The Most Momentous Meeting of Food Bloggers EVER: Clotilde “Chocolate & Zucchini” & Adam “Amateur Gourmet” Dine at Babbo (PLUS wine at Cru)

June 24, 2005 | By | COMMENTS

Helicopters circled overhead, newsvans hugged the curb as I made my way down 6th Avenue to meet Clotilde at her hotel for our 8:30 dinner date. Clotilde, that beloved Parisian, had descended upon New York a few days earlier, making her first appearance at Otto where her fans (myself included) came to greet her and her charming boyfriend, Maxence. Here we are all posed in a picture provided courtesy of Lulu’s Manhattan whose proprietor, Lulu, was one of the many people I was lucky enough to meet that night.

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(I’m sure you can spot me in that pic (the hottie with white wine) and in the middle you’ll see Clotilde with Maxence; in the turquoise next to me is Lulu and next to her in front is Samantha of The Samantha Files who frequently comments on this here site; she was great to meet too. She and her husband, Dave, went to culinary school so some day they’re going to teach me knife skills. Watch out, Uma Thurman!)

Secretly, this night was just a sneak preview. Clotilde e-mailed me before her arrival and we planned a dinner together for Wednesday night. She asked me to suggest some places and among my suggestions, of course, was Babbo which I boldly described as “the opposite of French cooking.” Clotilde responded: “You have me violently tempted with your description–the opposite of French cooking!” With that we settled on Babbo and I was assigned the task of making the reservation.

Babbo, I’ll be the first to admit, is difficult to penetrate: especially if you’re using a phone. (Haha, that sentence is filthy but only to the filthy-minded.) There are several recorded messages you have to sit through before you can push buttons which lead you to more recorded messages. Since Babbo is near my school and my frequent coffee-shop haunts, I decided to go in during the day to see if I could make the reservation in person.

Sure enough, the door swung open and the daytime Babbo scene unfolded before me: tables missing, floors getting scrubbed, men with binders and calculators doing Babbo business at the front bar. “Can we help you?” one them asked and I said I wanted to make a reservation. They pointed me to a woman sitting at a table behind the podium; she was surrounded by phones and paper and she had the expected job-weariness of a Babbo reservationist. When she concluded a phone call she asked if she could help me and I told her I wanted to make a reservation for Wednesday the 22nd. She opened a large dusty book and dragged her finger down the page. “I only have a 10:30 left, will that do?” I paused and considered my options. There were no options. “10:30 it is!”

When Clotilde and I discussed the lateness of this reservation at Otto we decided to meet at 8:30 at her hotel and go for drinks first. That’s just what we did: I walked in at 8:30 as Clotilde strode off the elevator in her Paris finest. She went for a hug and I went for a practiced French hello: kiss on either cheek. Her hug won out as I unpursed my lips. We made for the door and I told her I’d done my research for our pre-dinner drinks and that Cru, only a few blocks from her hotel, had a spectacular wine list. “However,” I warned, “I know nothing about wine.”

“Neither do I really!” laughed Clotilde. We walked past Washington Square Park where a screen was erected for a showing of Bob Dylan’s “Look Back in Anger.” Clotilde told me her father loves Bob Dylan.

At Cru, we waited a while for a seat at the bar and when the seats finally came we perused the wine list. Surprisingly, the wines by the glass were most reasonable and Clotilde chose a Beaujolais because she prefers reds. She explained that Beaujolais is a very young wine that comes out in the Autumn; I remembered a post I’d read on Frost Street about it and tried to contribute to the conversation. “I like the color red,” I said.

The waiter poured my glass first and then Clotilde’s. “I thought the waiter was going to be sexist,” I said, “and offer me a taste first before serving us.” In my mind the woman is always offered the wine to taste first.

“You’d call it sexist, but I’d call it traditional,” Clotilde countered with a smile. In France, she said, it’s an honor to taste the wine first and it’s usually reserved for the head of a family or for the one with the most wine expertise. I marveled at how lucky she was to come from a place where food was such an embedded part of the culture. She didn’t argue.

So we chatted away, time trickled by, and soon it was time for Babbo. We paid the check and walked back along the park–Bob Dylan was on screen with his nasal voice and harmonica–and soon Babbo’s red and black letters greeted us as we swung the door open and prepared for a night of feasting.

The host immediately led us upstairs to our table. We were sat close to the staircase and quickly presented water, menus and chickpea bruscetta. We asked a hostess to take a picture and here we are!

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Historical meetings don’t get more photogenic! Nixon and Elvis watch out!

