A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Jul. 26.

Dinner -

Babbo - 110 Waverly Pl., Greenwich Village
Chickpea Bruschetta (amuse); Black Spaghetti with Rock Shrimp, Chorizo and Green Chilis; Mint Love Letters with Spicy Lamb Sausage; Duck Tortelli with “Sugo Finto”; Sweet Corn Crema; a bottle of "Terre de Pietra" Lunelli 2000; an espresso; also tried some of Warm Lamb's Tongue Vinaigrette with Hedgehogs and a 3-Minute Egg; Spaghettini with Spicy Budding Chives, Sweet Garlic and a One Pound Lobster; Pappardelle with Pork Ragu; Homemade Orecchiette with Sweet Sausage and Rapini

I was hot and sweaty, my dress shirt sticking to my chest. My day at work had been exhausting and the city had replaced the 6 train tunnel with a Turkish bath. Then we stood in the front entrance of Babbo for ten minutes, as people kept squeezing past us, getting in and getting out. Waiters maneuvered around us with trays and the hostess had to keep nudging me of her way. It was not a good start to the night.

Then Alex, Vince, Brian and I took our seats upstairs and started looking over the menu. It was Alex and Brian’s first time there, Vince’s third, and my second, (see Mar. 20) but no one was immune from a watering mouth. All the possible permutations and combinations sent us reeling, and I could barely wait to revisit some of my old favorites. We debated, negotiated and compromised on who would split what dish, practically applying logarithms to the equation. When the dust settled, I was splitting the black spaghetti and the mint love letters with Brian, splitting the duck tortelli with everyone, and tasting a little of whatever was left. For the table, I also ordered a great $30 bottle from the incredibly diverse and lovingly selected list of Italian wines.

As our dishes started to come, I started to forget all about the stress and heat of the day. The black spaghetti, colored with squid ink, was perhaps even better than I remembered it. With chorizo, green chilis and shrimp, the interplay of the ingredients was staggering, each one adding a distinctive and essential element. This was and remained my favorite dish at Babbo, and more so, it's earned its place among some of my favorite dishes of all time. My other carryover, the mint love letters, was nearly as incredible, and just as worthy of adulation. The sharpness of the mint mixed with the zesty kick of the sausage are just another perfect pairing here.

The new dishes I tried couldn't displace the spaghetti or the love letters from the pantheon, but they were all standouts in their own right. The best was the lamb's tongue vinaigrette, which was distinguished by its bold seasoning. The spaghettini was the most beautiful, with a large lobster serving as its centerpiece. The pasta was as spicy as the more famous bucatini all'amatriciana, and while I prefer the latter's shape, this dish was another clear winner. I also really liked the orechiette and the pappardelle, although they weren't as exciting and they probably wouldn't be the courses to order on a first visit. Even the duck tortelli had so a terrific and creamy filling I barely minded that I couldn't taste the duck.

Finally, there was dessert, which again affirmed Gina DePalma's prowess in the pastry kitchen. I had the sweet corn crema with sugary zeppolis to scoop up the delicious sauce. The dish reminded me a lot of the beignets Adam and I shared at the Bar Room at the Modern (see May 29), but it was even more successful here. Creative but earthy, delicate but delicious, this dessert somehow managed to match the heights of the pastas, complementing and completing an amazing meal.

Finishing off my coffee, paying my check and saying good-bye to my friends, I walked back to my apartment to learn there was no power in the building. A girl on the steps handed me a candle and warned me it was disgustingly hot inside. I nodded and thanked her, not surprised at all. It was just that kind of day. But for three glorious hours, I was on another plane entirely, where the atmosphere was electric and the food was miraculous. 10/10

* The Amateur Gourmet and Clotide of Chocolate and Zucchini share their meal at Babbo

* Amazon.com's interview with Mario Batali


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