheese tortelini ($19) which was very tasty, and plump with cheese. It did not have any sauce to mask its flavor. Then we had the Mint Love Letters ($18) which were a ravioli like pasta stuffed with mint and lamb sausage and then covered in a tomato sauce. Quite delicious and the bright verve of the mint shined through. I had not thought of mint being such a fine stuffing for pasta before. After that we had a plate of the famed Beef Cheek Ravioli ($21) which were fantastic. The stuffing is not obviously offal -- or any other odd meat -- and its very tasty, showing that a food processor and some salt/spices can make anything taste great. This is served under a brown meat or mushroom sauce that is also excellent.
At this point our dinner wine had finished aeration in its decanter and they served our 97 Ciabot Berton Barolo ($75) which was a pretty good value in a nebbiollo with a little bottle age on it. The wine service was excellent, fresh Spiegelaus all around for everyone and careful pours. We then tucked into some oxtails with gnocchi ($19) which were very plump and tasty. It's a pretty large portion, and by this time we were getting full, so a fair bit went into a lunch bag. We also had some of the lamb chops "scottadita" ($29) although I'm unclear what that means. This portion was also huge, and an excellent item for a table to share among themselves. The chops were of a very high quality and had an sweet char on each side, having been grilled after being cut. Again, most of the plate went into the take home bag, helpfully sent to the coat check girl.
As we polished off our bottle of wine, we continued the gluttony with a plate of three cheeses ($12), the saffron panna cotta ($12), and some chocolate cake ($12). The desserts seemed high priced for what they were, and although good, I didn't think they were anything unusual for any excellent restaurant. The cheese courses were delicous; I wish I had paid attention to what they were. We also had a cup of tea ($5) which was fine, but seemed richly priced. I can understand how they are keen to squeeze the benefits of a full house though.
Dinner was great, and a special treat, coming in at $415 for the four of us, with lots of leftovers. I'd love to go back, especially if it was easier to pin down a table. The best values are in their pastas and lower priced wines. You should be able to eat/drink very well there for $50 or less per person if you chose wisely. I think I like this just a touch more than Lupa, but I'd go back to either in heartbeat.
Have a good weekend.