Monthly Archives: October 2015

New York City: Babbo and Otto

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I used to be such a naive person. I looked at Mario Batali in his ridiculous orange crocs, and I unfairly judged him on his appearance. That was a mistake. At this point we have eaten at every Molto Mario restaurant, and even seen the man (and crocs!) in person. I can say, without a doubt, that to me Mario is infallible and producing some of the best Italian food there is to eat in this country. This post is specifically about Babbo and Otto, where we ate this trip to NYC, but Del Posto is a beautiful gem sitting atop the fine dining scene in New York.  At the opposite end of the spectrum is the everyday accessible Eataly. The food here is as delicious, but it comes wrapped in a package of a market packed to the brim with imported and fresh goods. It honestly is a flurry of activity and takes some time to navigate. Let’s get down to the bones of it and start with Babbo.

Babbo and Otto in NYC are both located right by Washington square park, about a block from each other. Babbo is the stand-by Batali restaurant that has been around the longest (opened in 1998). It remains the hardest to get a table here. Even a month out, the only times for reservations are early around 5:30 or later around 10:30.  This suits us as we try to pretend we are still young when we travel and eat late at night. The place is still packed to the gills at 10:30 on a Friday. 80s rock like Guns and Roses is playing and drinks are flowing- everyone is having a good time. Our table-mates next to us may have too good a time: they gave a “whoop” each time a new course came, were pretty hammered, and I’m pretty sure wandered off at the end of the meal to have sex in a bathroom. Yuck!

At Babbo there is not a huge preponderance of vegetarian choices. Even the pasta courses and antipasti are meat focused. There are a few choices for each course. Some of the vegetable dishes have meat or meat broth in them, they are more than happy to prepare them vegetarian for you.  The choices that are available are all wonderful!

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The night we dined, there was a special appetizer- buffalo mozzarella with an arugula pesto. This came on bread, which I didn’t expect, but it was so good. I’ve never had a pesto from Mario that wasn’t fresh and delicious, and this one was no different.

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For my main pasta course I loved the pumpkin “lune” or ravioli. These are ubiquitous now, seemingly on fall menus everywhere, but eating here I’m reminded where they originated at here in the States. Seasoned with sage and a light dusting of amaretti cookies, each bite is perfection.

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We ordered several vegetable sides to go along with our meals. The beet farroto (at top) was absolutely beautiful and really highlighted the flavor of beets. Brussels sprouts (sans pancetta) were roasted to soft and supple goodness. The only bad note was the rapini- it hadn’t been sautéed quite enough and was still very bitter and sour.

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We saw another table order this beautiful desert and had to have it. It was a mix of gelato and sorbet. The standouts for me were the corn, olive oil, and coconut. It was just a lovely way to close out a lovely night.

At both Babbo and Otto the service was excellent: polite, attentive, and friendly. We went to Otto before going out to see Hamilton (the best musical ever!). Otto is more casual and easier to get a reservation, more family friendly. This was our first time eating here for dinner; we’ve had lunch before on several occasions. What I love about Otto is there are so many vegetarian choices. From appetizers, salads, vegetables, pastas, pizzas there are an abundance of options. I am like a kid in a candy store when I eat here.

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We started with a selection of two delicious salads. One thing we never skip at Otto is the seasonal caprese. This version was with creamy burrata cheese that was so luscious! Alongside this we had a fennel and apple salad with walnuts. Fennel really makes a wonderful fresh salad vehicle, and paired with apple it is tart.

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Choosing from the many verdura (vegetable) dishes was tough! We went with another farro dish, this one with squash and apple. Farro is really one of my favorite grains as it is so hearty and nutty. Broccoli rabe was the other choice, and I ate it with my pasta as it paired very nicely.

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This was actually the first time I’ve had pasta at Otto, usually just eating veggies, salad, maybe pizza. I just couldn’t resist getting the goat cheese agnolotti! They were amahhhhzing! Light and airy in a simple lightly lemony sauce.

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A lot of these dishes and others from Marios restaurants are in his cookbooks, and I look forward to tackling them. His simple but sophisticated favors stand the test of time. Molto Mario!

New York City: Dovetail vegetarian tasting menu

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A vegatarian tasting menu used to be an unheard of thing. It is now something less rare but still worthy of special acclaim. I have had the pleasure once before, at Gramercy Tavern last year here in NYC.  Honestly, there are few other places in the country, or world for that matter, where you will be able to find one. I have a few restaurants on my bucket list- the masterful and artistic Alinea, the over the top Eleven Madison, the revered French Laundry- but there are many more accessible places out there. I could not help but stumble upon Dovetail due to so many rave reviews and write-ups. My one sadness is that we are never in town on Monday nights. Dovetail has a vegetarian menu every single night, but Monday they pull out all the stops and devote every course to vegetables as idols. We made reservations for a Wednesday night and prepared for an adventure!

It starts with the locale- tucked away on the upper west side. Walking in the whitewashed brick walls and low lighting reek of good taste and old money. That being said- my fresh off the metaphorical Ohio farm hubby and I were made to feel right at home among the wealthy New York clientele. I have never had a very negative experience at a fancy restaurant, and I think it’s mostly about attitude. We are always falling over ourselves to be polite and express overwhelming interest in the restaurant, staff, and menu. This will win you a lot of favor and good service that is not rude or stuffy. The servers were all really wonderful and  this restaurant had numerous awesome female sommeliers; I loved to see that!  I had the wine pairings with my meal, which was a new experience and very cool. I had one wonderful wine that I loved and need to hunt down- Mamacita white sparking wine out of Oregon, so good and crisp, not sweet at all.

