Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's first restaurant in Boston, called Babbo Pizzeria, opened in Fan Pier in the waterfront area of Boston last Wednesday, April 15th (tax day!).
We've always been huge fans of Batali and Bastianich's restaurants and were thrilled when they finally decided to open in Boston. We've gone back to B&B Ristorante and Carnevino in Las Vegas multiple times, and the unique Riserva steaks at Carnevino are still Bryan's favorite steaks in this country. The pasta at Babbo in New York is excellent, and I fell in love with their wood-fired pizzas ever since first trying it at Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles.
Usually I shy away from visiting a new restaurant near opening week. There are notable exceptions, but typically the experience is far from smooth because there are still kinks to be ironed out. We made an exception this time - visiting only after one week of opening - because Bryan's parents were visiting us. They love Italian food, and we thought it would be fun to visit a new restaurant with them.
Although Babbo Pizzeria shares its first name with the Michelin-starred Babbo in New York, it's actually much more similar in menu and ambiance to Otto Enoteca Pizzeria in New York. There's a focus on pizza, and all items are priced a la carte.
Of course there are the 10-inch Neapolitan pizzas ($9-15), which are fired for a mere 90 seconds in their 1000 ° F oven. There are also salads ("Isalate" - $8), cold vegetable sides ("Verdure" - $5), cured meats, ("Carne" - $9), deep fried items ("Fritti" - $8), grilled items ("alla Griglia" - $10-$18), baked items ("Al Forno" - $13-$18), seafood ("Pesce" - $7), cheese ("Formaggio" - $11-$19), and pasta ($10-$15).
Portions are not big, and everything is meant to be ordered tapas style. Sharing is highly encouraged. It was impossible to order something from every section of the menu, but we made quite a dent, ordering several sides, pizzas, a fried item, a grilled item, and some pastas!
The menu has a nice assortment of "Verdure", or cold vegetable-focused starters. They come in small ramekins and only cost $5 each, so it's nice to get an assortment as a starter. The waiter recommended the Peperonata, a simple dish of roasted red and yellow peppers tossed in a sweet and sour balsamic vinegar based dressing. It was OK - a bit too sweet for me, but Bryan's mom did enjoy the crunchy texture of the peppers.
One of the favorites at the table was the Farro, Charred Ramps, & Lemon, a seasonal spring-like dish with nutty farro tossed in a pesto of ramps and lemon. The flavors were nice and garlicky. The Peas, Mint, & Prosciutto was also really nice, with fresh spring peas tossed with just a bit of mint and topped with high quality prosciutto.
Saltimbocca Speiding ($13) consists of two grilled chicken and pork loin skewers served with crispy pancetta and deep fried sage. I loved the charcoal smokiness of the meat. The chicken was surprisingly tender (I think it was all dark meat, but I wasn't sure). I really liked the pop from the crispy pancetta and the sage. All in all, it was very enjoyable and I would totally order it again.
The star was the pizza, of course, and it did not disappoint. I loved the flavor of the dough and the crust. The Margherita ($9) is always a favorite for me, and this was no exception. The simple combination of high quality mozzarella, tomatoes, and fresh basil cannot be beat. The crust is quite thin, and a normal person wouldn't have too much trouble finishing an entire pizza.
Our waiter even told us he could eat two pizzas himself.
Pretty good leopard spotting underneath (though I wouldn't have minded if it were baked just a few seconds longer - see below).
The Guanciale ($14), topped with Parigiano cheese, scallions, guanciale (cured pork cheek/jowl), and a fried egg, was also great. This particular pie came out with a slightly crispier crust than our Margherita. I liked this crust better, but I preferred the simple and fresh flavors of the Margherita.
Linguini with Maine Crab ($15) is a simple olive oil-based pasta tossed with local Maine crab, an essence of lemon, and jalapenos. Toasted breadcrumbs add a nice crunch to the dish. Although the pasta was not homemade, it had good texture and was a perfectly enjoyable al dente.
If you're looking for bold flavors, the Bucatini all'Amatriciana ($10) is one of my favorites. It's a rich, tomato-based sauce that includes guanciale, red onion, and pecorino cheese. The texture of the pasta was nice and chewy, and the sauce was super flavorful.
Dessert is simple, with an assortment of gelato and other gelato-based desserts. Our dessert consisted of dark chocolate gelato, hazelnut gelato, and crunchies (like cocoa nibs, chocolate cookies, and the like) topped with whipped cream. It was OK, but nothing particularly memorable.
We really enjoyed our first dinner at Babbo Pizzeria. The kitchen did a great job of executing the dishes really well. Our pizzas were delicious, the pastas were excellent, and all the other menu items were good. They have a good staff, and the kitchen is already executing at a pretty high level. Service and timing were a bit disjointed, but I will attribute that to opening week woes.
The space is huge and there are many different options for seating. You can sit at the bar, sit at one of the two counters facing the kitchens, or sit at a normal table. I bet it would be fun to sit at one of the kitchen counters.
The place was packed on a Wednesday evening. At the peak of the evening when the place was full, the loud conversations plus the lively music made conversation a bit harder at times.
This is a fun place. I like how the menu pricing is very approachable, the ambiance is casual, and the food is honestly quite good. Frankly, until you get to Fort Point, there really isn't that much competition in the immediate Fan Pier area. It's filling a much needed hole in the neighborhood.
It doesn't replace the North End by any stretch, and if you're a visitor looking for one place to enjoy Italian food in Boston, I would probably still head to the North End. However, if you work or live in the area (or are attending a conference at the Boston Convention Center), it's an excellent place to enjoy a great meal.