Back in 2011 our eating schedule was so full that we never quite made it to Babbo, one of the city’s most well known Italian eating houses. But this time it was mandatory to give it a go.
Located in the heart of Greenwich Village just steps from Washington Square Park, this Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich owned restaurant still seems to have people wanting a table on any given night. It’s a pretty tight dining room downstairs, bathed in amber light with bar seating for those that want a more interactive experience with the knowledgeable bar staff.
A relaxed atmosphere ramped up with loud rock music that can make it feel like a pub, but the white table cloths and some pretty exceptional service also generate the impression of a high-brow establishment.
To save faffing around with the à la carte menu, it was straight onto the $90 Traditional Tasting Menu for us. Seven courses. That’ll do. There is a seven course pasta tasting menu that’s $80, as well.
Spiced chickpeas on crostini are delivered with our bottle of vino, then a plate of citrus cured salmon doused in tangerine-infused olive oil. The textures are mixed up with the accompaniment of sungold cherry tomatoes; sweet and juicy and adding another fruity layer alongside the tangerine.
Some beautifully al dente pappardelle is next, tumbled with chanterelles, fresh thyme, butter and oil and shavings of cheese. Such a simple combination that has me wanting more.
I wasn’t all that keen on the next pasta dish. Plump tortilla that’s filled with duck. Not shreds or ground duck, but an almost runny purée that had a strange sensation on the palate. Sugo finto is used as a sauce; a delicious meatless concoction of tomato, vegetables and wine.
Here we have grilled guinea hen, slumped over a fregola and blackened sweet corn mix. A thick vinaigrette with shaved black truffle brings richness and a little smokiness.
The menu begins to wind down on the heavy savouries with a simple pairing of sharp Pecorino Rossellino and a glossy globule of chestnut honey. Anyone that has tried Tasmania’s leatherwood honey would pick up the floral similarities of the chestnut variety. Cheese and honey. Divine.
Of all the panna cotta I’ve tried in my life, I’ve never had one that was made with grappa. Here at Babbo they incorporate this fierce Italian brandy into the milk and cream mixture. The waiter said it’s quite subtle and only just noticeable, but I found it crept up on you and gave your palate a light smack with its intensity. I can’t say I loved it, but it was an interesting variation, to say the least. Some boozy elderberries topped it off, as well.
A complimentary polenta pudding came our way, served in a cup topped with spiced huckleberries and thin polenta tuile. Sugar lovers would have relished but personally I found it a little too cloying. A much more preferable torta caprese was a perfect way to round off the meal. A simple almond and chocolate cake, fior di latté and a dribble of sweetly sour vincotto.
Going to New York and not returning to Del Posto for its unbeatably valued three course lunch would have been a crime. It may have increased another $10 since our previous visit, but it’s a $39 price-point that one still can’t be miffed about. Nothing seems to have changed with the rigidly formal décor that still makes me feel like I’m sitting in a hotel lobby. And that prerecorded piano is still tinkering away upstairs on the mezzanine.
Neither of us was in the mood for vino, so water it was. Something that noticeably altered the demeanour of the floor manager. Nothing out of line, just a tad uninterested. She chirped up a bit when a neighbouring table of corporates ordered bottles of vino throughout their lunch. Hello profit margin!
The lunch format is very much the same as it was two years ago. A share platter of nibbles to get things started. A cup of chilled marinara with chilli, cucumber and cream cheese with avocado and a puffed rigatoni rolled in corn & chilli, filled with lobster and kewpie mayo. The latter was divine.
The vitello tonnato seemed appropriate to the steamy weather the city was enduring. Thin slices of cold veal blanketed in a creamy mayonnaise-like emulsion with tuna, dotted with capers, chives, lime cells and black nuggets of olive crostone.
For an additional $15 I chose the truffle beef carne cruda, a tartar of sorts with the unmistakable aroma and flavour of truffle. Large shavings of Grana Padano joined the 28-day dried beef, with some watercress buds for a peppery crunch.
A rather large trio of heritage pork hits the table, served with a stewed black cabbage and braised pork rib. The third pork element was pancetta, a delicious layer that was wrapped around the impossibly tender pork loin.
The less impressive Neapolitan lamb was nothing more than a tidy chop with smoked tail, salsa madre (tomato, garlic & oil) and a few leaves of English spinach left to wilt over the meat. Perfectly cooked, just simple compared to just about everything we’d tried up to this point.
Once again the desserts didn’t disappoint. A moist wedge of grilled lemon cake is weighed down with roasted nectarine, an incredible basil gelato and torn leaves of fresh basil. Not overly sweet, just refreshing.
I was head over heels with the cluster of lemon cremoso, fresh peach, peach sorbet and ginger sorbet. A tuile-like polenta croccante added crunch, as did the ginger biscuit on which everything was arranged.
Another lunch at Del Posto that was well enjoyed.