The #MeToo movement has hit the culinary industry pretty hard, bringing down many celebrity chefs in its path, with Mario Batali probably being the most famous face among them. I was curious to see if any of his restaurants had been noticeably impacted since those sexual harassment allegations came to light, but it seems to have been minimal, as a recent visit to Babbo showed that it is just as popular as ever. While Babbo is still in demand, its clientele has changed noticeably. 10 years ago you were guaranteed a celebrity sighting, like when I saw Val Kilmer sitting at the table next to me or when I noticed the lead actor from My Name is Earl at another. Now you’re just rubbing elbows with out-of-towners or an old finance guy trying to impress a young, bored girl in the most stereotypical way (hint: involves talking about his money).
Service was a little off that night. Our host was a grumpy, older man who seemed annoyed that we were taking our time with coat check. Not sure if this is the best face to put forward given that your guests will spend a lot of money at a restaurant that is no longer the hot spot it once was. Our server was a much friendlier fellow, which made up for it, although something about him seemed hurried and his wine recommendations weren’t the greatest. Hopefully the good food would carry the initial shortcomings.
I’ve always found the pasta to be the best thing about Babbo, so it made sense to go all in for just the carbs and opt for the pasta tasting. The pasta tasting consists of 5 pasta dishes and 2 desserts, which sounds like a lot, but the portions are small and are not drowning in heavy cheese and sauces. It’s a thoughtful and diverse medley of pastas of all different shapes and sizes, some light and springy while others are hearty and robust. I didn’t have any rapturous “OMG this is so good” moments that evening, but I generally liked everything that came my way. Obviously I liked some more than others, and the crown jewel for sure was the pappardelle bolognese. Was it $95 good? Probably not. More like $65-75 good. While the overall quality was high, not everything was a slam dunk, so we were essentially paying a premium for Babbo’s discounted reputation.
The succession of pastas were followed by some disappointing desserts. The panna cotta was small and forgettable, and the last dessert was supposed to consist of an olive oil cake and gelato, but clearly they had run out of cake so instead they presented us with a trio of chocolate cake, olive oil cake and a tart to share. I wish they would own up to the shortage in olive oil cake instead of spinning it as some sort of gift that we would get to sample three different desserts, a gift of quantity rather than quality. This was disappointing, as I remember the olive oil cake having been so much more impressive in the past. So for those of you who frequented Babbo during its heyday in the early aughts, don’t come back, because things aren’t as good as it was used to. Those of you who don’t have that frame of reference, the pasta menu is solid, but if you’re paying so much don’t they at least owe you a smile?
110 Waverly Pl (between 6th Ave and Macdougal St)
New York, NY 10011