I was in town with four friends this weekend, and made a reservation for B&B Saturday night. We showed up a few minutes early, and introduced ourselves to the hostess - who was stunning (more on this later). "Have you guys ever eaten at a Mario Batali restaurant before?" she asked us, as other members of the staff scurried around to check on our table. "He may be most well known for his restaurant in New York...it's really excellent, called, um...it's really great."
"Yah, that's it! Babbo!"
Hostess #2 returned and escorted us to our table. The sommelier/manager (never quite figured this out) soon showed up at our table to greet us. When we told him we were from LA, he asked us if we had ever eaten at Mozza - a couple of us had. Somewhere along the line a joke about the difficulty in scoring a reservation was made; I restrained myself from commenting on the hype-to-reality ratio at what one Chowhound Los Angeles poster called "the best restaurant in the country."
A few minutes later our waiter stopped by and delivered his opening spiel on B&B. First, he reminded us - again - of the owner of the restaurant. Then he shed a little light on the cuisine: "This isn't your typical Italian restaurant," he informed us. "Batali has gone out of his way to create a culinary expression of the Italian landscape and way of life. You won't find Spaghetti and Meatballs or Caesar Salad here."
Oooooook again. Thanks for the heads-up, Mr. Waiter. I was dead-set on that Spaghetti and Meatballs, but I guess I'll have to settle for a Sweet Potato Lune. Can't win them all.
At this point it may bear mentioning that my group was five young men aged 21-25 - all young professionals, dressed casually but respectfully. I bring this up because I feel that we may have been prejudged; throughout the process we were treated as if it were our first time in a nice restaurant. Another example: when we ordered wine, our sommelier/manager asked if we were wine drinkers, "or just going along with the mood." We're wine drinkers, actually, and we know who Mario Batali is - thanks. It's not so much that it was offensive as it was annoying; the consant Batali reminders and flowery prose about the menu were just obnoxious. In fact, the service as a whole was not good - I got the distinct feeling that management was concerned more with looks than with experience (remember the hostess?). Our busgirl/bread server (also gorgeous)? Sweet, but mostly nowhere to be found. Our waiter? Eager to please, but not particularly helpful - when we asked him for a recommendation he literally read off half of the menu, delivering effusive praise for each item. What kind of recommendation is that?
And it's really a shame, because the food was excellent. A beet salad, while extraordinarily tiny at $14, was perfectly tangy. The Sweet Potato Lune was as delicious as advertised, creamy and savory, almost a dessert. My Cornish Game Hen special was fantastic, deeply flavorful yet very light. The bread was excellent, even better with the outstanding house olive oil, which we had to request. We had heard that there was a story about why the bread is served plain, but when we asked the bread server why they didn't bring it with EVOO, she just replied, "We do if you ask for it." She didn't even miss a beat, total deadpan.
All in all, we thought the experience at what should have been a great restaurant was really hurt by the service, which ran from mediocre to just plain weird. Also, the first hour of our meal featured an Aerosmith Greatest Hits album more or less blaring - this was unbearable at times. I'm totally on board with the "rock music at a nice place" concept, but you've got to step up to the plate with your playlist, and 90 minutes of Steven Tyler doesn't cut it. Hopefully Batali can get his act together and hire some people who know what they're doing, because at status quo his outstanding menu is entirely compromised by the amature staff.
My grade: C+. Final bill, with two apps, two pastas, five entrees, two bottles of wine, tax, and tip was about $425.