In an effort to alleviate the effects of Sunday’s dinner we began our day with a long walk. We walked from our hotel in Soho over to the Meatpacking District and up onto the High Line Park, an old elevated railroad that has been turned into a park. It’s pretty cool. After some coffee and continued walking we were ready for more food experiences.
The first stop was the Chelsea Market. A quick stroll through, a couple of pastries and we were on our way. It’s a bunch of restaurants, cafes, bakeries, cooking and food stores. An upscale Quincy Market.
Our intended next stop was the Union Square Green Market. We had it in sight when we were sidetracked by lunch at The Union Square Bistro, a Danny Meyer restaurant that I had dined at a couple of times before. We figured a couple of smaller dishes, then on to the market. We ended up having a silky smooth well seasoned cauliflower soup. Apple-beet salad. A very pedestrian frito misto, that consisted of mostly not crisp enough squid served with a lackluster anchovy butter. Lastly we had potato gnocchi with mushroom, if someone had tasted it, adjusted the acidity and seasoning, it could have been great. Overall the experience was not bad, I just expected more.
The Green Market was as expected, not too busy, full of storage apples, winter squash, cabbage and greenhouse greens (sounds like the EVOO menu).
We headed over to Mario Batali’s and Joe Bastianich’s Eataly, their house of worship to everything Italian. It was pretty cool, at first I had a little bit of sensory overload. It’s several restaurants, a book store and a market all wrapped into one large space. We walked around checking out the different menus, watching a woman make perfect looking agnoletti at a painfully slow pace. We decided to have a chacuterie-cheese board and a glass of wine. It was really good and quite reasonably priced.
With the need of more walking we moved on. Times Square. Wow, what trip that place is. We didn’t last too long there, our quest for more food kept us moving.
We ended up at The Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station. It’s worth going there just to have an excuse to walk around inside Grand Central Station. The architecture, the hustle and bustle are a sight to see. The Oyster Bar is another one of those places that I have been to before and always look forward to returning. It hasn’t changed, a wide selection of oysters and good draught beer. We enjoyed both.
Les Halles, Anthony Bourdain’s brassiere was next. Just a glass of wine at the bar. We happened to walk by and had to go in. I was pretty full and knew that there was still more food to be consumed. It seemed like a nice place. Not at all adventurous, just well prepared basic french food.
We continued on to Gramercy Park area, not sure if we would end up at Gramercy Tavern or Craft. It ended up being neither. Both seamed a little too uptight for what we were looking for. We ended up at craftbar Tom Colicchio’s bustling restaurant around the corner from Craft. We had smoked pigs head terrine, duck hearts and chicken wings. Overall it was good, even Randy liked it.
It was once again time to walk. I had already eating way more than any one person should on any given day. And, we still had 10:45pm dinner reservations at Mario Batali’s flagship restaurant Babbo. I had been looking forward to dining there since 1998 when they were named by Bon Appetit Magazine (in the same article as EVOO), one of the best new restaurants in America.
Boy was I disappointed. It all began with the music, AC/DC being played at levels that I haven’t listened to since college. After a while you become accustomed to either not speaking or yelling to be heard. We were seated in a back corner near the kitchen entrance not a great seat, but that’s OK. The problem was that the seat cushions were worn out. Randy said “I’m sitting in a hole”. It only got worse from there. The music went from too loud old school rock to some Alice in Chains wanna be’s.
We were obviously one of the last, if not the last table to be sat. One of the consequences of this is that the staff is hovering to get your order. Within our first ten minutes we had no less than five table visits from at least three different staff members. We ordered food and with the help of the sommelier chose a bottle of wine from their imposing fifteen plus page all Italian wine list. Prices on the list ranged from fifty-ish dollars to several thousand dollars.
The food started arriving, my hopes were temporarily lifted, seared pigs foot terrine was by far the best dish of the meal. I plan on trying to emulate it. Cockles were served in a delicious spiced tomato broth, the problem was that they were sandy and overcooked. Grilled octopus was good, a little salt and a squeeze of lemon would have gone a long way to making it great.
Around the time we were served our next course the music got re-markedly better. They blared Wilco’s Yankee, Hotel, Foxtrot in its entirety. I wish the food improved as the music did. Squid ink pasta with rock shrimp and sausage, consisted of under-cooked pasta, over-cooked shrimp and so much sausage that the it overpowered the other flavors and made it greasy. The other pasta dish we ordered was lamb brain ravioli. It fared better than the other, though it lacked seasoning and could have had more brains in the ravioli, which tasted mostly like ricotta.
Our main course was next grilled whole branzino was good, slightly overcooked and some course salt would have helped. The other main course was a disappointment of epic proportions braised beef. The beef itself was cooked to the correct doneness, but lacked the meaty richness that I was expecting, no seasoning, no love! The polenta served with it, oh my, the only thing I can think of a is that the cook ran out of the good stuff and made some “on the fly” with just water. It sucked! There was a vegetable salad served on top of the short rib. I remember nothing of it.
On to dessert. The Velvet underground is now blaring, good music, too loud. We an apple croustada and a date-walnut cake. With the exception of the croustada pastry (soggy) they weren’t bad, not memorable either.
I had wanted to go to this restaurant for many years and have the utmost respect for Mario all that he has accomplished is amazing. He is always great to watch on Iron Chef, the food that he produced in those short hour-long programs was always impressive. I have and use several of his cookbooks. I understand that restaurants have bad nights, It happens to us. Given the price and the expectations it was far and away one the worst restaurant experiences that I have ever had. With my high expectations and the three hundred plus dollars the dinner costed, it should have been a lot better.
I wanted to post about our trip, not bitch about the experience. But I can’t get over how disappointing Babbo was. If we get a bad comment or letter it can ruin my day. We look for any trends in our customers comments and use them to evaluate our performance. I hope they do the same.
Taste, adjust, don’t forget the love.
I am off to try more of the city’s offerings.