I know this might spark some discord among the hoards of Babbo-lovers (and I sooo wanted to join your ranks!), but I have to relate a very disappointing experience (primarily service-wise) I had on Sunday night. My new fiancee and I were taking out some newleywed friends from France for a big triple celebration - their wedding, our engagement (just this weekend!), and my birthday. When I called late last week for a reservation, I explained how special the night was. When we got there, the hostess (who was very nice) congratulated us, but until dessert, there was no other acknowledgement or special treatment by the staff. I didn't expect anyone to go overboard, but the server didn't bother sending the sommelier over when we asked, acted put out when asked to explain the menu to my French friends (who were trying to keep kosher and bewildered by some of the ingredients), and started out the meal by saying (rather condescendingly I thought), "I don't know if you've ever been here before, but normally everyone orders three courses each. Of course, if it's impossible because of your personal restrictions, I suppose we can work something out."
While my fiancee and I were happy with our choices (the Mint Love Letters and Beef Cheek Ravioli), my French friends didn't enjoy their simple bavette pasta much. All of us were feeling that were weren't especially welcome at Babbo - the server stopped briefly to ask if everything was okay, but didn't bother to notice my friends were picking things out of their pasta, and and hadn't eaten much on their plates (I think they were trying to be polite, and thought it was too late in the evening to be sending things back at this point.)
Anyways, we finish dinner, I order a dessert which I am happy to see comes with a "happy birthday message," but my friends tell the server they don't want dessert since they didn't enjoy the pasta too much. (The server's response: "okay," with no follow up) My friends pay for dinner, leaving not a huge tip, reflecting our disappointment with the overall level of service. The manager comes over and wants to know what is wrong. My french friends, who are struggling with English, explain that they weren't much impressed with the pasta compared to what they were used to. The manager basically blames them for not complaining during the meal (a fair criticism, as there was nothing the restaurant could do to help after the meal), but then shocks us all by saying with an air of incredulity "you gotta be kidding, Italian food in France? Italian food is HORRIBLE in Paris!!" My friends are aghast, and my fiancee and I try to deflect by saying that we enjoyed our entree. I guess I should have let good enough alone, but I felt compelled to admit that I was a little disappointed that, apart from the dessert, our triple-celebration really hadn't been acknowledged. At this the manager became clearly irritated and asked, "So what did you want, the staff to come over and (here he pushed his face in close to mine) start saying "Happy Birthday" all night long?" All of us at the table were quite agog at this point, since we had all been speaking in a very calm, non-confrontational manner. Basically he refused to apologize, other than saying snippily "we're sorry you feel that way." I was mortified after having promised a lovely evening to my friends, and disappointed that such an important evening had ended on such a negative note.
End result - I won't go back to Babbo and I won't send any of my friends there either. I will say that we all agreed that the little neighborhood joint we wandered into on Saturday ("The Place" on West 4th street) surpassed Babbo in every respect - the food was excellent, the service gracious, and the staff warm and solitous even without a reservation. Plus, they give 10% of proceeds to children's charities!
Lesson: I'd rather spend my money where it's appreciated.