Life is ridiculously hectic! Working full time jobs on Long Island, snowboarding on the weekends and multiple nights a week in the city, will push even a bunch of Type A personality New Yorkers to the limit. This week 2+2 had several midweek items on the agenda, one of which was dinner and drinks with A’s friend “N” and her husband for NYC Restaurant Week. Unfortunately, the day job had to take precedence this particular evening and K+M had to call off their attendance. Boo! We were originally headed to Rouge Tomate, a one Michelin star restaurant that has been on K’s radar for a LONG time. Not wanting to dine at K’s place without her, we changed our plan last minute to some new destinations in the West Village. N recommended that A+L meet her and her husband at De Santos for some drinks to start off the night.
As always, A+L were rushing! Although we were home relatively early, the traffic was miserable! On this particular day, we were catching no breaks. A sea of red lights on the highway, evening construction by Union Square and a crawl down 14th. It was the most steering-wheel-wrenching, foul-language-screaming, AGGRAVATING drive in a long time. Whew! I am glad that is behind us. We arrived late… very late, even by our standards. But thank goodness it was cocktail time! De Santos is located in a beautiful classic brownstone building on West 10th, one of our favorite little streets, full of dimly lit restaurants and bars withtons of personality. Our destination was bustling as happy hour was just finishing up. Every stool was full and every table was roaring. We ordered up a round of drinks and finally got a chance to breathe, chat and catch up! The ambiance lent to plenty of conversation and time just flew by. Although dinner was next on the agenda, we weren’t even hungry at this point, having filled up on yummy Gold Rushes, Lychee Martinis and complimentary shots! Either way, we were up for a change of scenery and decided to move on to our next destination.
We had a place in mind, but unfortunately it didn’t work out… I will leave it at that. It wasn’t good. So we had to think fast and make a quick change. Located nearby, we found refuge in Babbo, one of Mario Batali’s classic Italian joints. The place is always mobbed and reservations are hard to come by, but lucky for us it was late (just after 10pm) and one of the venue’s ‘walk-in only’ tables had just opened up. Yay! Couldn’t have worked out better!
We sat in the front near the bar and spent another hour talking while sipping some bubbly… and still hadn’t taken a look at the menu. Reluctant to stop talking and start reading, we asked the waiter for his favorites and ordered them up family style. We were indecisive and wanted to try it all! Shortly thereafter, dishes started arriving and we started munching. The divvying up of the ‘shared’ dishes was pretty unusual (not done well in our opinion), but the food was pretty delicious! Highlights were definitely the Spaghettini with Lobster and the Gnocchi with Oxtail. Homemade pasta and fabulous proteins to complement, yet maintain, the simplicity of the dishes. We finished up with a super creamy Maple and Mascarpone Cheesecake that just melted in your mouth. A perfect last bite to complete a lovely evening with friends.
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Cocktails (A+L)+2www.DeSantosNYC.com Italian, Cocktails, Manhattan
Identified only by a small wooden sign, De Santos sits inside a beautiful brownstone in the adorable West Village. The building itself has quite an extensive history with such icons as Janis Joplin calling it home, with the Ramones and Bob Dylan as frequent visitors. Inside, this intimate space is filled with flickering low lights and exposed brick walls, the perfect mood setters. When it’s warm out, come and enjoy the spacious outdoor garden area.
Upon entrance, you are greeted with a large bar area filled with patrons. Our visit was specifically for this purpose. With happy hour drink specials (until 8pm), this is an ideal location for after work relaxation with friends and colleagues. The cocktail menu features lots of De Santos signatures like the Cucumber Martini (interesting) and the Lychee Martini (delicious), both recommended by the friendly and reasonably attentive staff. There is also a plethora of Italian wine selections of all varieties including red, white and sparkling!
Although we didn’t dine here, the menu includes an array of organic and local ingredients prepared in a new inventive Italian style. Starters include items like Baked Asparagus with Bel Paese Cheese (with Parmigiano Au Gratin and Balsamic Drizzle) and Truffle Oil Marinated Buffalo Carpaccio (with Potato Gnocchi and Robiola Cheese). For Primi Piatti, pick from one of six homemade pastas like the Spinach Fettuccine with Jumbo Shrimp (Zucchini, Lemon Zest and Curry Cream Sauce). For a hearty entree select from several types of fish, as well as proteins like Free Range Duck and Rack of Lamb. Add a side of Truffle Fries and your meal is complete. Sounds delicious!
What we drank…
- Lychee Martini- Vodka, Lychee Syrup, Lime, Pomegranate (A)
- Cucumber Martini- Hendrick’s Gin, Cucumber Puree, Lime (A)
- Gold Rush- Bourbon, Lemon, Agave (L)
- Grey Goose on the Rocks (L)
- Complimentary Fruity Shots
A: Although we only sipped cocktails here, the ambiance of the space was so inviting, I just need to return again! It’s back on the calendar!
