186 Ave B, between 11th & 12th Sts.
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QUICK CHEAT SHEET:
Drink – A bottle of white Verdicchio Marche ($26) with summer starters; red Nero B’avika Donnata ($32) with pasta & meat ; cap the night off with a glass of Richoto D’Amarone ($14 a glass) dessert wine.
Start with – Asparagus fries, steamed bouchon mussels
Eat – Pappardelle or tagliatelle
Finish with – Almond semifreddo & complimentary (homemade) assorted biscotti
Scoring a reservation at Mario Batali’s Babbo or even its kid brother Lupa, can be harder than winning a radio contest. Besides, who has the patience to play the re-dial game at nine in the morning? Well, after serving time in both kitchens, Chef John Baron, the wizard behind pasta that dreams are made of, has decamped to build an Italian sanctuary of his own in the East Village.
Nestled in a cozy space on Avenue B, Barbone’s simple, but pleasing decor – dark wood floors, exposed brick walls, chandeliers curiously fashioned of ship’s steering wheels – lends itself to an inviting restaurant & wine bar experience. But the real hook lies beyond the dining room: a killer backyard patio with tables aplenty & European courtyard appeal. Snag an outdoor table and whatever you do, don’t try to order chicken parmesan or spaghetti & meatballs, apparently not authentic Italian dishes and definitely not on this menu. Though the chef’s a stickler for tradition, he takes a seasonally-inspired approach to classics, like tagliatelle with rock shrimp & corn as well as watermelon salad that wreaks of summer, tossed with ricotta salata, caperberries & mint. The wine list is wholly devoted to Italy, organized by region: northwest, the islands, south, you get the jist, all surprisingly affordable (I indulged in a zesty Verdicchio Marche, $26 a bottle).
You’ll forget all about chicken parm and other ubiquitous offerings, littering Italian menus citywide, when you sample the asparagus fries, exalted french fries. Encased in a zesty white wine & flour batter, sublime pan-fried asparagus beg to dipped liberally in a pancetta aioli, short for dressed-up mayo (dare I challenge ketchup to a duel). Beer makes an appearance in the steamed bouchon mussels, stewing in a beer-based broth. Who knew it was Italian to cook with beer, but then again who really cares when it tastes this good?
You can’t eat at Barbone and not sample homemade pasta from the man behind some of Babbo’s legendary creations. If you’re not afraid of committing to a weighty bowl, tempt the pappardelle with generous strands of savory short ribs tangled up in doughy ribbons & slathered with tomato sauce. Unfortunately, the porcini-crusted halibut didn’t make as marvelous an appearance. Slightly uncooked, the porcini crust smothered the halibut’s flavor, equally overshadowed by escarole dressed in a saffron aioli.
Luckily, the halibut bump in the road was smoothed out with the arrival of Richoto D’Amarone, a dessert wine, cleaner than Grappa & less sweet than port. The real clencher was a luscious & creamy almond semifreddo, lavishly dotted with almond bits, encircled in a warm & rich shot of espresso. Same time, same place next week. I’ll be there…
Until we eat again,
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