Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Babbo: Mario Batali's NYC Ristorante e Enoteca

Opened by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich in 1998, Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca is an indulgent celebration of the best in Italian food, wine and hospitality. Tucked away on Waverly Place in a former carriage house just steps from Washington Square Park in the heart of Greenwich Village, Babbo is the restaurant that launched Mario Batali's career. Despite opening its doors over 16 years ago, it's still one of the hardest reservations to get in the city. The menu is a roster of Chef Batali’s lusty creations, incorporating the best and freshest seasonal produce, Italian cheeses, meat, game and seafood, accented with finest Italian olive oils, traditional aceto balsamico and other exceptional ingredients that surprise and delight. Some restaurants revel in exquisite subtleties. Babbo blessedly, goes straight for the tummy, adding one big taste sensation on top of another, gilding already delicious dishes with extra bits of texture and final flourishes of flavour. Although co-owners, Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich, have branched out considerably since they opened Babbo, the restaurant remains their cherished centre of gravity — the jewel in their culinary crown. And it's nothing short of magnificent.

The one and only Mario Batali

Babbo's glorious interior with it's grand centre table and vase of fragrant cherry blossoms

The split-level dining room, suffused in soft honeyed amber light, dark woods and a bustle that never quite recedes, Babbo can be frenetic and noisy, with a lively rock n' roll soundtrack that veers from Led Zeppelin to Radiohead, streamed from Mario Batali's own iPod. Our server George explained, Mario and Joe like play music that they listen to, so that eating at Babbo is like eating at their home. As Bastianich says, "We don’t just feed our diners, they become part of the Babbo experience, sharing in the rich culture of the Italian table. Eating in our restaurant is like spending a little time in our world." One of the culinary highlights of our week in New York, I was looking forward to spending some time in their world. Arriving with our reservation made a month before, we were seated at one of Babbo's coveted main floor tables in the heart of the action, and just 2 tables away from where Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen were dining with daughter Lilly. Trying not to stare, we ordered a bottle of "Basti-Brut" as our server George called it — a “Bastianich Brut” sparking Chardonnay from Babbo's impressive wine list, one of the most extensive collections in the city, presided over by Bastianich and Beverage Director Alec Steidl.

We enjoyed a bottle of "Basti Brut", as our server called the “Bastianich Brut” sparking Chardonnay, as we perused Babbo's menu

Babbo's fabulous menu features an extensive array of Antipasti, Primi, Secondi in addition to their 7-course Pasta or Traditional Tasting Menus

An amuse-bouche of Crostini di Ceci - whole chickpeas tossed with black olive tapenade

Babbo's homemade crusty bread with olive oil for dipping

Babbo's dinner menu is a symphony of Batali's iconic dishes. Antipasti such as Grilled Octopus with “Borlotti Marinati” and spicy limoncello vinaigrette, Marinated Fresh Sardines with caramelized fennel and lobster oil and Prosciutto San Daniele “Riserva” with black pepper “fett’unta.” Ted and Mary had the Baby Wild Arugula with parmigiano and aceto manodori! It looked fabulous, so we ordered it to, along with the Grilled Octopus and one of Babbo's newer dishes, Uovo d’ Anatra Duck Egg with White Beans and Duck Sausage. With almost 20 of Batali's ethereal homemade pastas as Primi on the menu, and a mouthwatering selection of Secondi, we decided to share one serving of the Black Spaghetti with Royal Red Shrimp, Spicy Salami Calabrese and Green Chilies, so that we could venture into a Secondi, or main course, with some room in our ever-expanding tummies.

Baby Wild Arugula with Parmigiano and Aceto Manodori  

Uovo d’ Anatra Duck Egg with White Beans and Duck Sausage

Grilled Octopus with “Borlotti Marinati” and Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette 

Black Spaghetti with Royal Red Shrimp, Spicy Salami Calabrese and Green Chilies 

We ordered a bottle of Friulano Adriatico Bastianich 2011 to enjoy with our dinner

Choosing some wine for our meal, we selected another "Basti", a Friulano Adriatico Bastianich 2011, which paired beautifully with the Whole Grilled Branzino, and my cousin Diane's Sea Scallops with Favetta, Asparagus and Citron Agrumato, one of Babbo's seasonal specials celebrating Spring. My husband ordered the “Brasato al Barolo” Braised Beef with Porcini Mushrooms and served over Polenta. Next time I may try Babbo's 7-course Pasta Tasting Menu, providing I don't eat for a week before. But for tonight, no Italian feast would be complete without a dolce, so we shared one of the desserts made by Gina DePalma, the pastry chef, a wonderfully light, fluffy and fragrant Olive Oil Cake and Gelato with a drizzle of Capezzana extra virgin olive oil and finished with espresso and macchiatos. Not the last table to leave the restaurant, we were among a handful of well-fed stragglers, drunk on Babbo's fabulous food, delicious wine and stellar service — a one of a kind experience, one both delicious and unforgettable.

