I mean, how can you not immediately love a restaurant named after Isak Dinesen's story, "Babette's Feast." It is one of the world's great narratives about culinary hedonism and asceticism, the spiritual connections between the two, and much more. (It was made into an exquisite movie in 1987.)
All of that said...
I had a not-so-good meal at the restaurant last week with my friend Frank and his visitor from DC, Dave, who used to live in Atlanta. Babette's was his favorite restaurant. So it was a good opp to visit the restaurant, where I'd not dined in several years.
I ordered piroshki (right) for my starter. Stuffed with pork and veal, the classic Russian pastries are deep-fried until slightly crispy. Served with a tarragon-butter sauce, they were pretty bland. If you're all about texture, you'll love them.
The paella included mussels, shrimp, chicken, sausage, and clams. But again, everything was bland and overcooked for the most part. Mysterious.
Dave ordered mussels steamed in a strawberry-serrano broth, followed by halibut with a mustard vinaigrette and potato-leek gratin. Frank also ordered the mussels, along with an entree of pork tenderloin with grilled asparagus, whole grain mustard jus, and the potato leek gratin. All good, if licking your plate indicates pleasure.
Now, here's the annoying part. After I placed my order and handed the server my menu, I noticed a separately printed menu for two-course, prix-fixe dinners for $21, available Tuesday through Friday.
"I didn't see this," I told the server. "You didn't mention it. Let me look it over."
She grimaced. Frank, also surprised to see the $21 menu, decided he wanted to revise his order. The server again acted very annoyed, shooting him an off-the-menu eyeful of attitude. We all withered.
I stuck with my original order. In truth, ordering from the prix-fixe menu, which features mainly the more inexpensive regular dishes, will only save you a few dollars. (Dessert is not included.)
I noticed that the dining room included very few people under 40. I suppose that a loyal following keeps the menu basically the same from year to year. Chefs at neighborhood restaurants tell me frequently that significantly changing their menus usually causes protests.
Hopefully, we hit the restaurant on an uncommon bad night.
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