Now then. The food. I explained our choices–we could go a la carte or we could order the pasta tasting menu which I’d done with Lisa, but only the vegetarian version, or we could get the traditional tasting menu which has a little of everything. Clotilde confessed that she’d already investigated and settled upon the traditional tasting menu if that was ok. “Ok by me!” I said. This would be my first time doing the traditional tasting menu at Babbo and I was psyched.

We ordered two bellinis to start–cactus pear–which I urged Clotilde to try because I felt they were part of the Babbo experience. We toasted to the meal ahead and devoured some bruscetta.

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“Mmmm,” said Clotilde, “what flavors are in here?” We dissected a bit but came to very few conclusions.

When we ordered the tasting menus for ourselves, Clotilde asked me if I wanted to do the wine pairing. “I dunno,” I confessed, “that’s a lot of wine.”

“How much wine is it a person?” we asked the waiter.

“By the end it’s like a bottle each,” said the waiter.

“Wow,” said Clotilde, “that is a lot.”

So we asked if he could pair two courses with wine for us and he agreed. “Lots of people do that,” he said as if to say: “good idea!”

But soon, our bellinis barely sipped, the first course arrived along with the first glass of wine.

“In France they would wait for us to finish our drinks first,” she said staring at the beautiful first course: “Cool Pecorino Flan” with Fava and La Mozza Oil.

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“Well it’s not getting cold so let’s finish our drinks first,” she suggested. We drank our bellinis and I worried that the waiter was going to rush us out. So when the waiter walked past I asked if we could slow down the pace a bit. “Don’t worry,” he said, “it’ll be a long meal.”

He didn’t say it in a nice way and I wondered if I offended him. Clotilde said not to worry and I channeled my worries into hunger which led me to the first bite. Clotilde followed suit and she “mmm”ed her reaction.

“It’s a great combination of flavors,” she said. “What’s this!” she asked pointing the strange beige mini-squash-shaped object you see on the right side of the plate.

“I think it’s a ramp,” I guessed and we asked the waiter.

“That’s a pickled ramp,” he said, “it comes into season in the spring in the Northeast. It’s a type of onion.”

Clotilde had never heard of it. “What’s that word?” she asked me. “Ramp,” I replied and she mentally processed it.

Next came for me what was the highlight of the meal: Pappardelle with Morels and Thyme.

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I saw the “Glass Menagerie” tonight with Jessica Lange and during the performance my mind wandered to this dish. I remembered the exciting texture of those morels; the saltiness and the earthiness of the thyme. Then the pasta and the buttery sauce… for me, this was heaven. I think Clotilde loved it too. Plus the wine went great with it: on the bill it said it was a Vespa (“a little motorcycle?” joked Clotilde). For me, this dish represents everything I love about Babbo.

Then there was Duck Tortelli with “Sugo Finto.”

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“What’s Sugo Finto?” asked Clotilde. We asked the waiter.

He explained that it was a thick sauce; the internet tells me it’s a meat sauce made without meat. Again, this was delicious. It came with a red wine: Rosso di Montalcino, Valdicava 2003. Our white wine was only half gone, so again we felt a bit rushed. Everytime we finished a dish it was immediately taken away and the next was brought out. Clotilde gently compared it to Paris where a meal is something you linger over, not something you rush through. I proffered the theory that they were rushing us because we were starting so late: the waiter probably wanted to go home. But really, if that was true, it’s lame: it’s not our fault they only had a 10:30 reservation.

Here, then, we have Guinea Hen with Ligurian Vegetables and Black Truffles:

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This dish got me so excited because I’d never had truffles.

“Oooh,” I said, “these are my first truffles!”

I sniffed the plate. It gave off a nice aroma.

“I think you should try a truffle by itself before you eat it with everything else,” suggested Clotilde. I did and found myself–shock!–a bit disappointed. “Hmmm,” I said sadly, “it doesn’t taste like much.”

Clotilde tried hers and she agreed. “It’s not as strong as a normal truffle,” she agreed.

But the dish itself–with the hen and the apricot sauce and hen of the wood mushrooms–was, again, heavenly. Clotilde seemed pleased too–her dishes were scraped clean–so I secretly patted myself on the back. (Gossipy Clotilde Fact: she takes big bites! She always finished her plates before I finished mine. Oh those Frenchies…)

The second half of our meal was the desserty half. First a cheese course: Coach Farm’s Finest with Pink Peppercorn Honey.

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I loved this. It came with little toasts and the peppercorns were hot but just hot enough. “These are my first pink peppercorns!” I said excitedly.

