Appetite for Destruction, or Moscato's Jello, Baby, or The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Food!

When you view video on YouTube, there's a link below the video that will let you "Post a Video Response". The Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band partly as a response to the musical innovations of the Beach Boy's Pet Sounds. And as evidenced by the countless publications dedicated to literary review, the most natural way to respond to writing is by putting words down on (sometimes digital) paper.

Sheryl and I ate at Babbo last night to celebrate our anniversary, and I wish I had the luxury of sharing my response to the food as an elaborate meal of my own. More to the point, I wish I had the skill to do so. Perhaps if I'd spent a protracted Junior year abroad (stretched out to, say, a couple of decades) traveling around Italy and watching regional chefs ply their trade I'd be able to approximate a third of what we ate last night. It was far and away the best meal I've ever had. Words cannot do it justice, (and if they could, it would be the many words the The Amateur Gourmet has written about Babbo, not my own) but this being a blog and all, I'd better get busy typing.

Having the foresight to plan this a month in advance, we were able to secure 9:30pm reservations. (Other folks we'd spoken to throughout the course of the month who'd been to Babbo had to settle for 10:30pm or even 11:00pm Saturday reservations; the restaurant was still three quarters full of people on entrees when we left.) We showed up a bit early to make the biggest decision of the evening: traditional tasting menu or the pasta tasting menu? The pasta tasting menu featured "envelopes" stuffed with beef cheeks served with an Italian cookie grated on top; Sheryl had been seriously jonesing for this after reading reviews. But the traditional tasting menu had better desserts, and both menus had pappardelle (which was the true deal-breaker for Sheryl), and we ended up going with the traditional menu–with the wine pairings, natch.

After checking in with the maître d'hôtel, we waited near (not at) the bar for twenty minutes or so–well, it was 24 minutes, because they went from "There's No Home For You Here" to "Ball And Biscuit" on the White Stripes' Elephant. The White Stripes were an auspicious beginning, and while Frank Bruni might question the ambience, we were all for it.

We were seated upstairs, and dispatched the waiter right away to bring us the first course of the tasting menu. Before that came out, we were given a wonderful chickpea bruschetta; I'd have a hard time dissecting each course into its constituent ingredients (and if I did this post would end up being twice as long), but the salient feature was the olive oil. We'd eaten at Otto previously, and the most impressive part of that meal was the olive oil and bread that they provided. Don't get me wrong, the Otto meal was great, but the olive oil was fruity and fragrant and monumentally better than butter with bread. (The olive oil gelato at Otto was similarly sublime; not to ruin the surprise, but it makes an appearance in our Babbo meal as well.) Mario's chefs use the same quality of olive oil at Babbo, and soaking it up the leftover vinaigrette from the chickpeas was wonderful.

The first course in the tasting menu was an eggplant parmesan paired with a rosé. We received detailed instruction about the history and flavor of each wine from the waiter, but don't ask me to remember what he said. The eggplant was a small medallion with perfectly taut skin and creamy flesh. It was topped with a light tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and a touch of basil. Delicious.

The next two courses were pastas: the pappardelle (con Chardonnay), and duck tortelli with a strong red wine. The pappardelle was bathed in butter, stock, and thyme, and the chanterelle mushrooms provided a perfect earthy notes. Out of everything we ate, I could probably come closest to replicating the pappardelle, assuming I actually had the patience and skill to make my own fresh pasta. There wasn't an awful lot of duck in the tortelli (the filling was a duck-ricotta mix) and the accompanying sugo finto sauce was very bold, but god, it's hard to complain. There was Guns 'n' Roses in the background for the pasta course, much to Sheryl's delight.

The entrée was next, and to be honest, I had my doubts about grilled Guinea hen. I was picturing a quail, I guess–something dainty and full of bones, with bland white meat the reward for picking it clean. What came out was like no chicken I've ever had; the meat was dark, off the leg bone, and with skin grilled to a crisp. It was much closer to duck meat than chicken, but even the duck comparison does it a disservice. The hen was served on top of a corn and fregula mixture scented with black truffle vinaigrette. It ended up being the best part of the best meal, so it's perhaps the best thing I've ever eaten.

The final four courses were dessert-y. If I'm losing steam writing about them right now, it mirrors the way we felt last night–they were all delicious, but we were stuffed after the entrée, and the food and wine kept coming. We are gastro-troopers, though, and of course we continued on the best we could. (I had to finish some of Sheryl's wine, but she did admirably over all.) The cheese course was a sliver of rinded goat with fennel honey perfectly paired with a prosecco. Next came a gelatin made of moscato grapes, sitting in a bath of moscato wine, and paired with a different moscato wine. Moscato is a perfect dessert wine, and we were really happy at this point (and when Californication came on, followed by Antics, that was just perfect).

The cheese and gelatin were preludes to the actual desserts. First came a toasted hazelnut brioche with marscapone cream and an elderberry puree. It amounted to the most elaborate, delicious french toast I've ever had. The paired wine tasted like blueberries, which itself is impressive, but the last course's wine outdid it: it was a Chianti that was deliberately fermented in the sun, and it tasted like nutty caramel. The menu called for a chocolate polenta tart with vanilla gelato as the final dessert course, and that's what I got, but Sheryl was in for a surprise: they brought her a mini zucchini cake with the heavenly olive oil gelato! While zucchini cake and olive oil gelato might sound savory, it ended up being sweeter than the chocolate polenta (which was no slouch itself).

We ordered some coffee (chiefly because they serve it with rock candy swizzle sticks) and the waiter brought out a few petit fors to finish the meal. We had serious concerns about standing up at this point, but we made it out and back to Brooklyn safe and sound, and full of the best food imaginable.

Comments

  1. Are you sure you're supposed to be eating beef cheeks?

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  2. I went to Babbo with my aunt and her friends a few years ago. The Cars were on the restaurant stereo that night. My aunt and her friends had spent the afternoon at Aida, where they had been mildly horrified by the shirtless basso who was a B-C cup. When the waiter brought out panna cotta for dessert, they shrieked at its remarkable resemblance to an A-cup breast. We had to take pictures of it and everything.

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