March 2005

Back to BABBO

Babbo is located on Waverly between 6th Avenue and Washington Square West and I walk past it several times a week on my way back home from school. Every time I pass it my body tingles a little the way your body tingles when you see someone attractive through a train window pulling away from the station—oh how magical it might be, if only if only if only…

Don’t get me wrong. Unlike the mysterious person through the train window, I’ve done Babbo. I’ve done it twice. (Both times with Lisa: first reviewed on Chowhound, second time reviewed (by way of an epic poem) on here). I’ve declared Jean-Georges the best restaurant in New York, but I think Babbo’s my favorite. I love Babbo.

So Lauren came today. Hi Lauren! She’s here doing work on a case for her big new law job in DC. Lauren in Atlanta was always a bit reticent when it came to fine dining because we LIVED together and we ate many many meals together so it was hard to justify spending mucho dinero on just a Wednesday night meal. But now that we live THOUSANDS of MILES apart (ok it’s just a 3 hour train ride) random city visits merit special occassion meals. Tonight we had many options before us, but I had my heart set on Babbo–and since Lauren had never been there, I practically insisted on it. We were not disappointed.


The first thing you should know is that we did not have a reservation. We simply walked in. This is good to know because Babbo has an intimidating reservation system. You call, you wait, you press buttons, you wait some more, you press more buttons, and finally you talk to someone. That person will most likely tell you they are booked for the entire month. You hang up and drop out of society, having lost your will to live.

When my brother came to town a few weeks ago, I wanted to take him to Babbo. I experienced everything described in the preceding paragraph, gave up, and took him to Home and Film Forum instead. We had fun.

But tonight I recalled something I read somewhere (perhaps by Steven Shaw at eGullet?) that the best way to get into a hard-to-get into restaurant is just to show up. There are cancellations, there are tables at the bar. And that was precisely the case tonight at Babbo. Lauren and I walked in at 8:50 (we came from a one-man show on the life of Tennessee Williams at school) and the host told us a table at the bar would only be 30 minutes. We said “woohoo!” and gave our name.

At the bar, I made Lauren have a bellini. Both times I’ve been to Babbo, we’ve had bellinis at the bar. Tonight’s bellini was prickly pear: it was red in color and sweet and tart and delicious. Lauren, I believe, enjoyed hers too.

The bar scene was crowded. I turned to Lauren and said: “How would you desribe the people here? Fancy? Yuppy?”

She stared at a weird looking couple and said: “Men cheating on their wives.”

I thought that was funny.

Soon (a little less than 30 minutes, actually) a hostess came and got us and sat us at a table right in front of the bar. A hard-to-please person (like my mom, for example) would have said “unacceptable!” because the table was in a throng of people waiting for their own fancier non-bar tables. But we took ours gladly and I actually enjoyed the hustle and the bustle and the people-watching.

Let’s talk about the music here because Babbo’s music is something of a sensitive subject for those who read Frank Bruni’s 3-star review a few months ago in the Times. Bruni marked Babbo down for the loud rock music that disrupted his meal. I had the completely opposite experience: I felt like the rock music enhanced the meal because it was so eclectic and unusual for such a highly lauded dining establishment. Radiohead blasted overhead–“Karma Police”–and I felt like this place wasn’t for my parents, it was for ME! Young people! Us!

Seriously, the music gives Babbo a mystical vibe. It’s spiritual rock: Radiohead, Coldplay (I’m not suggesting that Coldplay’s on par with Radiohead, but they did play some Coldplay tonight)—music that can be aggressive but also ponderous and magical. Like when the bells come on at the end of “OK, Computer”: that coincided with the arrival of our appetizer, and the feeling was that of an ancient food ritual carried out in a futeristic society. I asked Lauren if she agreed and she said, “I’d prefer Italian folk music.”

*****And now for the food…****

First we were presented with an amuse (as the French would say) or “a gift from the chef” (as our waiter said): chick pea bruschetta. Here’s Lauren modelling it for you all:


She looks a little nervous. “I look scared,” she agreed, surveying the picture after taking it. But after tasting a chickpea her mind was set at ease. “Mmmm,” she said, “I like chickpeas.” The bruchetta had a great balance of textures and flavors—the crustiness of the toast, the bite and the creaminess of the chickpeas and the snap of the vinegar and oil. A great beginning.

