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What's a Non-Snobby Italian Tasting Menu?

In this Ask Eater, Eater critic Ryan Sutton recommends a Batali restaurant

A tall flower arrangement sits in the middle of Babbo’s dining room
A dining room at Babbo
Photo by Daniel Krieger

Welcome to Ask Eater, a column from Eater New York where the site’s editors, reporters, and critics answer specific or baffling restaurant requests from readers and friends. A new question and answer will run every Thursday. Have a question for us? Submit your question in this form.

Hey Eater!

I haven't been to New York since 2010, but my last two visits included attempts to eat a meal at Convivio. (I say attempts because both times ended in defeat.) Back then, it was $64 for four incredible courses and the wine list had some budget bangers. Does anything so affordable and spectacular exist these days? What would you recommend as a worthy successor? We're both heavily tattooed, so somewhere that won't make us feel like horrible people who don't deserve/can't afford to be there if we're otherwise in line with the dress code?

Thank you for your help,

Third Time’s the Charm, Hopefully

Hey Boss!

First of all, let’s pour one out for Convivio, the late, great Tudor City Italian spot that showcased the affordable Italian cuisine of Michael White and the warm hospitality of Chris Cannon. Second of all, let’s mourn the relative lack of affordable tasting menus in New York. The city is undergoing an expensive dining revolution on the set-menu front, with a proliferation of high-end spots, many of them Japanese, where dinner for two will easy run $500 or more.

Contra on the Lower East ($74) is the most famous affordable-ish tasting menu in New York right now, but since you mentioned Convivio, allow me to suggest an Italian spot — Babbo.

Mario Batali’s flagship restaurant has managed to keep its cool kid status nearly two decades after opening. The bi-level townhouse, with its rockin’ soundtrack and parade of patrons squeezing through any free inch they can find, is the Greenwich Village equivalent of a Michelin-starred house party. You’ll feel totally at ease here with tattoos, though quite frankly I’ve dined at Le Bernardin with inked-up friends and they’ve felt fine there as well.

Babbo’s pasta tasting is $95. That’s not cheap, but it’s not a bad deal for five pastas plus two desserts. Expect small portions of black tagliatelle with pancetta or tagliatelle bolognese, though if you decide to go a la carte, the best dish by far is the beef cheek ravioli with crushed squab liver and black truffle, an Italian-study in funk.

Babbo is never a light meal –– that’s more Contra’s department –– but for a solid Convivio replacement, Babbo is the right move.

— Ryan Sutton