Babbo, New York City
This past week I spent several days bouncing around New York City getting into all kinds of phoo-d trouble with Dana of The Kitchen Witch. I will post highlights of the trip later this week. First, however, I want to share how we kicked off the festivities with a dinner at Babbo, the home base for famous chef and restaurateur Mario Batali.
Tucked away on a quiet street in Greenwich village the exterior of Babbo appears to be another unassuming bistro style restaurant. Yet behind the black door a world of bustling waiters, gregarious patrons, and beautiful food awaits. Following the hostess past the narrow bar and packed tables we ascended a flight of stairs into a room filled with white linen and sparkling silver- all illuminated by light pouring through an enormous skylight. One would think that white glove service would lead to a formal (some may even say stuffy) atmosphere. Yet here is where the man in orange crocs throws you for a loop. Instead of muted whispers and clinking glasses, the room is filled with the sounds of Bob Marley and boisterous conversations as diners let loose and enjoy the experience.
Our first course, a beautiful caprese salad, reflected the confidence of the kitchen. Done poorly, caprese salad is a sad mix of rubbery cheese slabs, flavorless tomatoes, and tired basil drowned in olive oil and salt. It is a combination so awful you may hesitate to order caprese salad ever again. Yet, done properly, caprese salad is a tribute to the freshness of summer. Simple ingredients come together in a symphony of bright flavors entrancing everyone. Made with farm fresh tomatoes, Italian mozzarella, and tiny basil leaves, this caprese salad was summer perfection on a plate.
The meal continued at a steady pace with culatello (the center cut of a prosciutto) topped with pickled ramps and pecorino cheese. A course of handmade pappardelle pasta with chanterelles and thyme filled my mouth with a buttery soft texture and deep mushroom flavor. Duck torelli with “sugo finto” entranced my taste buds renewing my quest to discover the secrets of an excellent “sugo finto”. Tender slices of grilled hanger steak with royal trumpet mushrooms and a cipolline agrodolce rounded out the savory courses with a solid meaty flavor.
Just before the sweets appeared, we encountered the best dish of the night. The plate was so unassuming, just a monochromatic slice of cheese drizzled with honey, that I failed to take a photograph. (Terrible, I know!) Yet when a bite of the green peppercorn goat cheese mixed with fennel infused honey it was pure music in my mouth. Dana and I both looked at each other with wide eyes and said, “Wow!” The combination of flavors was nothing short of inspired and confirmed my belief that simple dishes can become superstars when given a chance.
Dessert brought a duo of seasonally focused cakes to the table. A softly textured peach budino was drizzled with honey and accompanied by a whipped raspberry creme fraiche with such an ethereal level of fluffiness I am still puzzling over how it was achieved. Our favorite dessert was an olive oil zucchini cake with a crackly exterior which gave way to a soft crumb beneath the weight of a fork. Paired with olive oil and orange infused gelato and a vanilla flecked honey butter the cake turned zucchini bread into a dessert worthy of white linen. Fortunately for us, the recipe can be found on the Babbo website or in a recent post by the Dessert King David Lebovitz.
With the desserts our evening came to a close and we hailed a cab back to the hotel, fat and happy from the decadent array of Italian dishes. Our adventures in New York were just beginning. The days ahead would bring tutus in Times Square, 2400 bloggers under one roof, and an attempt to stuff ourselves silly with dumplings. More fun coming soon!