Friday, October 2, 2009

Babbo is my new sweet baboo

On Tuesday, Vronsky and I went to dinner at Babbo with a friend of ours to "pay him back" for writing an introduction to one of Vronsky's books. This was much nicer than paying him a real advance, as we also got to partake. I will say, however, it was probably about as expensive in the end.

But you know what? That's just fine, because Babbo is a New York culinary landmark, and I have been fascinated by Mario Battali's work ever since reading Bill Buford's fantastic book Heat years ago. I know I've mentioned this book before, but here it is again. Buford, formerly of the New Yorker and founder of Granta Books, quit his gem of a job at the magazine (!) and goes to work in Battali's kitchen at Babbo. There are no shortcuts on the New York food scene, and Bill starts out as a "kitchen slave" chopping vegetables and taking out the garbage, slowly working his way up to line and pasta cook, which is no small feat. He then travels to Tuscany and "interns" with a Tuscan butcher and learns the ancient tradition of Tuscan cooking. In fact, even the use of cutlery originated in Tuscany and spread to the rest of Europe when one of the de Medicis traveled to France and took forks and a whole new way of preparing food with her.

It was in this region that Battali (and Buford) hand-roll pasta on oak boards, using no water, just the egg of a wild chicken, which is so rich that the yolk is almost red compared with the commercially farmed eggs we are used to. They learn how to make their own salumi and prepare sweet breads and cheeses. The entire process has such a delicious lyricism to it, and Buford's description of all this wonderful food made my stomach grumble.

Needless to say, I had constructed quite a fantasy as to what to expect when I finally had the chance to dine at Battali's flagship, the mecca of his vision. I am pleased to say, it lived up to its expectation and more!

The three of us decided to be super decadent and ordered the tasting menu with wine pairing.

First up, was duck bresola with parmigiana and aceto manodori, which is essnetially duck bacon and a sort of Parmesan cheese custard on the side. Divine. I wish I could have duck bacon instead of regular bacon for the rest of my life. No exaggeration.

Next up was parpardelle with chanterelle mushrooms and thyme. Here is where that hand-rolled pasta comes into play. It is so smooth and has such a velvety texture, it complemented the flavor of the mushrooms perfectly. Vronsky doesn't really like mushrooms, and I love them, so I got double the pleasure!

Then we got duck tortellini with sugo frito, which is a fresh tomato based sauce. It was incredibley rich and I am glad we only had a few squares, as I wanted to make sure I saved room for what came next: pork tenderloin with pumpkin fregula and a black truffle vinaigrette. Whoo wee did they save the best for last.

The pork was perfectly seared–juicy and flavorful with a tiny bit of awesome chew gristle on the end. And the fregula was light and airy in texture which contrasted nicely with the earthy flavors of the pumpkin and truffles. I really wished there was more of this dish, and hope it is still on the menu when I go back so I can order it as a full entree.

Next came the cheese course, which was goat brie with fennel honey. I love any and all cheeses, and this one was excellent, especially with the fennel honey. I should learn how to make it or at least where to buy it so I can eat all my cheese with it in the future. I even ate half of Vronsky's cheese when he went to the bathroom, oops.

And THEN we had dessert. Three of them. First was a gelo alla siciliana, which was essentially a cold watermelon puree that was unlike anything I had ever eaten before. It was a odd cross between a smoothie and a gelato, and I loved it.

Next came a chocolate tartufino, which was heaven for Vronsky, a chocolate lover, but I preferred our final dessert, the sweet plum belizia with cinnamon fior di latte. I adore fruit-based desserts, and this one was excellent. Plus, cinnamon makes anything better.

By this point, the three of us are so stuffed that we can barely get up out of our seats. We had planned to order some celebratory glasses of prosseco, but I had no room in my belly by that point. Thank the lord I was wearing a dress and not pants or even a skirt without enough give. If only someone would design a stylish skirt or trousers with an elastic waist, I would buy it in a heartbeat and reserve it for all Babbo dining adventures. Fancy!

Visit for reservation information. It takes forever to get through to someone and you have to plan a month out, but it is well worth it. Hit the phones!

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