Then for our first appetizer: Goat Cheese Truffles. I’ve asked this question before, but I’ll ask it again: how pretty is this picture?


Seriously, it looks better than the picture in the Babbo cookbook.

The concept here is that balls of goat cheese are rolled in different coatings. The one on the upper right is smoked paprika, the one on the bottom is cracked black pepper and–most unusual–the one on the upper left is fennel pollen. Lauren tried that first, not knowing what it was and she seemed a bit nonplussed. “That’s fennel pollen,” I explained. That didn’t seem to help.

But she regained her composure with the other two flavors. “I like the smoked paprika and black pepper ones a lot,” she concluded. I was left with the fennel pollen which I gladly consumed. It tastes like mild powdery licorice. It’s not for everyone. But I do think it’s cool that it’s pollen.

Now then, the pasta course. You can’t go to Babbo and not get pasta. I made Lauren get the pumpkin lune because you have to have the pumpkin lune when you go there. She kvelled over it: “Mmmmm,” she moaned, “this is so good.” It is SO good. I dare you not to like it!

I took a bite of hers and snapped a terrible bleachy picture of the half-eaten lune on the fork so you could see the filling. Behold!


[It just occurred to me: this is my first time to Babbo with my new camera. How lucky for you, then, right? In terms of vicarious eating, that is.]

For my pasta, I had the beef cheek ravioli. It’s not particularly photogenic, but it is beautiful to eat:


It’s very rich and very dense. There’s liver in it, which gives it weight. I liked it—I think I’d like it more on a freezing cold winter’s night. It’s that sort of pasta. It ain’t heavy, it’s my pasta.

Now then, the main courses…

Lauren had the duck. I’ve had the duck before and you can see pictures if you click the link to my second Babbo post. She really enjoyed it. That’s understood.

I had the lamb. This lamb must have been sacrificed at a temple because it was the most succulent, delicious lamb I’ve ever tasted:


The outside was charred perfectly and the inside melted in your mouth. It was so tender. There were hints of rosemary and other flavors. The pile in the middle featured peas and mushrooms and whole pieces of mint. This dish was a knock-out. 4 stars. A lamb for all seasons.

But hold on. We’re not done with our hyperbole yet. Our greatest Babbo moment has yet to arrive. Can you feel it? Can you sense it? Do you know what’s coming?


I was very stern with Lauren when it came to ordering dessert. “WE ARE ORDERING DESSERT,” I said definitively.

We were given our dessert menus and I yielded to her to make the decision.

“I’m so full, Adam,” she said, “you decide.”

I know Lauren likes chocolate. It was between pistachio semi-freddo with chocolate ganache and Italian donuts. The waiter steered us towards the former and


I am printing a picture of this dessert and putting it in my wallet. We were practically licking the plate by the end. How to describe it to you?

The semi-freddo itself was like a frozen, lush, creamy whipped cream without all the air. It’s dense but not so dense. It’s like a custard, but not so eggy. And it’s redolent, here, of pistachios–glorious pistachios–that go so well with the chocolate, it’s like heaven itself ordained this dish. I have no idea what’s on the outer rim of the plate (honey? syrup?) but all these flavors combined make this the best dessert I have experienced in the latter half of my life. Every dessert from the age of 13 onward has paled in comparison to this one. This is the dessert I want before I am executed for the murder of some-yet-to-be-determined innocent victim. In fact, I’m more likely to carry out a murder if it means this dessert will be my last meal. Oh, this dessert… sigh…

is the meal over? I guess it is. The check arrives. Lauren and I strike up an interesting conversation.

“You know,” says Lauren, “it’s amazing but for the price of this dinner we could have bought two iPod shuffles.”

Aha! A debate ensues! Temporal gratification vs. worldly goods; the intangible vs. the tangible. How do you quantify a meal at Babbo?

“You can’t put a price on experience,” I say, whimsically but perhaps profoundly.

Lauren agrees. We pay our bill–chat with the host (“Thank you for coming,” he says to us most kindly, as if we did HIM a favor by filling a much sought-after table) and walked 18 blocks back up to my apartment. Another perfect, priceless evening at Babbo.

Spring Is Here! A-Suh-Puh-Ring is Here!

If you live in New York and you walked outside today–specifically through the Union Square Greenmarket–there should have been little doubt in your mind that the season has officially changed. It’s spring! Look at the flowers!


