Long before the Mario Batali’s Eataly empire conquered New York City, he opened a small two-story restaurant in the West Village, right off Washington Square Park. 15 years later, the crowds still gather any day of the week, any time at night for a chance to indulge in some of the finest pasta and Italian dishes the city has to offer. Months ago, Amber put in a request for a reservation and we became some of the lucky few to book a table.
On an unforgiving winter’s night, we jumped out of our cab and ran inside, seeking refuge from the bitter cold. We made our way past the crowds to the host’s stand, apologizing for being 10 minutes late. A woman suddenly appeared out of a coat closet taking our jackets, while the host led us up the stairs away from the loud crowds below. Our table was on the outskirt of the restaurant, a four person table with the two of us sitting adjacent to each other so we could both look out onto the crowds of people. Two young couples to our left, out-of-towners on date night to our right, two older businessmen straight ahead. The place seemed almost magical with artfully placed Christmas lights acting brightening the room.
Almost immediately, the sommelier stopped by our table, dressed in a grey suit rather then the white button down and tie. Amber took the lead, discussing her likes and dislikes, surprised at the extremely reasonably priced selection. The bottle arrived shortly after and we toasted to a fabulous evening. While we sipped on our wine, crostini topped with olive tapenade coated chick peas appeared at the table.
Better then the bread that circulated shortly after without a olive oil or butter pairing, the crostini were easy to pick at while we pined over the real menu. Our forks poked into the soft chick peas, enjoying each and every salty, yet sweet bite.
The food tends to always be the tougher decisions, with the waitress guiding you, without fully knowing your likes and dislikes. Following the advice of our waitress, we decided to neglect the Secondi section of the menu in favor of two Primi (pastas) and two appetizers. Eliminating an entire section of the menu hardly make the job easier for the two of us. Over 15 pasta selections and another 15 appetizer selections, each individual and each with its own specific flavor profile and specialty. This is definitely a place you need to visit more then once to just even scratch the surface of the menu. We probably said ‘we need another minute’ at least half a dozen times before finally making executive decisions. The meal would begin with my beloved Prosciutto, as well as the Grilled Octopus dish.
Slice paper thin, the prosciutto is not something you can find at your average, even specialty grocery store. It’s prepared with such precision and care, you almost wonder the importance of the fig, black pepper fett’unta and the bread (coated in olive oil) on the plate. Salty prosciutto, that appears to be translucent when you pick it up against the table’s candle light, is perfect. The sweet and almost spicy fig and black pepper jam doesn’t over power the meat, instead it enhances the beautiful and delicate flavor. Order this. And don’t think it’s something you can get elsewhere, because you can’t.
Grilled octopus, or any octopus preparation for that matter, always stands out at restaurants. While I’ve never attempted to conquer the oddly shaped protein at home before, I’ve tasted failed versions one too many times to realize that it should be left to the experts. Of course, the masters at Babbo created an incredible version.
A beautiful char coats the outside of the curled pieces of octopus, so delicately placed together to create a circular tower. The interior is perfectly cooked and simply seasoned, allowing for the spicy vinaigrette and sweet, stickier sauce on the bottom of elevate the flavor. The sauces felt necessary, but weren’t missed if you were to eat the octopus without running the protein along the bottom of the dish. It’s a beautiful, slightly different preparation of a dish I love.
Time for the pasta. This decision was remarkably easier to make then deciding on an appetizer. We decided to order on classic, Pappardelle Bolognese, and one completely unique dish, Beef Cheek Ravioli (you have to be adventurous to order this).
The ravioli appeared in front of me, with the waiter grating a block of pecarino romano over the brownish gray sauce and triangular pasta. The bolognese received a flurry of parmesan cheese. Both of us commented on the attention to detail, with each pasta receiving a unique cheese due to the salty or sweet nature of the dish.
Okay, this is definitely not the prettiest dish, and far from #foodporn worthy, but looks can be deceiving, for true beauty is found within. The pasta is rolled extremely thin, housing the beef check and squab liver puree inside. The filling is eerily reminiscent of chopped liver, a Jewish holiday speciality, which has a creamy, slightly sweet and tangy flavor. Yet, it’s mild, balanced by the black truffle. The second you’d find it to be overwhelming, you take a breath and dig back in and never feel full. It’s delightful, even for those who don’t traditionally flock to liver. Definitely off the beaten path.
Turning to the traditional dish of the bolognese. It’s rustic turned high brow, using incredible quality ingredients and pappardelle that will knock your socks off. Fresh pasta makes the world of a difference.
Bolognese in some shape or form always graces the table when out for Italian food. This easily topped the list as one of the best, if not the best. Chunky pieces of meat sits neatly on top of the wide, thin noodles. Unlike most bolognese, it’s light, not needed to hide any flaws of the pasta underneath a pile of meat. This dish proves that sticking to the basics and getting it oh, so right proves the worth of any chef.
Since we avoided the secondi part of the menu, we opted to add a side dish, serving as the single ‘green’ of the meal. Of course, by green, we mean grilled Brussels spouts with crispy pancetta. Healthy, right?
Holy Sh*t. Quite possibly the most ridiculous, ultimate interpretation of the super trendy, most hated-loved vegetable in New York City. Grilled to give it a beautiful, smokey char then tossed in olive oil used to cook the pancetta this veggie is infused with a bacon, saltiness that’s addictive. This now takes the prize for ultimate side dish. We actually asked the waitress how this incredible dish was prepared. Yup, Batali, we’re coming for your recipe.
Two appetizers, two pastas and one ridiculous side later, we both admitted defeat with half a plate of pasta sitting in front of us. We requested to box up the pasta and few remaining pieces of Brussels sprouts. Petite fours arrived shortly thereafter, but it seemed almost impossible to bit into the little biscotti and chocolate cookies. Food coma took over in a satisfying way only achieved by ridiculous Italian food.
Surprisingly, the bill was quite reasonable. Mind you, we avoided secondi dishes, but it was more then enough food. That’s what keeps the crowds lining up, for a few more bucks you can have significantly better pasta then your corner Italian joint. Do yourself a favor, find a friend with a hook up or call and bother the host until you get in, for this is a meal you won’t forget anytime soon. I’m already plotting my trip to experiment with the pasta tasting menu, because how can something so wonderful sounding ever be bad? Babbo, I’ll splurge on you always.
Babbo – 110 Waverly Place – New York, NY
Location: West Village, NY
Perfect For: Special Occasions, Date Night
Favorite Dishes: Beef Cheek Ravioli, Pappardelle Bolognese, Brussels Sprouts, Prosciutto