This evening my pal Peter Ferriero and I sailed into Manhattan courtesy of New York Waterways with one thing on our minds, Lamb’s Brain! We were headed for 110 Waverly Place and dinner at Chef Mario Batali’s and his partner Joe Bastianich’s Italian restaurant, Babbo.
We pulled up to curb and hopped out of yellow taxi cab at 4:56 PM to find the door locked. As we waited for the magic hour of 5:00 PM, a line started to form behind us. At exactly 5:00, the door was unlocked and we were greeted into Babbo. We did not have a reservation, so we approached the maître d’ stand cautiously. We were warmly greeted. I informed the maître d’ that we did not have a reservation. He said not to worry. Babbo reserves a few tables for walk-ins at the beginning of the evening. We were lucky enough to snag one of these tables.
The maître d’ directed us to the bar until our table was made ready. Peter and I had each ordered a quartino of primitivo, one of my favorite red wines from Puglia. We sipped our wine and talked food, something we do very well. After a few minutes, the hostess led us up the stairs and to our table. Our server presented us with our menus.
I knew what my pasta dish was going to be even before I opened the menu, the Lamb’s Brain “Francobolli”, which are little ravioli in a sage/butter sauce. I was torn between the Pig Foot “Milanese” with Rice Beans and Arugula and Testa (Pig’s Head) with Pickled Pearls and Thyme Vinaigrette. I went with the Pig Foot “Milanese”. Peter ordered Warm Lamb’s Tongue Vinaigrette with Brown Beech Mushrooms and a 3-Minute Egg. Our pasta course choice was a no brainer, Peter and I both went for the Lamb’s Brain “Francobolli” with Lemon and Sage. I saw “guancia” on the menu and right away I knew I wanted the pork cheek for my main course. I went with the “Guancia Ripiena” with Eggplant Caponata and Broccoli Rabe Pesto. And Peter chose the Barbecued Squab with Roasted Beet “Farrotto” and Porcini Mustard.
Two bruschette of chickpeas, pepperoncini, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar were delivered to our table to whet our appetites. These toasts were a nice start to our gluttonous, four course meal. The chickpeas were subtly sweet with a hint of heat and a kick of sour. These are flavors that wake the taste buds from their golden slumbers.
Our antipasti were brought to us with a flourish. The presentation of my pig foot “Milanese” was beautiful. The pig foot was pounded thin and fried to crispy perfection. The foot was meaty and gelatinous. It was luscious and a real treat for the senses. The arugula was nicely dressed with a tart vinaigrette. But the pleasant surprise of this dish was the rice beans. They looked like fat grains of rice, but obviously they tasted like legumes. I could have eaten a plate of just beans, they were so good.
I snuck a taste of Peter’s lamb tongue. I only have two words to describe my sensory experience…KICK ASS! (Sorry for the profanity. Those were the first two words that popped into my head.) The oozing egg was a perfect accompaniment to the warm and tender tongue.
Warm Lamb’s Tongue Vinaigrette with Brown Beech Mushrooms and a 3-Minute Egg (Photo Courtesy of Peter Ferriero)
I will not preach the Gospel of Offal, as I usually do. But if there is one offal dish that you should try before you kick the bucket, it should probably be the lamb’s brain “Francobolli”. The word francobolli translates into English as postage stamp. These little stamps were a real gift from the culinary mastermind, Mario Batali. The brain did not overpower the creamy, cheese filling of the postage stamps. I especially loved the sage, lemon and butter sauce that dressed these beautiful brain stamps.
My secondo piatto or main course was pork heaven on a plate. It was pork sausage stuffed pig cheek. I don’t think you can get more porky than that. The cheek was fork tender and the sausage was sweet and salty, two nice flavor combos. I think the broccoli rabe pesto was phenomenal. The slight bitterness of the broccoli rabe cut nicely through all that pork fat goodness. And what can I say about the caponata? It was what I expected it to be…superb!
Peter’s squab looked beautiful, if you can consider a small, barbecued bird beautiful. (For the record, I do!) The meat was cooked to a perfect medium (pink throughout). It was gamey, but in a very, very good way. This wasn’t your supermarket Cornish hen. This was some real deal fowl! The porcini mustard was awesome, as was the roasted beet farrotto. I love me some roasted beets!
Barbecued Squab with Roasted Beet “Farrotto” and Porcini Mustard (Photo Courtesy of Peter Ferriero)
We also had a contorno or side dish of Sweet Corn Fregola. The smoky, sweetness of the tender corn was perfect partner to the semolina fregola, which is a Sardinian pasta similar to Israeli couscous. The protein portion of our meal ended in a belt loosening, push back from the table kind of feel (all in a good way of course), but obviously we weren’t ready to throw in the white towel. We had one more course to tackle…dessert!
I ordered the Zucchini Olive Oil Cake with Orange Olive Oil Gelato. Peter went with the Blueberry Polenta Cake with Sweet Corn Gelato. We both ordered a single shot of espresso. The zucchini cake was really good. It was not too sweet. It reminded me a bit of the fall. It was the kind of cake that would be perfect on cool evening after a hearty bowl of ribollita or pasta e fagioli. The orange olive oil gelato was otherworldly. The olive oil in the gelato enveloped my mouth, as the orange tickled my taste buds. These two flavors work in tandem perfectly.
Peter’s blueberry polenta cake was a sight to behold. It was warm and steamy in the center with the cold gelato resting on top. The blueberries were fresh and vibrant, while the gelato was sweet and creamy. These two excellent desserts were a proper ending to a remarkable meal.
Blueberry Polenta Cake with Sweet Corn Gelato (Photo Courtesy of Peter Ferriero)
Before the server brought us our check, she gave us a plate with a few cookies. I am remiss in not remembering what each cookie was, but suffice it to say they were all very good. We paid our bill and exited this temple of foodie delight contented and ready to set sail on the Hudson. Enjoy!
110 Waverly Place
New York City, NY 10011
Phone: (212) 777-0303
Living to eat,