Every year Mario Batali donates a progressive dinner for the fund raising auction at my son's former school. This year the winning bidders and I had an antipasto course standing at Otto, three small pasta courses (preceded by a tiny salad) at Lupa , and a main course and dessert at Babbo . Full disclosure: Mario, his wife, and I are friends. We have known each other for ten years.
Even at 6 p.m. Otto was a noisy swirl of activity. Twenty-somethings were everywhere except our table. We had three cheeses, served with honey dotted with little pieces of black truffle (stupendous), six little bowls of delicious vegetables and a wooden platter of salumi that featured excellent salami, prosciutto, testa (housemade headcheese) and loma, cured pork loin.
At Lupa we started with a tiny hill of spectacular pear and watercress salad studded with pomegranate seeds. The pasta courses were cloud-light gnocchi with sausage, a linguine with clams made with a basil sauce that had no cheese or nuts, making it unpesto-like, and finally a garganelli with a pork braciole ragu with black truffles. All three pastas were exemplary, marred only by the kitchen's tendency to use a little too much ground black pepper.
At Babbo I had the pork chop, made with richly marbled Berkshire pork, two and half inches high, and brined to maximum tenderness. If there's a better pork chop on the planet I haven't had it.
Dessert was a cavalcade of pastry chef Gina DePalma's creations: pumpkin cheesecake, cranberry and pecan budino (spice cake) topped with cinammon ice cream, the pistachio-chocolate semifreddo, a saffron panna cotta, and a selection of six ice creams and sorbets served in three pairs of shot glasses.
Babbo is still my favorite restaurant in New York. It has the kind of glow and energy level that every restaurant in the world aspires to. You feel good just being there, sitting, eating and drinking with friends, being well-attended to, even as the music cranks louder and louder with every passing hour.