Wednesday, June 18, 2008

New York City: Amy's Bread, Babbo, Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory



After 1 1/2 days in Philly, D., J.L., and I boarded a bus and headed to New York City. On the agenda: eating well and trying not to die in the sweltering heat. When we arrived in NYC, it was in the high 90's, but with tons of concrete and humidity, it felt a lot hotter. After settling into our hotel in Hell's Kitchen, we decided to head to Amy's Bread for a quick lunch.

Amy's has three locations in the city and it's a charming little bakery with a small sitting area and a powerful air conditioner. We bought small sandwiches (mine had brie and tomato) along with some desserts. D.'s yellow cake with fudge frosting was very good and my red velvet cupcake was yummy. One thing that was lacking in the cupcake, however, was cream cheese frosting. It was topped with regular buttercream instead.

We had a few hours to kill before our reservation at Babbo, so we headed to the New York Public Library for a tour. This is definitely a gem in sightseeing terms. For one thing, the library is incredibly lovely, with a variety of detailed ceilings in many rooms. In addition to the books/reference part of the library, there were several exhibits. We saw the first Gutenberg Bible to arrive at the United States, the tattered stuffed animals that inspired the characters of Winnie the Pooh, and an intriguing photography exhibition called "Eminent Domain," featuring photo essays on the city and its changes.

Afterwards, we spiffied up and headed to Greenwich Village for our long-awaited reservation at Babbo. Since they take reservations one month ahead, with respect to calendar day, starting at 10am, I woke up at 7am on May 10 in San Diego to call. It took almost half an hour to get through, but I was able to secure a 6pm reservation.

We arrived and noticed that there isn't a lot of room to wait. It was hot as Hades outside, so no one wanted to wait out there. The bar area was already packed with walk-in diners and those of us waiting. After 20 minutes of waiting around (we arrived a little early), they seated us. Unfortunately, that's when they dropped the bomb.

The air conditioner was broken.

In all honesty, we might have considered leaving if that little tidbit was dropped when we checked-in. However, we were there, they were about to seat us, and it's Babbo, for goodness' sake.

Y'all, I kid you not, it was 90-ish degrees up there. Maybe more than that. The lovely upstairs dining area was filled with skylights and big windows. The radiant energy shining into the room might have increased the temperature. Plus, with no air circulation whatsoever, the room was humid. Still, it was packed with diners and most seemed to be enjoying their meals. We were literally dripping sweat, so we started with a cold white wine and pondered our meal.

The amuse bouche, crostini topped with a lovely chickpea bruschetta:

We decided to go with one antipasti, two primi, and each person ordering a secondi. In retrospect, we thought we should have ordered more primis, which are typically pasta dishes, because we liked the pastas more.

Our antipasti, the Babbo salumi platter with "cipolle modenese," a deliciously sweet pile of caramelized onions or shallots (in the middle, topped by olives and pickled fennel):

Clockwise from top, pork loin, salami, tongue, lardo (the white strips and my favorite part), and prosciutto. Everything was delicate and paper-thin with lots of flavor. However, we felt that it was a smidge too pricey ($15), despite the various cured parts.

The pasta was universally enjoyed, with the black spaghetti split into three servings. I could have eaten a full plate of it and not feel the least bit full, even though it was pasta topped with rock shrimp, salami calabrese, and green chiles.

D. liked the pasta special, a fettuccine topped with crisped pancetta and asparagus.

My secondi was the fennel-dusted sweetbreads. This dish received unanimous rave reviews all over the interweb and I figure it was worth a try. Plus, I'd never had sweetbreads before, so why not have the first time be one of the best preparations I can find?

The fennel, the crispy orange rind, and the duck bacon were amazing touches. The vinegar broth had a couple of wilted scallion stalks in it and the fritters were drizzed with a lovely orange sauce. It's a very rich dish with a slightly unusual texture, but it was incredible. Despite the three small fritters, I was stuffed after this dish.

D. and J.L. weren't too pleased with their entrees. J.L.'s spicy two-minute calamari was basically a spicy soup and nothing special. D.'s skirt steak arrived sliced and on a bed of their salsa verde. Our server described it as pureed Italian parsley with capers and anchovies. I'll be honest and say that I'm not sure where they're going with this, but it tasted like grass. Italian parsley is incredibly overpowering and there was a hint of saltiness from the capers/anchovies, but it tasted the way freshly-mowed grass smells.

The sweltering room definitely marred our experience and we were ready to leave after the secondis. With our check, they brought a small cookie platter, consisting of almond baci, hazelnut biscotti, and chocolate baci. The baci were fluffy and delicate. I have Dolce Italiano, Babbo's dessert cookbook, so I plan on trying the baci recipe one of these days.

D. feels that something should have been offered to those sitting in the blazing upper dining area, whether it was dessert on the house or a break on the check. Once we walked downstairs, we realized the diners on the first floor were sitting in relative comfort. It was dark and fairly cool, which I admit to resenting slightly. Ok, more than slightly.

Service was brisk and efficient, which is worth applauding, considering the conditions. I enjoyed the food, but I'd focus more on the pastas. All in all, I'd say I was "whelmed". Neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed... I was in a pretty neutral position after our meal. I wouldn't rush back nor would I refuse to return.

To cool off, we headed to Chinatown to the Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. I finally tried the dan tat, or egg custard tart, ice cream, which was a beautiful eggy custard cream.

Day two in NYC: a trip to Flushing and the best black and white cookie ever!

Amy's Bread (Hell's Kitchen location)
672 9th Ave.
New York, NY 10036

Babbo Ristorante
110 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011

Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
65 Bayard St.
New York, NY 10013

5 bites:

Captain Jack said...

Hey Moowie,

I absolutely love Babbo. It is my second favorite restaurant in NYC behind Per Se. I am glad you have joined the ranks of those of us who worship the amazing thymus glands. Nice Post.

moowiesqrd said...

Per Se is on my fantasy restaurant list... D. breaks into a cold sweat just thinking of the prix fixe tasting menu. The sweetbreads were excellent, but they're definitely one item that can't be poorly done.

Alice Q. said...

They DEFINITELY should have offered you something on the house for that - wine, dessert, iced espresso, something. I sat through a similar meal once in Boston during a power outage - it was kind of cool, the only light in the room was the flame from the gas stoves.

moowiesqrd said...

Hey Alice! Yeah, it was pretty amazing how the staff simply counted on the restaurant's reputation to keep people in. D. was not pleased about that at all.

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5 bites