And to celebrate this most joyous of seasons, here are the lyrics to my favorite spring song: Tom Lehrer’s “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.” (I recommend that you download an mp3 of it so you can hear the music…) Enjoy and Happy Spring!

Poisoning Pigeons in the Park by Tom Lehrer

Spring is here, a-suh-puh-ring is here.

Life is skittles and life is beer.

I think the loveliest time of the year is the spring.

I do, don’t you? ’course you do.

But there’s one thing that makes spring complete for me,

And makes ev’ry sunday a treat for me.

All the world seems in tune

On a spring afternoon,

When we’re poisoning pigeons in the park.

Ev’ry sunday you’ll see

My sweetheart and me,

As we poison the pigeons in the park.

When they see us coming, the birdies all try an’ hide,

But they still go for peanuts when coated with cyanide.

The sun’s shining bright,

Ev’rything seems all right,

When we’re poisoning pigeons in the park.


We’ve gained notoriety,

And caused much anxiety

In the audubon society

With our games.

They call it impiety,

And lack of propriety,

And quite a variety

Of unpleasant names.

But it’s not against any religion

To want to dispose of a pigeon.

So if sunday you’re free,

Why don’t you come with me,

And we’ll poison the pigeons in the park.

And maybe we’ll do

In a squirrel or two,

While we’re poisoning pigeons in the park.

We’ll murder them all amid laughter and merriment.

Except for the few we take home to experiment.

My pulse will be quickenin’

With each drop of strychnine

We feed to a pigeon.

It just takes a smidgin!

To poison a pigeon in the park.

Circus Food

I enjoyed this

The Answers

Here are the answers to the Bouillabaisse game. No one got all five, but two people got four: Gretchen and Emily. Good job, Gretchen and Emily! You only missed the first one, which was tough… here they are:

1. Alice B. Toklas

2. Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa)

3. Julia Child

4. Moi

5. Anthony Bourdain

Tune in for the next round: The Hamentaschen Preface Game with special guest star Feivish Finkel.

Five Prefaces to Bouillabaisse: A Game

I just watched 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould while reading a certain famous cookbook (I’m a multi-tasker) and I came up with a game called “Five Prefaces to Bouillabaisse.” Here’s how it works. In a moment, I will type out five prefaces to Bouillabaisse. Four of them come from either famous cookbooks or famous authors and the fifth is made up by me. None of them (except the one by me) are from obscure sources like the Sally Struthers Weight Loss Fish Stew Cookbook. So it’s a fair game. And a fun game. It’s totally going to make your Tuesday. If anyone guesses all five correctly they will win…nothing, but they will be hailed in the follow-up post tomorrow night! So without further ado, let’s begin…

(1) “The fish should be more than fresh, it should be caught and cooked the same day. This is what gives the dish its quality. There must be many different kinds of fish to give the proper flavour. It is not only the ingredients that go into the sauce–which is not a sauce but a soup–it is the flavour of the fish that predominates. There should be at least five different kinds of fish. In Marseilles where the Bouillabaisse was born there are frequently seven or more not counting the shellfish. It cannot be repeated too often that they must be very fresh. In France there are three different kinds of Bouillabaisse–the unique and authentic one of Marseilles with Mediterranean fish, the one of Paris made of fish from the Atlantic, and a very false one indeed made of fresh-water fish.”

(2) “I don’t have the patience to make bouillabaisse because it always takes a whole day to make. However, I love this seafood stew becasue it has the same flavors and, once the stock is made, only takes about an hour. Placing a slice of toasted bread in the bottom of each bowl before you ladle in the hot soup adds that extra something.”

(3) You can make as dramatic a production as you want out of a bouillabaisse, but remember it originated as a simple, Mediterranean fisherman’s soup, made from the day’s catch or its unsalable leftovers, and flavored with the typical condiments of the region–olive oil, garlic, leeks or onions, tomatoes, and herbs. The fish are rapidly boiled in an aromatic broth and are removed to a platter; the broth is served in a tureen. Each guest helps himself to both and eats them together in a big soup plate. If you wish to serve wine, choose a rose, or a light, strong, young red such as a Cotes de Provence or Beaujolais, or a strong, dry, white wine from the Cotes de Provence or a Riesling.

