Thursday, February 24, 2011

Roadtrip Batali

The fiancée took me up to New York for my birthday weekend to dine on all things Batali - as in Mario the chef of Food Network and orange clogs fame. I've been whining for nearly a year and a half now about eating at Babbo. This was his first restaurant in NY, and the subject of the novel Heat which is one of the best books I've read in years (also a present from the fiancée - she's good like that). It documents one man's adventures working at Babbo for Chef Batali and learning the restaurant industry from the ground up - first as prep chef, then line cook and eventually learning to make pasta in Italy. It's funny as hell and kind of a must read for any self proclaimed foodie (yours truly).

Map of Eataly from the NY Times

Before dinner at Babbo though, we headed over for lunch at Eataly, at 23rd Street & 5th Avenue. This is the newest creation from Batali along with partners Joe & Lidia Bastianich and is basically half a city block devoted to all things Italian. There is an espresso bar, gelateria, desert counter/cafe, cheese monger, salumi station, pizza bar, produce section, fresh mozzarella being made on premise, wine store, butcher, fish monger, and of course all the fresh pasta you can imagine. It's billed as market with restaurants, but it's so much more than that. One section called La Piazza features high-top tables with no chairs where you elbow your way in, then have cheese & meat platters served along side a glass of wine while you make friends. The place is packed - but what isn't in Manhattan? As long as you're ok with crowds, you'll love the amazing selection of artisan foods available here. Free samples are everywhere, but you're hard pressed not to come out of there without buying something.

Babbo was incredible. We weren't able to land a reservation, but you always have the option of eating at the bar or waiting for one of a half-dozen tables at the front of the restaurant. The servers, bar tenders & maitre'd were on their game and all made you feel special. We waited just over an hour for a table with a few glasses of good Planeta Nero D'Avola to keep us entertained.  Fresh sardines and a winter vegetable salad with goat cheese for appetizers were both fantastic. Never tried sardines before and I always like to try something weird on the menu - they were great.  Salty like the sea and melted in your mouth. For entrees I got the buccatini all' amatriciana - bucatini is the big spaghetti noodles with the hole in the center. The sauce was a spicy tomato with pecorino. Best pasta I've had outside of Italy. She got the goat cheese tortelloni with fennel pollen.  I don't know how, but hers was actually better. Hand made pasta wrapped up an amazing hunk of fresh goat cheese that made you feel good all over. For desert she got the chocolate and pistachio semifreddo and I went with the maple & mascarpone cheesecake. Somehow I ordered the better desert, which never happens.

Batali has a few other restaurants in NY that I'd like to check out, including Del Posto and the Spotted Pig, but all I could think about that night was planning a vacation to Italy and tasting what inspired the chef to do all these great things.


Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany
Written by Bill Buford
Available on Amazon, B&, etc. 

110 Waverly Place (at Washington Square)
New York, NY 10011-9102
(212) 777-0303

Open Mon-Sat 5:30pm-11:30pm; Sun 5pm-11pm

200 5th Avenue (across from the Flat Iron building)
NY 10010
(212) 229-2560

Open Daily 9am-11pm

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