I’d wanted to go to Babbo for a loonnggg time. I once read a fantastic book by Bill Buford (Heat) recounting his experience of working at Babbo as a cook, and subsequently re-tracing Mario Battali’s journey through Italy to become a chef. Since then, I’d had Mario’s short ribs braised in Barolo wine on my brain. But- I’ll start at the beginning.
My sister and I were planning on giving it a try on Monday night (at a famous Iron Chef’s restaurant –in Manhattan at that) without a reservation! Miracle that it was, we walked in, and were seated at a table before you could say “Salute!” As is always a practice dear to my heart, they started us off with a complementary amuse bouche of chick peas and black olive tapenade. The meaty, buttery chick peas mixed with the saltiness of the black olives certainly served its to whet my appetite.
For a first course, or ‘Primi’, we shared an order of “Maccheroni alla Chitarra” with oven dried tomatoes, red chilies and Bottarga di Muggine. Yes, it sounds like macaroni, but it consisted of strands of thick spaghetti, drenched in a chili flavored olive oil, tossed with earthy, sugary tomatoes and salty caviar that burst in your mouth. The portion, split in two, was certainly enough to save room for the main event, while allowing for a little bit of indulgence.
For my main, I had decided (months ago) on the “Bresato in Barolo”, braised beef short ribs with Porcini mushrooms. Though I hate the use of the over-used term “cooked to perfection”, there would be no other way to describe this dish. No knife was necessary, as the bites fell off. The savory-cream mushroom gravy added a depth of rich warmth to the meat. This experience was further heightened when our server grated fresh, piquant horseradish on the meat, tableside. The spiciness of the horseradish served almost as a wake up call to bring me back as I went off in my own little world with each bite.
At the end of this meal, I humored my sweet tooth, “When in Italia” after all! We shared a dessert; sumptuous, saffron panna cotta which was both decadent and light. The rich custard-like dish was cut by an icy, tart rhubarb sorbet, spiced up with rhubarb and pink peppercorn compote. Yet another example of the joys of sweet meets heat.