I’ve always been a little bit weary of restaurants by TV celebrity chefs because they often have the reputation of being overrated. I get it, when you are popular, you can rely on your fame to attract the crowds. So when a few people told me that Mario Batalli’s Babbo in NYC was nothing exceptional, I had no reason to go out of my way to try it myself. That was until Jen gave me a reason.
Three words: Winter. White. Truffles.
Take those words in and let the aroma intoxicate you. Truffle is known to be one of the most expensive ingredients in the world. It’s a part of the fungus family and if you just ate a bite of it like you would an apple, you wouldn’t really be wowed by it. It almost tastes like nothing, dirt even … but the smell of it. It’s the smell that gets you. That’s why truffles are often shaved fresh in front of you, the slicing process releases the aroma that really takes over the senses and makes you feel a bite if heaven on earth.
Until recently, I didn’t even realize there were two kinds of truffles, black and white. (Food noob?) As it turns out white truffles are a lot more fragrant than its black counterpart, therefore more desirable. It’s also a lot more seasonal, with the peak of its season being the winter time. So winter white truffles is truly the best of the best. The folks at Eater can tell you more about this obsession…
Usually, a dish with a truffle supplement can run you upwards of $80 or more, so when I heard that you can get a three-course truffle tasting for $99 at Babbo, it sounded a ton more affordable. Always gotta find that deal right? It’s almost like Buy 1, Get 2 Free. 😉
The first dish on the tasting menu was the Duck Egg Sunny-Side Up with Guanciale, Fett’unta and White Truffles. It was a perfectly poached egg on top of some thick crusty bread. Our favorite part of the dish was the guanciale, Italian cured pork cheeks. It was so flavorful and crispy like bacon on crack. However, the taste of the truffles here was a bit more mellow than I would have hoped.
Side note: this exact dish on their a la carte menu cost $80… say what? o.O
The next dish was the Agnolotti with Brown Butter and White Truffles. This was by far our favorite dish of the day. I usually find myself loving the pasta course at Italian restaurants the most anyway, but this seriously was amazing. The pasta itself was perfectly al dente, and I absolutely adored how tiny and delicate each pocket of agnolotti was. I could only imagine someone making this piece by piece in the kitchen.
Usually truffles are served on top of a more neutral pasta base so that the truffle really shines. The brown butter sauce on top of the agnolotti did just that. It complemented the overall flavors of our fragrant truffles and really helped bring out the wonderful smell and taste of it all.
The final dish of the meal was Grilled Veal Breast with Celery Root Fregula and White Truffles. We decided to also order a half bottle of Borolo wine to go with this course. Apparently Borolo is a very popular wine pairing to go with anything truffle. When asked why, the somm told us that Borolo comes from Piedmonte, the same region of Italy where most white truffles are found. We found that the Borolo had nice earthy flavors that did lend well to the truffle, but it was also definitely one of the pricier wines we could have chosen (on a budget that is).
Overall, I enjoyed this dish, although found the veal breast pretty fatty. It had so much fat it reminded me of a pork belly. Silly as it may sound, my favorite element of the dish was actually the celery root fregula that the meat sat on top of. The taste of truffles on top of the whole thing wasn’t half bad either 😉
I ended up asking our “truffle guy” how he liked his job of being THE truffle guy at Babbo, since everyone is always so excited to see him approach the table. Turns out he kind of strongly dislikes the job since he smells truffle the whole day, yet is unable to eat it himself. What a torturous job right?
As the meal came to a wrap, I couldn’t help but notice that the sugar trays at Babbo comes with sugar rock sticks as a sweetener. I might or might not have ordered tea just so I could get the rock candy… lol.
J is a huge dessert fan, so we ended ordering two different desserts as well. The first was Walnut Crostata with Concord Grape and Buttermilk Gelato. I was so full that I only took a bite of this and was over it.
The dessert I ended up picking was the Pumpkin Budino with Maple Cream and Spiced Fat Boy Breadcrumbs. I only expected to take a bite of this dessert, even though it was my birthday dessert (started the celebration 9 days early, but it’s kinda like my Birthday month okay? ;)).
I took one bite of this and was completely in love. So then I took another bite… and another, and the next thing you know, I almost finished it all. This addictive dessert didn’t look overly fancy, it was a pumpkin custard topped with pumpkin and cream. The taste was not overly sweet which I loved, and super well balanced with the maple syrup cream and crunch of the bread crumbs. It was the best pumpkin dessert I’ve ever had. Give this to me over a pumpkin pie any day!
Overall, J and I enjoyed our truffle tasting at Babbo. We were pretty happy with the three courses. However, I wish that we were able to share the tasting menu like Jen did in her review, and try other pasta dishes since I have a feeling that’s what I would have enjoyed the most.
While I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to come back for another meal, I would definitely recommend this truffle tasting to someone who’s looking to try a good variety of white truffle dishes in New York City.
As for the reputation of this restaurant being a little over-rated, I would have to agree and steer you towards Mario Batalli’s other restaurant, Del Posto, instead. Del Posto was overall a much better dining experience and I would happily go back to that in a heartbeat. (I’ll write about this meal in another post soon).
More info about the White Truffle Tasting at Babbo
- $99 3-course Truffle Tasting is for lunch only.
- In 2014, the tasting popped up on November 4th and apparently lasts “until we run out of truffles”, mid-December maybe? As of today, the menu is still available.
- Reservations for lunch were pretty easy to get on OpenTable, just book a week in advance.