As I mentioned in my smackdown post I didn’t bring a camera or notepad to Babbo, preferring to be a plain old diner enjoying an evening out. Obviously, my dining companions cook eat FRET and Mother of FRET discussed the food for 80% of the evening so I have no shortage of opinions, but there will be no photos, no dish-by-dish dissection of the evening. But frankly, I feel that it’s much more important that you learn about Ethel – Mother of FRET – than about Babbo. Because while there was memorable food, there was nothing more memorable than Ethel.

  • If you walked up to Ethel on the street and asked, “Are you happy to see me, or is that just a banana in your purse?” her response would be threefold: (1) “Who are you?” (2) “Don’t stand so close to my person.” and (3) “Yes, that is a banana in my purse.” At the end of our three-hour Babbo meal, she elbowed me in the ribs, pointed to the banana floating around her purse and husked, “for breakfast.”
  • Ethel is frugal, and she likes to be prepared.
  • Ethel does a lot of fine dining in New York City. She rates restaurants on a strict 10-point scale. This is not an impressionistic scale, like “That was pretty good but my chicken was on the dry side…I’d give this place a 7.” This is a very precise scale, and Ethel can enumerate the specific reason a restaurant lost points. Water glasses not refilled promptly? Minus one. Table needs to request the olive oil to go with bread service? Minus one. Food was excellent but coffee/tea was not offered at the proper time? (Some people like coffee after dessert, dontcha know.) Minus one.
  • Ethel is horrified by high prices, despite her affinity to fine dining. At Babbo, I ordered strawberry gelato with a 15-year aged balsamic vinegar, which carries a $15 supplemental charge – not too freakish, considering the setting and that an excellent bottle of 15-year balsamic can run upward of $150. And how often do I eat at Babbo? Oh right, NEVER EVER. Ethel was first horrified and then bemused; I think that was the point at which she stopped thinking of me as “FRET’s blogging friend” and started seeing me as “that sweet mentally-impaired girl FRET took pity upon and invited to dinner.”
  • Ethel would like you to know that she is NOT a tourist and is NOT IMPRESSED by a fancy name.
  • Ethel demands impeccably attentive service along with excellent food to consider a restaurant truly good. Those of us who are willing to put up with slipshod service for orgasmically good food are ruining it for everyone else.
  • Ethel is hilarious and I would gladly dine with her any night of the week.

FRET is wonderful and warm and funny and gorgeous and eats and lives with gusto and I had a great time with her and am thrilled to now count her as an “in real life” friend. But Ethel, Ethel I want to stuff into my tote bag so that I can have the benefit of her running commentary as I go about my daily business.

About Babbo: It was my first trip there, and I don’t think you can really judge a restaurant until you’ve eaten there more than once, but I speak for all three of us when I say “underwhelming.” All of our meals were pretty shockingly inconsistent; there was one truly transformative dish (a saffron infused panna cotta with rhubarb compote OH MY GOD), some highlights (gnocchi with oxtail, whole grilled branzino, warm lamb’s tongue salad), the merely solid (duck with kumquat and grilled treviso, rabbit with pancetta, carrots and peas) and the truly disappointing (goose liver ravioli with balsamic, calves’ brain ravioli).

We all expected a restaurant of Babbo’s caliber and reputation to maintain a consistent level of excellence – certainly, not every dish can be a toe-curler, but everything should be flavorful and perfectly executed – and there were far too many off moments (there’s no excuse for flavorless or poorly textured pasta at Babbo). Service was also not as attentive as Ethel would have preferred, and even I found our server a bit bumbling (although I do have to extend mille grazie to the wonderful maitre d’ and to the kitchen for all the lovely comps).

Oh, and the $15 balsamic? Totally worth it.

Coming Monday: The First First Thursday Roundup!