NYmag.com called it “the most exciting Italian restaurant in town.” Zagat reports that, “‘Still the ‘stuff of legends’ after ‘more than a decade,’ this ‘magical’ Batali-Bastianich ‘class act’ in the Village presents ‘mind-blowing’ Italian feasts with ‘perfect’ ‘wine parings’ and ‘unpretentious’ pro service; yes, the ‘charming’ carriage house quarters can be ‘crowded and noisy’ and it’s a ‘reservation nightmare’ with ‘upscale’ tabs, but the ‘transcendent’ experience will ‘make you happy you’re alive.”
It’s Mario Batali and I had a hangover and Erin was on her way. Unspoken between us was that we were meeting up for dinner and drinks; I would pick the place. When I stepped into the shower I knew I wanted pasta, powerhouse Italian. Tonight was the night for Babbo.
Erin prefers to sit at the table. I like to eat at the bar. The difference between the two is that the table offers a more intimate, focused arrangement: you and your companion. But at the bar, you are available to the other diners, the staff. In general, I have good luck. I’ve been walking into white table cloth restaurants since I was 19 years old. “Availability” is a variable I ignore.
Usually, (with Erin) when I have some idea of where we should go, I’ll call up and try my luck at reservations, but I didn’t last night. I didn’t know at the time that Babbo has been open for 14 years and since day 1 booked solid. I didn’t know that the chief concierge at the Four Seasons would deter his guests from even calling. All I knew is that I’d heard the name wafting through conversation, had seen it profiled on the higher lists and I was going to go.
Erin and I wore long skirts, lace, lingerie. We took a cab from my apartment to the Northeast corner of Washington Square Park and arrived at about 10:45. “That’s not what I expected to hear,” I said to Erin as I opened the door, slipped through the brocade curtains. Jay-Z rumbled through the hidden speakers, in stark contrast to the white linens (double knife, double fork) and the dim, amber glow. The bar was full. The hostess said that two spots at the bar would open soon and then offered us a table, because NYC dining is magic. “That was much easier than I thought it would be,” said Erin, settling in.
We dined in a linear booth between couples, at a narrow table. Dinner starts with the chef’s aperitifs: warmed chickpea bruschetta. Direct orders, no fooling around. Start: Goat Cheese Tortelloni with Dried Orange and Wild Fennel Pollen (19). Erin ordered Beef Cheek Ravioli with Crushed Squab Liver and Black Truffles (23). The server paired our wine. I didn’t write down the label, I should have. It was white, balanced and earthy, from Northern Italy. Erin drank something red.
It was rich, buttery. Our wines were paired well. The service was prompt and impersonal, lacked personality, but nothing was really wrong. After our entrees, someone else took over our table and was somewhat warmer.
We finished with Chocolate Hazelnut Cake with Orange Sauce and Hazelnut Gelato (13). The cake was dense, gelato necessary, and the appearance of orange in a sweeter context was an nice transition from the dried bits strung across my tortelloni. We finished with a miniature sampling of cookies.