L: Have to come back here soon for some food and more drinks. I love the inside of this place. It’s kind of like having a restaurant in someone’s living room, minus the couches and flat screen TV.
Our Rating Scales…
- Scene- Intimate, modern Italian venue perfect for sipping drinks and conversation
- Drinks- 3: Pleasantly Surprised
- Tip Worthy- 3: Gratuity Included
- Coordinates- 4: Neighborhood- Centrally located
- Restaurant Return Rate- Green light!
Dinner (A+L)+2www.BabboNYC.com Italian, Wine, Manhattan
Opened in 1998 by Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich, the philosophy of Babbo was to “emulate the best of the great Italian tradition of hospitality and quality at the table and in the glass”. In the 13 years since its acclaimed opening, Babbo continues to serve authentic regional Italian cuisine, with a focus on local ingredients and imported Italian specialty items. Getting into Babbo is still as difficult as it was when it opened. Advanced reservations are nearly a must. If you are showing up last minute you may get lucky and score one of the six walk in tables near the bar (as we did). Sure it’s fun to show up spur of the moment, but the walk in tables are tightly packed next to each other, to the bar and to the door. Make a reservation and save yourself the aggravation of being bumped into by the bar patrons and people going to the reservations desk.
After debating food and drink selections for way too long, we decided to share a few of our Italian favorites. We went for the Spaghettini with Spicy Budding Chives and a One Pound Lobster, Garganelli with Funghi Trifolati, Gnocchi with Braised Oxtail and “Guancia Ripiena” with Eggplant Caponata and Braccoli Rabe. The highlights were certainly the spaghetti and lobster, as well as the gnocchi with braised oxtail. The spaghetti was just al dente and perfectly complemented with a light tomato sauce. Lobster dishes have an odd way of lacking lobster, but it was not the case here. The lobster was abundant, succulent and perfectly cooked.
The gnocchi and oxtail were true blue Italian and tasted as good as they looked. There is something about the way the oxtail tasted with the home made gnocchi that will make us think there was a team of little Italian grandmothers in the kitchen doing all the cooking. Unfortunately for us, the “Guancia Ripiena”, recommended to us by the waiter, was extremely dry, salty, overcooked and nearly burnt. The dish is supposed to be a home made sausage of sorts, wrapped in pork fat, roasted, sliced and finished on the grill. Either way, Babbo certainly satisfies that hankering for home made pasta and real parmigiano you haven’t had since your trip to Tuscany 10 years ago.
Babbo may be about simplistic Italian food, but the staff treats the restaurant as anything but that. Everything is structured in the same manner as that old school French restaurant from the 1980s down to the pompous Maitre D’, stuffy Sommelier and waiter who thinks he owns the place himself. It gives the restaurant a certain contradiction onto itself. Simple Italian food served in an overly stuffy atmosphere. We wanted to love it, but they made it kind of difficult… a theme that we have noticed at multiple Batali restaurants. It’s as if the staff feels a sense of entitlement and you should be privileged to be in the same restaurant he once cooked in.
So, after a few hours of eating heavy Italian food, it was time for dessert. Not fully satisfied from the main courses, we ordered the Maple and Mascarpone Cheesecake with Creme Fraiche and Saba, and the Banana Custard Crostata with Salty-Sweet Hazelnuts. Both were very satisfying and gave a sweet closure to an interesting dining experience.
What we ate…
- Prosecco del Valdobbiadene, Birillo, Althea NV (A)
- Vodka and Gin Martini (L)
Food (All were split among the 4 of us)
- Spaghettini with Spicy Budding Chives and a One Pound Lobster
- Garganelli with Funghi Trifolati
- Gnocchi with Braised Oxtail
- “Guancia Ripiena” With Eggplant Caponata and Braccoli Rabe
Dessert (All were split among the 4 of us)
- Maple and Mascarpone Cheesecake with Creme Fraiche and Saba
- Banana Custard Crostata with Salty-Sweet Hazelnuts
- Biscotti Assortment
A: So torn. The food was very tasty, but not mind blowing and the service was a a bit weird… not bad by any means, but weird. We stated that we were going to share the dishes and they offered to split the portions for us. The first course, the Spaghettini, arrived sectioned up for 3 and then the 4th dishes arrived empty (hmm?!). Then the second course arrived which consisted of the remaining 3 entrees. Again, the same 3 people received a full plate of food and the same person was presented with a completely empty plate. There are so many ways that they could have split everything and that was probably the worst of all choices. Like I said, weird…
L: An odd experience to say the least. The food was good and if it were a little corner Italian restaurant anywhere in the city, we probably would have thought it a hidden NYC jem. It was sad that the stuffy service took away from an otherwise nice meal.
Our Rating Scales…
- Scene- Very popular, Mario Batali Italian restaurant
- Food/Drinks- 3.5: Pleasantly stellar
- Tip Worthy- 3: Gratuity Included
- Coordinates- 4: Neighborhood- Centrally located
- Restaurant Return Rate- Yellow Light- Hmm… good food, strange vibe