There’s nothing right with this restaurant. I’ve gone over the experience numerous times in my head. Every dish was average to poor. Babu ji is not a place I’d recommend to anyone. Sad. I had high hopes (on my 2016 list). Here are four observations.
Chef and I (Chef is my friend who is actually an executive chef) sat at the bar because we typically like bar eating. Babu ji doesn’t really have a bar. If you look close, you’ll notice there’s no water or waste lines at the bar so they can’t prepare anything there. In fact, the bar is simply for pouring wines and organize plates. Essentially, the restaurant designers moved the kitchen pass into the front of the house. So there’s no bartender for chit chat and recommendations. There’s no convivial vibe from fellow bar eaters. The bar is simply high chairs at a 2’-wide ledge.
Second, let’s review the two appetizers: yogurt kebabs and batata vada. Both arrived lukewarm; clearly made during prep and assembled as the order comes in (Give them pre-made food and turn those tables!) Both arrived in delicious but very thin sauces (the croquettes came with a beet sauce that was especially tasty via spoon, but nearly impossible to dress the croquette with due to its viscosity). We were upset by the food’s temperature but horrified that both dishes arrived with orchid flowers on top. Orchids can be toxic. First rule of plating, you never put something on the plate that’s toxic.
Third, I inquired about the beef curry. That sounded interesting.
Me: What’s the cut of beef and where’s the beef from? [At $24 in the East Village, I expect a response.]
Waiter: I don’t know.
Me: Can you ask the kitchen? [Chef smirking now]
Waiter: Hold on. I’ll ask but the chef’s not here.
Waiter: The kitchen doesn’t know but you can call Donald tomorrow and ask [Waiter hands me notepad piece of paper.] But it’s very delicious.
Chef: Ok, we’ll order the daal, beef curry, aged basmati rice, and assortment of naan.
The beef curry was terrible in two ways. The kitchen garnished the curry with a vegetable spirals (as seen on TV during Three’s Company reruns) and a really rough julienne of ginger. Raw ginger. In the evening mood light, I thought it was crisped threads of potato. Wrong and I paid dearly for this miscalculation. For the following 5 minutes everything tasted like raw ginger. Second issue with this beef curry was the cut of beef. It was something incredibly lean and thus extremely dry.
Finally, we were served 3 naan simultaneously in a wicker basket with no linen liner. By the time Chef and I got to the 3rd, the naan was cold, flaccid and unappealing.
There were myriad other minor mistakes and issues. Overall, Babu ji is a restaurant with no soul or attention to quality. Still, it was jam-packed on a Thursday in August.