By Estefania Lahera ’20
A couple of weeks ago Professor Sorenson of SPU 27, Science of Cooking, dropped a bomb: Mario Batali would be making a surprise visit during the last week of class!
Now, I grew up with Mario Batali on my television, the jolly, good-humoured Iron Chef whose bright red hair and cheery smile were without a doubt memorable. Coming from Los Angeles, I was privileged enough to visit his acclaimed restaurants there, Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza, both amazing in their own distinct ways. But I had absolutely no idea that he had a restaurant in Boston, which has been around for more than a year!
And because I’m an curious, dedicated food writer, I knew I had to give it a try. A couple of emails later, thanks to the wonderful PR team of B&B Hospital, my visit was arranged.
I recruited a another writer from the blog to come with me, and we went on a Saturday for lunch.
When you look at the address it’s a bit intimidating. And then you Google it and realize that it’s just a short ride on the Red Line and then a 15 minute walk if you get off at South Station. One subway ride in Boston, I’ve learned, is nothing. And especially in the summer, walking over the bridge from South Station to the restaurant is not only beautiful but but probably a good idea after eating a lovely, satisfying meal.
Babbo is just close enough to downtown Boston to be accessible, but not so close that it’s jam-packed with fanny-pack wearing, selfie stick toting sightseers from the middle-of-nowhere.
And perhaps even more relevant to us, being Harvard students after all, it’s also a 6 minute walk from the Institute of Contemporary Art, which we all know is on your bucket list before you graduate!
A bright, beautiful open space. It was strategic, not picking a location in North End or South End or Back Bay, where all the tables are practically on top of each other, crammed together, never any space, never any room to breathe.
Instead, Babbo is spacious, a luxury in Boston. And that allows for great little perks like an open kitchen where you can see the food being made, the pizza baking in the oven, the plating, the sort of things that brings you closer to the food.
I personally loved the interior design, the elegant, sleek mediterranean styling. It was gorgeous and clean and comforting.
It was a Saturday afternoon, and there were a lot of families. Pizza is, after all, a crowd-pleaser and the restaurant is near a childrens museum. When we entered the host wasn’t at the stand, but after a five minute wait we were seated and all settled.
A slight detour to discuss bread:
There was something notable about the way the bread came wrapped in paper rather than a bread bowl, the breadsticks still in plastic packaging. It was as if to prove that the breadsticks were actually imported from Italy, which was cool.
The bread was standard, not tough or stale, just a hearty Italian loaf you would buy from the supermarket that was baked the night before, as one bakery told me they do in Italy. Props for the authenticity.
After asking the waiter for suggestions, we ordered the tagliatelle, the goat cheese pizza, and the local shrimp. The menu is a perfect size: not too much, not too little.
First, the shrimp.
It really does not get much fresher than this. The shrimp still had its head on, with little legs or whiskers or something! There are two types of shrimp: really shrimpy, salt, brine-y pure-ocean-tasting shrimp that I personally don’t like, and more delicate, gentle shrimp. These were just in between, which was very interesting, having just a hint of that ocean taste but not overwhelmingly so. They were seasoned aggressively in the good way, a somewhat traditional blend of acid and herbs that never fails. Fresh and flavorful, what more can you ask?
The pasta was a larger portion than expected, a large mountain of tagliatelle covered in a hearty, chunky ragu! You know a restaurant is doing something right when they give more meat than pasta. It was on the more traditional side but done well, a very balanced and satisfying blend of flavors.
The pizza was the real surprise though. The goat cheese, pistachio, red onion, and truffle honey pizza came highly recommended, and with good reason. This is a pizza that makes no pretenses. It is sweet and it is yummy and that’s what matters. The pistachios provide a wonderful crunch and earthy flavor that blends nicely with the sweet honey. I am not a goat cheese person, but this pizza made it do-able, even enjoyable. The goat cheese doesn’t hide, though, it’s allowed to be natural, simple, without transformation, so if you don’t like goat cheese, you should probably order something else. I recommend the meatball pizza!
The crust was excellent, a nice light airiness balanced by a decent crunch, and towards the middle it got a bit softer and floppy but not soggy, which was really, really enjoyable. It had a delicate, almost sour flavor that really worked nicely with the pizza. That’s actually something notable, to have a dough be more just a vehicle and actually contribute to flavor.
I was most excited for dessert, though. The menu is a perfect blend of classic and modern, not too adventurous erring on awful, and not uber traditional boring.
Seeing the gelato pie, which is also done in Batali’s LA restaurant, confirmed my hopes: I knew we were in for something good.
We ordered the Black and White and the pumpkin gelato pie.
By far the best part of the meal. So so so so good. So good that it merits an excess of photographs that do not nearly capture the glory.
Just look at that massive slice of pure gelato. Magic. It felt like a full pint! But what was truly special about the gelato pie was the subtlety. There is nothing I dislike more than artificial flavors, and I think restaurants are often guilty of that when it comes to pumpkin, but Babbo definitely wasn’t. This dessert was a very gentle, natural, balanced pumpkin flavor. Instead of trying to overwhelm you with an excess of sugar, the authentic flavors of pumpkin and cream shined through. The little spice cake cubes, to be fair, weren’t really weren’t necessary and since they were a tad stale, they could have easily been omitted and the dessert would have been perfect. The gelato was just so perfect creamy and airy it could stand alone. It was impressive, actually, how the gelato held its form instead of melting, allowing you to enjoy your dessert without having to rush!
The black and white, dare I say it, was even better. A slightly caramel flavored whipped cream atop of creamy, sweet, chocolate-y gelato with a fudge sauce. It was comforting, it was uplifting, it was happiness. I will probably dream about it. The finishing touch that took the dessert over the edge was little malt-like, chocolate crisps sprinkled throughout so that with every bite you experienced a wonderful crunchy texture that brought the entire thing together.
I loved it.
Babbo was also kind enough to give us a little sampler of italian cookies, which were delicious. The mini brownie was fudgy and rich and super dark, very satisfying. The two varieties of biscotti they gave us were excellent; biscotti often is a sad excuse for a sweet, bland, crumbly bookie, but these were crisp and creatively spiced, one almond and the other with thyme we think. The little tri-colored cake was fruity with a lovely rich chocolate layer that brought all the little sponge cake flavors together. The pine nut cookie was crispy and delightfully subtle, but the real surprise was the one that looked like a macaroon! It was super airy, almost spongy in the coolest way with a malt-like chocolate flavor that was so interesting and fun. That’s the word exactly. It was just fun to eat, the way it felt and tasted.
Overall our trip to Babbo was by far a success. I think we can all agree Harvard students need to explore more, and Babbo is the perfect place to begin! Whether for lunch of dinner, it’s the perfect peaceful escape from campus.
Location: 11 Fan Pier Blvd. Boston 02210
Reservation: On their website or through Opentable.
Stand out dishes: Goat Cheese pizza, Black and White dessert
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
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