This year we were both away from home for our birthdays; Paul's on our first day in New York City and my birthday falling on our last night in Montreal. I asked Paul where he wanted to go and he immediately said 'Babbo'.
We've wanted to go to Babbo for years but never managed to make it happen - mainly because we don't get to NY that often and because it is bloody hard to get a decent reservation time. We were helped out by our hotel concierge who got us a prime 8 PM spot and made sure they knew it was a special evening and that it was Paul's birthday.
Back in 1998 when Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich opened this restaurant, it was unheard of for an establishment worthy of more than three newspaper stars to play "rock music," or encourage "bar dining." But that's exactly what they did, and it worked, judging by the fact that every serious restaurant in NY has since followed suit.
So, after nearly 20 years, is Babbo still worth your time and money? Absolutely it is. As a matter of fact, this restaurant has only gotten better with age, like Betty White and Bryan Cranston and your memories from high school. There aren't many places that serve a special occasion or a drop in at the bar equally well, nor are there many where a guy in a suit comes to scrape your tablecloth even though you basically just ate spaghetti for dinner. Speaking of which, even though there are many excellent things on the menu, the best way to enjoy a meal at Babbo is to go heavy on the pasta - which we did.
When we arrived (early) our table wasn't ready. We were advised that we could hang out at the bar - very crowded - or wait at the bar of the hotel across the street. As it was a nice night we decided to wait outside on the sidewalk and indulge in one of my favourite sports - people watching. I have to say though, people watching is far more intriguing in NY than back home in Burlington. :-)
It wasn't long before a guy in a suit rushed out to the sidewalk and dragged us inside. Our table was ready. We were rushed past the crowded bar area - where the tables are packed cheek to jowl - to a refined space upstairs with a beautiful glass ceiling and enough space between the tables so that you can actually enjoy a conversation with your dinner companion rather than be drowned out by noise.
The service was amazing - there were about 20 tables in this area and we counted 11 staff making sure everything ran smoothly and all were happy. We ordered cocktails.
Paul's was a version of the Spritz, mine a Strawberry Bellini. Both yummy.
A server brought over an amuse bouche - chick pea crostini. This is when you discover if a restaurant would be worthy or not. In this case the kitchen somehow managed to wrest amazing flavour from humble ingredients - the cornerstone of true Italian cooking. We knew we were in good hands.
I ordered the Salami for my first course.
House cured Culatello and Finnochiona with toasted crostini. MMMMMM
Paul ordered the Orecchiette with Sweet Sausage and Rapini.
For our mains we switched it up a bit - Paul ordered the lamb chops: the lamb served with Broccoli Rabe Pesto, Grilled Onions and Lemon Yogurt.
I had pasta - Bucatini all’Amatriciana with Guanciale, Hot Pepper and Pecorino.
We decided on dessert. Paul ordered a White Chocolate Cheesecake with Strawberries and Crème Fraîche and I gelato and biscotti. This is where I knew Leith and the hotel had made sure the restaurant knew it was a special event - Paul's birthday. We had not said a thing but look at how Paul's dessert was delivered. . .
It really was an amazing meal.
After we left the restaurant we decided to walk back to the hotel. The GPS on my cell phone said it was about 30 minutes up 5th Avenue. It was a beautiful night and heaven knows we needed the exercise after all of the eating! :-)