For my fathers 58th birthday we decided to go to Babbo after having such a memorable experience there over a year ago. We arrived 20 minutes early for our reservation but were promptly seated, which was kind. A few minutes went by before anyone greeted our table and we started to get antsy for cocktails (dad had a hard morning). Eventually a gentleman who seemed to be a manager approached us, explained the format of the menu and that evenings specials and then took our cocktail order. Moments later our actual waiter appeared and rather awkwardly asked so
is this a return visit?.... and then began to launch into the very same menu spiel that we had just received. We saved him some time by mentioning that we had just heard it. Our cocktails arrived and we bunkered down for another memorable night by ordering the tasting menu with wine pairings.
Soon after, slices of crusty, chewy sourdough we placed before us although they werent accompanied by any olive oil, butter or spread, which I found odd. I looked around to other tables and didnt seem and bread accompaniments there either so I assumed maybe it was just a Babbo policy but requested some oil from our waiter as the thought of dry, room temperature bread didnt seem entirely appealing. Minutes later our waiter returned, not with olive oil but with our first wine pairing (a lovely Vermentino). After that he kept passing by the table empty handed while our bread sat there, dry and uneaten. Minutes after that our first course showed up, so I was temporarily distracted by the little masterpiece that was in front of me. It was a sweet pea sformato with some type of spicy micro green salad and duck bresaola. Wow. The custard wasnt smooth in texture as I had imagined but instead had a pleasantly rustic course texture, like that of ricotta cheese. The spicy greens and the salty duck were in perfect harmony with the sweet pea custard. As this course was being cleared I, once again, asked the waiter for some oil to which he replied, it should be coming soon. Where, I wondered, was it coming from and how many courses would I have to eat before it arrived? Luckily the busboy hurried over with some and I was happy again.
The next course was pappardelle with morels and thyme. This dish was buttery, woodsy, earthy heaven. If I had to choose a last meal on this earth, that pappardelle would be a contender. Next came duck tortelli with sugo finto (a light tomato sauce with pancetta) again groans of pleasure ensued. The filling was rich and creamy, the pasta perfectly al dente and the sauce delectable. These two dishes made me wish I had gone for the pasta tasting. That is until the guinea hen with preserved lemon citronette arrived. While there was a little too much fat beneath the crispy hen skin for my personal tastes, the meat was so succulent that I soon forgot any minor displeasure. Next came Coach Farms Finest, an aged goats milk cheese studded with green peppercorns and accompanied by honey with fennel seeds. Again, transcendent.
After the cheese we were through with savory and about to move on to the dessert courses, or so we thought. The dessert wine was promptly poured but then the wait for dessert began. And continued and continued and continued. It passed the point of being ridiculous, especially considering that what eventually arrived was an inch long wedge of cake with pear preserved spooned over it. It was sort of dry and entirely forgettable. Not sure what the timing issue was but it certainly wasnt acknowledged by our waiter. After that course I asked the waiter to see a menu again as I was thinking of ordering a pasta to take home to my roommate who wasnt able to join us and the waiter actually gave me a what a strange request face. By this point I was seething inwardly. Ive been a waiter in new york city for many years and I know what a demanding customer is I dont think requesting olive oil and a pasta to take home falls into that realm. It was really disappointing especially considering that it was my fathers birthday and I just wanted him to have a good time. After ordering the pasta I told the waiter to just speed up the last two courses. We were tired and frustrated at this point. What a letdown!
The next course was a lovely, silky espresso panna cotta with amarena cherries. The final dessert that was listed was a chocolate-date cake with vanilla gelato and, while my father received that dessert, I was given a rosemary cake with olive oil gelato and my mother received a pistachio semi freddo with bittersweet chocolate ganash (one of the best desserts I had ever had in my entire life). Not sure if the unprecedented dessert variety was on account of the service flubs but, again, no explanation from the waiter.
In the end we ended up leaving over fifteen per cent as a tip (we normally leave over 20 for even decent service). We did so for one, because I feel like its bad for my waiter karma to do otherwise but also because the busboys and other staff were so friendly and efficient we didnt want to snub them. Its just a shame that, while the food was truly exceptional, feeling ignored/shunned by your waiter really leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth, pardon the pun. Hopefully it was just an off night because I would love to return, although now am a bit skeptical.