Ideally you should pick six or more varieties of fresh fish, which is why a bouillabaisse is at its best when made for at least six people. Some of the fish should be firm-fleshed and gelatinous like halibut, eel, and winter flounder, and some tender and flaky like hake, baby cod, small pollock, and lemon sole. Shellfish are neither necessary nor particularly typical, but they always add glamor and color if you wish to include them.

The fish, except for live lobsters and crabs, may be cleaned, sliced, and refrigerated several hours before the final cooking. The soup base may be boiled and strained. The actual cooking of the fish in the soup will take only about 20 minutes, and then the dish should be served immediately.”

(4) “For a strong bouillabaisse, smack the fish several times against the counter before cooking. The eyeballs should dislodge and the fins should seep a green fluid. This is precious: save for garnish. I like to serve my bouillabaisse in a fish tank—-the presentation is dramatic and will cause your guests great delight. NOTE: Please remove any pet fish before adding the bouillabaisse! We learned this the hard way and we therefore dedicate this preface to our dearly departed Flipper.”

(5) “What is an ‘authentic’ bouillabaisse? That’s an invitation to a fistfight if there ever was one. Frenchmen living in Marseille can’t agree, so there’ll be no consensus here, I assure you. Above and beyond the “lobster, oui?” or “lobster, non” question–and the various interpretive issues, which we could spend the rest of our natural lives discussing–there’s the issue of fish. You’re simply not going to be finding any congre, loup de mer, rascasse, or rouget near you. This, my boss Jose assures me, is as close to the real deal (whatever that might be) as you’re likely to get. It’s pretty damn tasty.”

Good luck!

Chocolate Worship: Jacques Torres’s Mudslide Cookies

“Well I don’t want no Anna Zabba

Don’t want no Almond Joy

There ain’t nothing better

Suitable for this boy

Well it’s the only thing

That can pick me up

Better than a cup of gold

See only a chocolate Jesus

Can satisfy my soul.”

– Tom Waits, “Chocolate Jesus”


Chocolate lovers are strange people. Sensualists, they tremble with excitement at the mere mention of rich, oozing, glistening chocolate. Are you trembling now? Perverts, all of you! Out with ye!

I am not a chocolate lover. Like smoking, heavy drinking, and public sex, chocolate is too sinful for my conservative tastes. Give me something bright and lemony, something fruity, and I’m content. Chocolate, in my humble opinion, is boring. Even the best chocolate–if I dare say it–tastes too similar to the worst chocolate. Chocolate is chocolate. Leave me out of it.

But I am surrounded by chocolate lovers. The world is populated by chocolate lovers. How can we be chocolate lovers if we can’t eat M&Ms? That made no sense but it’s fun to sing.

Two chocolate lovers deserve chocolate this week: one is a teacher and the other is Lauren, my old roommate. Lauren’s coming on Wednesday. My teacher’s birthday was last week and it’s been disclosed that she loves chocolate. I have her class tomorrow. The impetus was too great: I made Jacque’s Chocolate Mudslides. (Click those words for the link to the recipe.)

Have you had these? Have you made these? Are you aware of these?

Even for a chocolate-hater like me, these are pretty special. When I tell you how much chocolate goes into them, you won’t believe me. Are you ready? 38 oz!

This amounted to 10–count them, 10!–bars of chocolate. The lady at the register eyed me suspiciously. “No,” I assured her, “I’m not a chocoalte sensualist—chocolate doesn’t give me orgasms.” She called the manager and I was asked to leave.

Let’s get on with the recipe. We melt 6 oz of unsweetened chocolate and 16 oz of bittersweet chocolate of a double-boiler: (for those unfamiliar, fill a pot with water, bring it to a simmer, and put a bowl over it–that’s a double boiler)


Next, it’s your standard butter and sugar beat until its light and fluffy maneuver. Only, I needed a mathematician to figure out to extract 3/8ths a cup of butter from 1/2 a cup of butter (1 stick.) See, the recipe only calls for 3/8ths a cup. A stick of butter is 1/2 a cup. I did the following math:

1/2 cup = 4/8 cup. Thus, 4/8 cup – 3/8 cup = 1/8 cup. So I needed to remove 1/8 a cup. Dividing 1/8 by 4 to get back to 1/2 a cup I determined that I needed to remove 1/4 of the 1/2 a cup. I cut off two Tbs. Where’s your abacus when you need it?