 “Brasato al Barolo” Braised Beef with Porcini Mushrooms

Whole Grilled Branzino with Spring Radishes, Olives and Lemon Oregano Jam

Lemon Oregano Jam for the Branzino

Orange, Olive and Pepper Salad accompanied the Grilled Branzino

Sea Scallops with Favetta, Asparagus and Citron Agrumato  

Olive Oil Cake and Gelato with drizzle of Capezzana Extra Virgin Olive Oil 

After dinner biscotti

A selection of sugars for our espresso and macchiato

Babbo's Macchiato

We were one of the last dinner guests to leave

Black Spaghetti with Rock Shrimp, Soppressata & Green Chilies
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy Mario Batali, Babbo NYC

Soppressata is a cured salami from Calabria, which comes from locally-raised hogs. During treatment, natural flavours such as cumin, black pepper, red pepper and chilli peppers are added to the meat which is then aged. If you have trouble finding soppressata, you may substitute chorizo or another spicy cured meat.

1 lb black spaghetti
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced
6-ounces fresh rock shrimp
1 cup soppressata or chorizo, chopped
4 tbsp jalapeno pesto (recipe below)
1 cup scallions, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Jalapeño Pesto:
3 cups Jalapeno peppers, roughly chopped
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup red onions, chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

To make the jalapeño pesto, place all ingredients in a food processor until puréed. Reserve any leftover jalapeño pesto in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt. Add the spaghetti to the pot and cook until tender but al dente, about 6 to 7 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a 12- to 14-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté garlic, rock shrimp and soppressata until the garlic is toasted and the shrimp are cooked just through. Add 4 tablespoons of the jalapeño pesto.

Drain the pasta and add it to the sauté pan. Toss gently to coat the pasta with the sauce. Divide pasta evenly among four warmed plates, sprinkle with scallions and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.

Mint Love Letters with Spicy Lamb Sausage
Serves 8
Recipe courtesy Mario Batali, Babbo NYC

Kosher salt
1-pound shelled sweet peas, fresh or frozen
2 cups mint leaves, 16 leaves reserved for garnish
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1/2 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 recipe Basic Pasta Dough
1 recipe Basic Tomato Sauce
1-pound spicy merguez lamb sausage, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 pound Grana Padano cheese, for grating

Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Set up an ice bath nearby. Submerge the peas into the boiling water and cook until tender yet still bright green, 1-2 minutes. Remove the peas with a slotted spoon, reserving the boiling water, and plunge them into the ice bath to cool. Once the peas have cooled, remove them from the ice bath and allow to dry on a plate lined with paper towels. Using the same water, blanch the mint leaves for just 10-15 seconds. Transfer immediately to the ice bath. Drain well.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the peas, mint, Parmigiano-Reggiano and heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper and pulse to form a smooth paste.

Using a pasta machine, roll out the pasta dough on the thinnest setting and then cut the pasta sheets into 3-inch squares. Place 1 tablespoon of the pea filling on each square and fold over to form rectangles. Continue filling and shaping until all the pasta and filling are used. Cover and refrigerate until needed or place on baking sheets between layers of dish towels and freeze overnight. The next day, place in freezer bags and store up to 1 week.

In a medium saucepan, bring the tomato sauce to a boil. Add the sausage, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 1 hour, skimming off the fat as it is rendered from the meat. Remove the sauce from the heat, cool briefly, and pulse it in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a 12-inch skillet and keep warm.

Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt. Cook the pasta in the boiling water until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the sauce. Toss gently over high heat for 1 minute. Add the reserved mint leaves, toss 1 minute more, then divide evenly among eight warmed dinner plates. Grate the Grana Padano over each plate and serve immediately.

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