Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ms. Frugal vs. Ms. Foodie

I am the first to admit I’m what you’d call a tightwad fiscally conscious. I don’t try to keep up with the iPhoneses. Most of the time I buy something based on whether I really need it, if it’s a good value, and how little plastic it’s wasting or slave labor it’s using. And even though I'm obsessed with eating, I don’t go out for lavish meals that often. But I don’t mind forking up the cash on certain occasions. So for my birthday, I treated myself to a trip to New York, and the plan was to eat at a few good restaurants. Would Mario Batali’s Babbo be my jewel in the crown or some other hot spot? It was a hard decision, and it soon turned into a showdown between the two sides of my brain. Here’s how it went:

MS. FRUGAL: Is the food really that good at Babbo or will we be overpaying to keep Mario’s closet stocked with orange shoes? It got lots of mixed reviews on the foodie sites.

MS. FOODIE: Yeah, but half of those reviewers thought it was the greatest thing since sliced Tuscan pane. See? Your cup, half empty. Mine? Half full.

MS. FRUGAL: But the menu is meat-heavy and kind of pretentious. Everything contains some endangered, Batali-revived and now-sustainable species. Like the pappardelle pasta with a wild boar ragu. I didn’t even know you could fit a wild boar into a jar of Ragu.

MS. FOODIE: You know Mario is brilliant, and his pumpkin luna ravioli with sage and crushed Amaretti cookies will be too. And since there’s no suckling pig in it, suck it up, tightwad. You deserve it for living this long.

MS. FRUGAL: Like you're a spring chicken. You know I don't feel comfortable in hoity-toity places. Being overpampered by strangers brings out my existential angst.

MS. FOODIE: If you’d rather be denigrated over a paper cup of lobster bisque by the Soup Nazi, he’s in the West Village too—but I’m going to Babbo. They’re within walking distance of each other. We could split up, but last time I checked, we were connected by organs.

MS. FRUGAL: Some of them are probably on the Babbo menu.

MS. FOODIE: Focus! Focus!

MS. FRUGAL: But we already had some really nice meals that were trendy but not as expensive (granted, we ordered conservatively). Are you forgetting that scrumptious moules frites with Pernod and shaved fennel we had last night at Pastis and the crepes suzette for dessert? And the night before at the Fig and Olive, we had mushroom and truffle soup, branzino ceviche with citrus, fennel, and dill, and for dessert, olive oil gelato with a blood orange caramel and turbinado shortbiscuit?

MS. FOODIE: What’s your point? Did you come to NY to eat or not? Look, we said we would have one fine meal on this trip, and I spent two hours on the phone trying to get through to Babbo exactly one month to the day in advance. If we bail now, it would be like Oliver Douglas on Green Acres climbing all the way to the top of that telephone pole, only to have Sara connect him to Jethro instead of Eb.

MS. FRUGAL: Well, since we got the coveted reservation, let’s sell it on eBay go for it.

MS. FOODIE: Girlfriend, did you even look at the dessert menu? You’re gonna go nuts for the chocolate hazelnut cake with orange sauce and hazelnut gelato.

MS. FRUGAL: You had me at hazelnut. I won’t even think about the $12. Happy birthday.

MS. FOODIE: Happy birthday.


  1. So how was it? Food on photo looks delish. Your brain works like mine, constantly wweighing up the I wanties with the consumerist wasties. Sorry about posting anonymously but cannot get name to appear (Alison by the way).

  2. Hi Alison! Well, to be honest, I wasn't blown away until that hazelnut chocolate cake (in photo) came. That was truly outstanding. I've been to Batali's Pizzeria Mozza in L.A. and that has a much more casual vibe and I think I liked it better. Would I go back to Babbo? No. I thought it a little overhyped as many reviewers said.

  3. Happy belated Birthday! Hilarious post. I have the same Ms Frugal/Ms Foodie split personality syndrome going on. Still have not been to Babbo. The dessert looks really good; what else did you try?

    As for Mario places I've tried Esca (seafood), which I loved, and Otto (pizza), which I think has slid downhill in quality over the years. I saw him riding down 2nd Ave on his scooter last summer (wearing the orange crocs, of course!). Such a character.

  4. Nancy, we split a couple of appetizers: a beet something and grilled octopus. I had the pumpkin (or sweet potato) ravioli (as mentioned in the post) and we had broccoli rabe which was nothing special. My friend had quail. It was all good, but until the dessert, nothing really blew me away for all the to-do about the place.

  5. I have passed by Babbo many times.
    That's it.
    I've eaten in Otto and was disappointed.
    I know Mario (sort of) drew his picture bla bla and ate his food free at the Beard House a number of times but...
    It's tough going to these places and having yr expectations met. Especially when they've been around a while. The gloss is off the pumpkin "ravioli" maybe..?
    I did get Mario a glass of champagne the other nite at the Beard Awards -did I have a choice?
    He's bossy :)

  6. PS
    The voices in my head are always at war.
    I save the victories for Paris pastry - an easy win/win situation.