“Wow,” observed Clotilde, “you’ve been deflowered twice tonight: first the truffles and now the pink peppercorns!”

Then there was this Warm Fig with Honey and Yogurt:

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“I’m surprised they’re serving fig,” said Clotilde, “because figs aren’t in season.” But, again, it was terrific: prepared on the grill so the bottom was charred a bit. “I wonder where they buy them?” I pondered thinking I could use some figs in my life.

Out came “Gelato di Bergamatto con Brioche”:

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“What’s bergamatto?” I asked.

“It’s a type of citrus,” Clotilde said knowledgably.

I took a bite. “Whoah!” I exclaimed. This was a strong citrus flavor cut by little pieces of chocolate. But the citrus was way strong. “It tastes a little like perfume,” I observed. Clotilde agreed and yet we still both licked our plates clean.

Finally—yes this post has an end!—we were served our Chocolate Hazelnut Cake with Hazelnut Gelato:

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Yet Clotilde made a keen observation.

“Mon dieu!” she shrieked. (Just kidding, she doesn’t shriek in French.) “Why look: our desserts our different!” Here she is indicating:

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And she was right. While hers was a chocolate hazelnut cake, mine was a pecan cake with cinnamon undertones. We tasted each others. “I like yours,” I said diplomatically, “but I like mine better.” She liked hers better too. After all, you can’t have Ms. Chocolate and Zucchini NOT prefer the chocolate!

At this point in the evening, I looked at my watch.

“Oh my,” I said, “you’ll never guess what time it is.”

“12? 12:15?” she guessed.

“12:45!” I responded.

Tables were clearing; we were among the last few diners in the joint. When I’d gone to the bathroom earlier, our waiter told Clotilde he was leaving for the night and that someone was taking over. This added a new component to the theory of why he was rushing us: he knew he had to leave at a certain time so he wanted his tip. Clotilde enjoyed this theory.

I didn’t have the presence of mind at this point–let’s see, wine at Cru, bellini and then two more glasses, I was toasted!–to ask Clotilde how she felt about my “opposite of French cooking” comment. Now that I look at it, that’s an unfair assessment of both Babbo and France. (Though Mario Batali does poke jabs at France on his show.) Both cuisines are the result of a deep, complicated, passionate relationship between culture and food; if France’s is more fussy, it’s also often more beautiful. But these matters didn’t concern us at this point: we were in that zen state you reach when you’ve been incredibly well fed.

Plus: we thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company! Obviously, I can’t write out all our conversations–the intricacies of food blogging, the algorithm that makes us highly Googleable, her love for Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorcesse. But what a marvel it is that two people from such different backgrounds and lives and cultures; two people who would NEVER have met but for food blogging came together to enjoy such a fabulous meal. Clotilde is as successful as she is because of who she is: a sprightly, intelligent and enthusiastic person who cares deeply and passionately about what she does. And to eat with such a person in a place such as Babbo is a meal made in heaven. Who knew that angels read food blogs?!

Categories: Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York, Restaurant Reviews

  • Ed

    Uh, sorry Clotilde. Figs ARE in season in this country. It’s the first harvest. Have a look: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A36891-2004Aug3.html

  • *

    figs are totally in season! my mission fig tree is exploding.

  • Jennifer

    Yes figs are in season. My fig tree too is overflowing. Now I just have to figure out what to do with all those figs.

    It’s too bad you felt rushed. Unfortunately I’ve had that experience in the states as well as France, London, Madrid etc. However, proper manners are important so I kep my pie hole shut as not to embarrass my host if they are the ones who choose the restaurant, also I’m sure they notice and don’t need me pointing it out. It would only serves to make them feel bad.

  • Mary

    Adam…I love you, man. I really do. But for the love of God, when you went to the restaurant, you were “seated,” not “sat.” The first couple times you said that I let it go, knowing you were posting late-night and probably fatigued and delirious! But just as your thing is food, my thing is the English language, and I can’t keep quiet any longer! Repetez apres moi: “We were SEATED. We were SEATED.” Deep yoga breaths. ;-)

  • http://the_samantha_files.typepad.com/ Samantha

    Great post Adam, and thanks for the shout out!

    All the food at Babbo looks amazing, and I could work my way through that duck tortellini right now! Dave and I must get to Babbo. So many great NY restaurants, so little time, right?

    Hope you liked the Glass Menagerie… we saw it about a month ago and enjoyed it.

  • gretchen

    I think the pacing is a little different for a tasting menu than it would be for a standard meal off the a la carte menu. I did the tasting menu at Gramercy Tavern and while I never felt rushed, the courses moved a bit more quickly than they do at a standard three-course a la carte meal. But the snippy comment the waiter made to you was unacceptable.

