Dinner at Babbo, 1/12/08
Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 3:52PM
The Lady Who Lunches in Restaurant reviews

For those of you familiar with this website, you know that I keep a running list called, "The Lunch Belle's 'I really wanna try this place' list." Every time I eat at one of the restaurants mentioned on that list, I remove it and write a review about my dining experience. I am elated to say that I have finally eaten at Babbo and am now able to officially write a review about my meal!

Securing reservations at a restaurant like Babbo
is nearly impossible, unless you’re famous, or have plenty of time and patience on your hands. And let’s face it, 99% of us don’t have any of those! The thought of having to call the restaurant’s reservation line exactly one-month to the day of intended dining, getting a repetitive busy tone over and over again because every other New Yorker and their mom is doing the same thing at the exact same time is enough to make me pull my hair out!

So instead of trying to figure out why top notch restaurants don’t utilize the call-waiting feature, I had basically just written off ever being able to eat at them. I do love a challenge, but come on; this goes way above and beyond even the most extreme high-maintenance endeavors.

A couple of months ago, I heard about a website called tablexchange.com, which serves as a medium between restaurant reservation sellers and buyers. In English, it’s a website where lucky people who were fortunate enough to have secured amazing reservations at top notch restaurants can sell their tables to people like me! So here's the dish: Once you are at the home page of the website, choose your dining location and browse through the available reservations. For a fee never more than $40, you can purchase a table at a fantastic restaurant! Amen to that!

A week prior to dining (normally a time frame that's impossible to acquire a table), I secured reservations on tablexchange.com for two at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday night and invited my dear friend, Megan, to join me. We decided to meet at the restaurant around 7:45 p.m. Being the early bird that I am, I arrived at Babbo at 7:30 p.m. expecting a small and crowded space. To my surprise, I entered a large (by New York standards), dimly lit, lively but not insanely swamped, charmingly beautiful restaurant! The space whisks you away to the warm interior of an intimate townhouse where you're the honored guest of your wealthy friend or relative (so what if you don't have a wealthy buddy or granny...use your imagination!) A friendly hostess promptly greeted me and we confirmed my reservation, then I made a bee line towards the bar for a much needed glass of something bubbly. People sitting at the bar stools were either eating their dinners or having a cocktail while waiting for a table. After making eye contact with the bar tender, I wedged my way closer and ordered a glass of prosecco from the weighty and thick leather-bound wine list book. For $9.00, I was served a very healthy serving of Italian sparkle. Not three sips later, Megan arrived and we informed the host of our complete party. Finally, at 8:15 p.m., we were led upstairs to our table.

Megan and I were seated at what would have been the perfect “date night" table. Think two chairs placed next to eachother, hidden behind a small, round ice-cream-parlor-style table. Que romantico! We chuckled a bit, but were very pleased to be seated on the second floor, instead of the more boisterous first level.
Our waiter handed us menus and took our drink orders. Megan and I each chose one of Babbo's
nightly cocktail specials, a blood orange Cosmopolitan and a sour apple Bellini. The drinks were poured table side, which we found very impressive. Both beverages were fantastic.

Upon perusing Babbo's
food menu, I found the prices to be shockingly legit. Perhaps I assumed that because of the big name, big prices would follow. Everything on the menu sounded lovely and so uniquely creative; it was hard to choose just a couple of dishes. Megan and I both ordered the Winter Vegetables Salad to start. For my entree, I went with the Mint Love Letters pasta and Megan chose the Goat Cheese Tortelloni.
After ordering, we were served a generous hunk of fresh bread and an amuse bouche of chickpea bruschetta. The crispy bite sized bruschetta was topped with chickpeas that must have been marinated in balsamic vinegar, olive oil and fresh herbs. Our salads arrived shortly thereafter, and both of us agreed that this was one of the best plates of greens we'd ever eaten. The bed of salad appeared as though it had been shredded in a cheese grater and looked like a hay stack of emerald green shavings. Dotted throughout were fresh cubed squash, baby Brussels sprouts and pearl onions. The salad was finished with a light balsamic dressing and topped with a goat cheese crouton. How could something so simple and healthy be so delicious?

At long last, our entrees arrived. Since Megan is a pescatarian, she wasn't about to taste my lamb sausage pasta and luckily, I didn't feel the need to taste her Goat Cheese Tortelloni. I will tell you that she was extremely satisfied with her entree, but I am not able to comment on how it tasted. On that note, let me explain the intricacy of my pasta dish. When my plate arrived, I was a bit confused when I saw pillowy, overlapping ravioli's in a tomato sauce. When I imagined Mint Love Letters, I suppose I envisioned more of a ribbony pasta dotted with finely chopped mint leaves and Merguez sausage. All assumptions aside, my first bite was positively memorable. The homemade ravioli was filled with ground lamb and fresh mint that blended together exquisitely and created a silky interior. The ravioli's exterior was cooked perfectly, neither al dente nor over-boiled. The best part of the entree was the how the zing and spice of the tomato sauce created a symphony of flavors with the delicate pillows of pasta.

Since Megan and I didn't order a "secondi," we decided that we had saved enough room for dessert. I went with three scoops of gelato and Megan ordered the Pistachio and Chocolate Semifreddo. My sampling included one scoop of espresso, one scoop of buttermilk and one scoop of honey-vanilla gelato. All were equally fantastic and handmade with the highest quality ingredients. Megan's semifreddo popped with flavors of pistachio, almond and dark chocolate.

Had it not been for tablexchange.com, this meal would have never happened! My experience was very positive with both the website and the restaurant. In conclusion, Megan and I were extremely satisfied with our highly anticipated dinner at Babbo. It's safe to say that all of my preconceived assumptions were incorrect: the restaurant wasn't insanely crowded, the prices weren't off the charts, the service wasn't snooty and the dining rooms weren't casual like Otto's. I highly recommend fighting with the rest of the city to grab a reservation at Mario Batali's crown jewel, and think it's a wonderful spot for a romantic date or a "dinner with the parents."

Article originally appeared on The Lunch Belle (http://www.thelunchbelle.com/).
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