Mario Batali's West Village restaurant Babbo just celebrated its tenth anniversary this month. That wasn't my excuse for eating there for the first and second time within the past three months, but I'll pretend it was. (You too can use this excuse to splurge on a dinner there.)
Although I've only eaten at Babbo twice, the combination of both meals (each one involving three companions who like to share—the idea eating situation) has given me a taste of 21 dishes (including two complimentary dishes). That may only be about 30 percent of the whole menu, but it was enough for me to come up with my ideal Babbo meal consisting of an antipasti, primi, and secondi. If you're planning to eat at Babbo for the first time—and if you want an excuse, you can say you're celebrating their 10-year anniversary—but don't have the luxury of eating with a group of people who encourage stabbing their forks into each others dishes, here are my recommendations.
Pig foot "milanese" is the only dish that appeared at both meals. Because after the first meal, I couldn't stop thinking about it (hell, I'm still thinking about it). It just tastes like crispy pork-flavored fat, but the best crispy pork-flavored fat ever. Ever. A thin slab of intensified porkiness. And thank god the portion was so thin; otherwise the richness would've been overpowering. Not that I wouldn't have welcomed it.
Other antipasti dishes I'd recommend are the warm lamb's tongue vinaigrette and grilled octopus. But there's a problem with these dishes: they have 0 percent pork content. Not everything can be perfect.
Primi (Pasta Dish)
I remember the goose liver ravioli mostly because of the balsamic vinegar and brown butter sauce. It makes sense: butter makes things taste better. Brown butter is like a tastier, more flavorful form of butter. Add that to balsamic vinegar, reduce it to intensify the flavors, and you end up a rich sauce that clings to everything it touches, such as the plate that you so desperately want to lick. One of my dining companions seemed compelled to, but instead managed to scrape off most of the sauce with her fork. I can't recall the goose liver filling of the pasta very well, but the sauce is still in my mind.
Before eating at Babbo, I thought sweetbreads were supposed to be dainty gland nubbins. Each piece in Babbo's fennel dusted sweetbreads was more like a fat, gargantuan nugget. A soft, light nugget of meaty fat. Breaded. And fried. You can't lose.
I can't say I have one stand-out recommendation for a dessert; all the desserts I had were pleasing. Whichever one you should get depends on what you're craving. I immediately went for the saffron panna cotta due to my need to always order the jiggly custard dish whenever it appears on a menu, and while Babbo's wasn't my favorite version (I prefer the basic vanilla version), I would still recommend it. Or perhaps the chocolate hazelnut cake with its center of molten chocolate goo would be more your thing. I underestimated the pine nut crostata (tart); it sounded simple, but packed a flavorful punch of buttery crust and toasted pine nuts.
Admittedly, a cup of olive oil gelato from Otto would be my preferred way to end the meal. Or any meal.
Although I didn't mean to eat at Babbo near it's tenth anniversary, I think I'll make it a point to only eat there on the special occasion of the restaurant's anniversaries in ten-year increments. I'm sure I'll get another chance during its twentieth anniversary.
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