  • http://chezpim.typepad.com Pim

    Adam,

    The photo of the pecorino flan is gorgeous.

    Don’t let your first taste of mediocre truffle fool you. The stuff you had was summer truffle, a far inferior specimen than the regular black or white truffles that come into season much, much later in the year. I don’t know why restaurants insist on serving them, I’ve never had any summer truffle worth eating. It is but a pale comparison to the real thing.

    cheers,

    Pim

  • http://www.thedailykirk.blogs.com The Daily Kirk

    Adam has a girlfriend, Adam has a girlfriend, na na na na na.

  • SLOLindsay

    Jennifer, send them to me! Please! I am on a fig kick after having some amazing ones at a seaside restaurant the other day — fresh figs with Point Reyes blue cheese and walnuts. I’m in heaven, la la la…

    Actually, I’m in California. They do grow here, right? (MISSION figs?) Should I just go raiding people’s backyard trees or beeline for the farmers market?

  • http://happyplate.blogspot.com becky Rike

    The garbanzo bruchetta appetizer was a yummy surprise when I was at Babbo a year ago. Too bad the recipe is not on Mario’s website! I just remember lots of balsamic vinegar.

  • http://lulumanhattan.blogspot.com Lulu

    I so loved reading about your dinner with Clotilde, Adam. Sounds like you had a lovely time.

    My cousin gave us a very generous gift certificate to Babbo. After reading about your experience, I’m totaly psyched to go. I think I’ll try the veg tasting menu.

  • mike

    Your dinner looked delicious and Clotilde looked adorable. I can’t wait to make my own trip to Babbo!

  • Lisa

    Oh Adam, the meal sounded wonderful!! I don’t think you could ask for a better dinner guest!!

    I’m glad Ms. Clotilde had such a wonderful host in dear New York. It is the first step to improved international relations for this country! I think that is how we should have all international relations, over dinner ;)

    PS. I hate to correct you, but it is spelled “bruschetta”. The “ch” in Italian is what makes the hard “k” sound in the word. It is a pet peeve of mine when people pronounce it the way it would be in English, with a “sch” sound rather than the “k”. Almost when people call them “gyros” rather than the proper pronunciation. Oh us silly Americans!

  • http://www.BrowniePointsBlog.com McAuliflower

    What a wonderful meeting of such culinary forces! It warms my heart :)

  • FM Fats

    Adam, that Dylan film is “Don’t Look Back”, directed by D. A. Pennebaker. “Look Back in Anger” is a play by Brit John Osborne.

    “Mommie, Dearest” was shown in Piedmont Park Thursday night. Friends tell me it was a hoot.

  • http://longislandfood.blogspot.com/ Butter lover

    Well, I was going to ask if those were, indeed, chickpeas on the bruschetta, but a commenter above confirmed they are. Blegh.

  • Jane

    Two hours 15 minutes seems short for a tasting menu. You’re right, maybe they shouldn’t offer seatings that late. And they definitely shouldn’t have given the table to a waiter who wasn’t scheduled to work until close – whenever that time was.

  • Amy

    thanks for the laughs – love your account of spending dinenr with the incomparable Clothilde. You’re a funny guy!

  • LB

    Babbo’s chick pea bruschetta recipe is in the Babbo Restaurant Cookbook. A must have. It’s chick peas, store-bought (or homemade, i guess, for the martha stewart types) olive tapenade, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, rosemary and basil. So easy – and tastes just like the real thing. Can’t recommend that cookbook highly enough.

  • mytai

    Loved reading about your Babbo experience! I was there recently and had the same rushed feeling to my meal and it was a la carte. It was really the only thing that took away from the experience. So disappointing but the food was fantastic! FYI – I ordered the pasta w/mushrooms and thyme as a main course at the waiter’s recommendation. Might also be possible for other dishes on the tasting menus that aren’t on the regular one.

  • Mila

    I just came across your post, and it brought back memories of my dinner last year at Babbo’s. We also had a 10:30 reservation even though we called a month in advance. And those desserts look very familiar, the menu must recycle some items every year. I remember it as being the best dinner of my trip.

  • lolaz

    You should check out this girl who makes Authentic Gelato. She makes it all by hand and packages it for supermarkets, hotels, cafes and sells it from a Trike in Lititz, PA. Oh, the company name is Gelato Di Babbo it was love at first site for me.

  • Amanda

    none of the photos show up anymore :(