(Meanwhile, there was so little butter involved and so much sugar, that when I turned the mixer on sugar went spraying everywhere—and now it’s all over my feet. I should wash my feet, shouldn’t I.)

After that, you add 5 eggs and 1/2 a cup of flour. That’s it! 1/2 a cup! The least amount of flour you will ever use to yield 20 cookies. After that it’s baking powder, salt, and then the melted chocolate. Then you stir in the chopped remaining chocoalte and walnuts. Pour on to a parchment lined cookie sheet and refrigerate for 5 to 10 minutes.

Five minutes later (I was impatient), I took the sheet out and put parchment over the chilled chocolate and flipped it upside down. This is what I saw:


Here I was asked to divide this into 20 squares and to roll each square into a ball. This was a gooey, sticky, unpleasant (by my standards) task that took some time. I placed these chocolate balls on parchment lined cookie sheets and then flattened them a little:


Actually, as you can see by this picture, this one was a Silpat lined cookie sheet—the other had parchment paper. And I should tell you here—the Silpat sheet cookies came out far better than the parchment paper cookies. Ok, maybe not far better, but the parchment paper cookies had burnt bottoms.

They went in a 400 degree oven for 15 – 25 minutes. I say 15 – 25 because that’s what Jacques says and I found it a bit disconcerting. How do you know when they’re done? He says they should be crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside. Ummm, Jacques, how can you tell that looking in your oven window?

But I took them out after 17 minutes and I think that was a good choice. The cookies cooled for a while, and I took a bite:


Mmm, see that melted chocolate in the middle, oozing out and perfuming the air with its primal chocolatey scent. I felt my body quiver with satisfaction, my hair flying back in the wind, my pelvis thrusting like…


Mediocre Chef’s Salad

Continuing to plow my way through the Amanda Hesser canon, tonight I attempted her Chef’s Salad. I blame the results not on her recipe but on my ingredients. And their preparation. Ok, and a little on her recipe.

Let’s see: her chef’s salad contains romaine lettuce, chicken, bacon, egg and avocado. I had fun multi-tasking–boiling the chicken, boiling the eggs, and frying the bacon:


But she has you fry the bacon on medium low heat so it never really gets crispy. She has you boil the chicken in water, so it really isn’t flavorful. And she has you place the egg for 9 minutes in simmering water, so it never really gets cooked. What’s going on here?!

My avocado was a loser too. Citronelle was closed for Easter so I went to this alternative grocery store a few blocks up on 6th Avenue and all their avocados were bright green. Meaning: they weren’t ripe. I bought the softest one I could find, which on a scale from 1 to soft was nowhere more than a 3. This avocado sucked!

So what was redeeming? The dressing. Amanda has a good dressing recipe: 2 Tbs of dijon mustard, 1 Tbs of red wine vinegar, 1 Tbs of balsamic vinegar, you whisk that together, add salt and pepper, and then drizzle in a half cup of olive oil while whisking until it emulsifies. I really liked the dressing.

The romaine lettuce didn’t feel right for this salad. Is romaine lettuce standard for a chef’s salad? It feels like it isn’t, but I’m not sure what is. Iceberg lettuce? Nah. Perhaps it is romaine.

Here’s the unimpressive result. So impressive, in fact, I’m linking to a small picture of it:


Why should your eyes have to suffer the indignity of this mediocre chef’s salad? Quick–scroll away, scroll away! Remove the image from your retinas. Stab your eyes out! This chef’s salad is the pits.

Happy Easter from John and Amy

As usual, Amy Sedaris made an appearance today at Joe’s on Waverly bearing a tray of cupcakes. I was there with John and soon after Amy left, John purchased Amy’s holiday-appropriate confection:


“Where does she buy these things?” asked John, removing the plastic bunny head from the cupcake and picking his teeth with it.

“I don’t know,” I responded.

John bit into the cupcake.

“How is it?” I asked.

“Hmm,” he chewed. “She shouldn’t quit her day job!”


“No, here, take a bite.”

He passed the cupcake. I took a bite. I mulled it over. “It tastes like batter,” I concluded.

“But it’s cooked,” John retorted, indicating the cake’s interior.

The bunny head rolled its eyes. “Fuck off, it’s just a cupcake.”

Happy Easter!

Scroll to Top