Last night Marcus and I celebrated our anniversary at Mario Batali's famed restaurant, Babbo. In case you didn't know, Batali is the darling of the restaurant world, and particularly in New York, his food is considered to be extraordinary - both crowd pleasing and culinarily innovative. Most critics and fans consider Babbo to be his flagship, the ultimate incarnation of the Batali brand.
Here is the bottom line: Babbo does not live up to its hype. I expected to discover another level to ethereal Italian cooking, and was let down to discover the food was hit-or-miss.
I am getting ahead of myself, however, as Babbo did get some points very right. The atmosphere was polished without being formal, and the service very well trained (although the discipline instilled in the staff was perhaps a little too stiff). Our waiter was friendly and helpful in navigating the menu, even if he pushed the wine on us a bit too fast. The wine list was comprehensive in both price points and varieties; I was particularly impressed by their two whole pages of Super Tuscans. We were both very pleased with our starters: the salumi platter with dense soppressata and aromatic lamb prociutto (although it tasted strong enough to have come from a mutton), and divine carciofi alla romana where the artichoke hearts were actually outshone by the spicy and garlicy outer leaves.
On the other hand, our main courses did not live up to the legend. My "chianti stained pappardelle with wild boar ragu" was disappointing: the shaved pecorino cheese on top, not the sauce, provided its punch of flavor. It was a recipe without finesse: the soffritto was too coarsely chopped and under seasoned so that the flavors (the holy trinity: carrot, onion, celery) did not melt together and intensify. The wild boar was not succulent enough to fall apart meltingly into the sauce, as it should. The tomato did not coat each strand of pappardelle sufficiently, so that as soon as it began to grow cold, the noodles molded together in an unpleasant block. Although the sauce of Marcus' linguini with cockles, salami, and chili was much tastier, I again found the the preparation sloppy: one of my cockles was full of grit. And why would they import them from New Zealand right when shellfish season is beginning for North America?
Worst of all, I awoke in the night with a mild case of food poisoning lasting all day; I believe the long-traveled cockles to be at fault. An update will follow as to whether and how the general manager returns my phone call... I wouldn't mind a token for dinner at another of Batali's restaurant, Casa Mono. With the facts of this little Catalan tapas joint surpassing his Italian flagship, and his recent and well-publicized tour around Spain with Gwenyth Paltrow I wonder if Batali's allegience has changed from Italiano to Español.