We already knew coming in we would be doing the tasting menus. Since I do not like mushrooms as the main component of a dish, they let me swap it out for another option of my choosing. Of course Rob had the meat tasting menu and there was some really horrible stuff on there (foie gras!). I will not even speak of those atrocities!

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The meal started with a trio of amuse bouchées. Pineapple drink with foam, fried potato cube, and a mini tart with parsnip purée. All were delicious!

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Next was my chosen course- an heirloom tomato salad. Pickled ramps really gave this a nice acidic bite.

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An haricot vert salad with apples followed. What blew my mind was that the black purée you see there is actually also made of haricot vert! It tasted so good and totally different, I had no idea and had to ask what the heck it was. Mind blown.

Next was the best dish of the meal- sweet corn polenta with blackberries and truffles (pictured at top). The polenta was out of this world in flavor and just paired so perfectly with the earthy truffles and sweetly sour blackberries. Thus was my first truffle experience. I loved them, who knew? Star of the night.

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Followed by another great dish- spinach and artichoke crostata. Creamy, rich, memorable.

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Continuing strong with grilled figs with radishes, stracciatella, and pistachios. Figs are another ingrediant recently discovered for me, and now I love them! Check out Fig and Olive also in NYC, Chicago, and DC.

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This gorgeous looking dish of miso marinated beets was where the meal nose-dived for me. I love, love, love beets. These beets soaked up all the salt of their miso marinade such that they were inedible. I literally could not eat them, and left them on my plate to be carried away. It made me very sad. Ending with this before desert almost ruined the whole dang meal.

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We had two little palate cleanser courses before desert. The last was a mango sorbet with ginger. Honestly that should have ended the meal, it was that good- so creamy with the ginger the perfect counterpoint. This pretty confection above was a blueberry pavlova. It was light and airy but eclipsed by its predecessor, and thus outshined and soon forgotten.

On the whole this meal was one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in my life. I look forward to returning here, preferably on a Monday to see the veggie magic happen.  If you are ever in NYC and need somewhere to go for a very special occasion- I would recommend Dovetail for those true foodies out there! (For the less adventurous diners: always, always, always choose a Mario Batali restaurant. He is the best!)

New York City: Candle 79, Vegan Dining

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My husband Rob and I are fortunate to be able to travel. We have been traveling around the U.S. this last year, making our way to parts of the country we both haven’t seen before. Much of that has involved eating at absolutely incredible places.  I am a typical type A planner and I crazily research places for months before we go, all so that we can have that one perfect bite. I’ll usually book all our dinner reservations a month in advance. For lunches we tend to just pick whatever is near us at the time and wing it. I think we get the best of both worlds this way- wonderful fine dining and spur of the moment holes in the walls. That being said sometimes our best laid dinner plans fall through (thank you midtown traffic!) and we have also had some of our great finds from improvising this way- the now standard post theatre dinner at Toloache, for one.

We started off this NYC trip with my idea of heaven, and Robbie graciously played along. The vegan restaurant Candle 79 is one of my favorites. I also have their cookbook and it also is full of varied and impressive recipes. They will be gracing these pages in weeks to come, I’m sure. It’s on the fancy schmancy UES near all the museums, so we ate here before we went to the Frick.  It is on a nice wide street just off Lex- 79 street. The inside space is really cute. 2 stories and the top story is filled with light from a large window over looking the street . We have always eaten lunch here and it is always busy, many people have reservations, but you can get in without one.  When we are traveling, and especially if it is our first time eating somewhere, we tend to order lots of courses and variety to sample the menu (and in case something isn’t so good!).

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We started with some delicious fresh juices and smoothies, of which there are ample selection. Acai berry banana and carrot, beet, ginger- so yummy. The fresh ginger ale has its own cult following, that’s how good it is. All the freshly made cocktails are scrumptious, too.

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The appetizer course is the least inventive course here. We had a delicious guacamole timbale. It has a lot of cucumbers in it, so for my personal tastes it suffered a bit. Those plantain chips are the best! Absolutely light, grease-less perfection!

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The salad course is my favorite here. I could have eaten every last one!!! This beautiful little devil had brussels, apples, celeriac, pistachios, tofu, grapes. Ahhhhh. I need to figure out a version of this for my house!

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Again the entree course was overwhelming to me with options. When you are vegetarian you get used to having only a few options at most places, so my brain was on circuitry overload here!!!  They have a fresh pasta special everyday, which is always good. Today I was feeling a more protein driven choice, so I chose the seitan burrito.  I had to dismantle it a little as there was too much rice and tortilla for my liking, but the filling of seitan, greens, beans, onions then topped with salsa and guac was really homey and good.

Robbie through this all had a very hearty lentil soup and the seitan burger with polenta fries. Perplexingly his seitan burger did come on toasted bread not a bun- totally the wrong vehicle, I think. But the patty itself and the polenta fries were really good. He was a trooper but didn’t really care for it much, he kept insistenting it was “fine.” He made out better with his dinner, so it turns out ok!

Bottom line if you get to NYC and vegetarian food is one of your passions, you have to go to Candle 79 when you are in the city!

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