I’ve long wanted to go to Babbo, the restaurant by celebrity chef Mario Batali. For some reason I just hadn’t made it there, but when I heard that they were going to start serving lunch, I made it a point to go. I had a really good experience — Babbo has decent options for vegetarians and the quality is impressive. The lunch menu at Babbo includes a la carte options, as well as a $49 tasting menu (that has to be ordered by the entire table). My friends and I ordered a la carte, because we didn’t want to be locked in to the tasting menu. Because we didn’t get the tasting menu, I didn’t ask if the pork could be substituted with something vegetarian.
Our lunch started with chickpea bruschetta, which was interesting and pretty good. The chickpeas seemed to be marinated in balsamic vinegar and were just a bit too acidic for my liking, but the other spices cut the acidity. This was a nice start to lunch.
I don’t think I eat out enough to know exactly what all of the latest trends are, but I do think various versions of asparagus with an egg is becoming pretty widespread this spring/early summer. Babbo’s version had green asparagus and a duck egg, topped with what appeared to be pecorino romano cheese. The asparagus was very good, and the egg gave it some heft, but the egg itself was a little on the bland side. It also seemed just a touch overdone — compare, for example, with the oh-so-delicately poached egg at The NoMad.
My second course was black spaghetti with fennel, jalapenos and breadcrumbs. (I had it made without the bottarga.) I didn’t think of this at the time, but it occurred to me as I was writing this review that black pasta is often made with squid ink… and therefore not vegetarian! I don’t know for sure that Babbo’s black spaghetti is made this way, but it’s probably a good bet. That being said, I did tell the waiter at the outset that I was a vegetarian, so if it was in fact made with squid ink I’m disappointed that the waiter didn’t mention it to me, especially after I asked for the dish without the bottarga.
In any case, the pasta was very good. I was surprised that it was a little on the bland side — obviously, the lack of the bottarga accounts for some of this, but I would have guessed that the jalapenos would have added some kick. I finally added a little bit of sea salt to the pasta (the sea salt was served alongside my friend’s steak) and the dish was much better. Of course, if it’s not vegetarian, this isn’t particularly helpful information! (I did tweet this question to Mario Batali, and I’ll let you know if he responds.) If I had known that the black spaghetti was not vegetarian, I would have gotten the gnocchi, or possibly the orecchiette without the salami.
For dessert I ordered the olive oil rosemary cake with olive oil gelato. The cake was very good, and you can probably see a slice of lemon on the left side — there was a slight hint of lemon. I certainly don’t have anything against this dessert. But my friend got the pistachio and chocolate semifreddo, and it was fantastic. I gave him half of my cake in exchange for half of his semifreddo.
The chocolate you see is hardened, almost like a Klondike bar. What you see in the enter is a pistachio gelato, and the crumbled pistachios all around went great with the rest of the dessert. I’m seriously tempted to go back to Babbo just to get this dessert… maybe with this to drink:
I wrapped up the lunch with an amaro tasting. Amaro is an Italian digestif that is flavored with various herbs. I had Cardamaro (flavored with cardoon and thistle), Nonino (flavored with, among things, various herbs) and Sibilla (herbs, roots and honey). They were all obviously bitter but a nice ending to the meal.
All in all, lunch at Babbo was pretty good. The spaghetti is a little bit of a question mark, and if it turns out that it’s not vegetarian, then it’s a little annoying that the waiter didn’t tell me that after specifically knowing that I was a vegetarian. But the asparagus was good, and the pistachio semifreddo was great. I also really liked the chickpea bruschetta at the beginning. No particular course stood out as spectacular, but everything was solid and well executed. Three and a half stars.
Babbo’s lunch menu is below. (Return to the body of the post.)