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!

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