New York

All photos by Lucia Bell Epstein, courtesy of MIMI and BABS

Dish By DishNew York

The Dishes You’ll Want to Order at New York’s MIMI and BABS

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For several years now, MIMI and BABS have been staples of the downtown restaurant scene in Greenwich Village. Brothers Daniel and Evan Bennett opened the former in 2015 and hired chef Liz Johnson (now the chef-owner of Horses in Los Angeles) to execute decadent French fare like escargots in puff pastry and duck à l’orange. Four years later and less than two blocks away, they unveiled Babs as a Basque-inspired bistro.

This past August, the pair made a move to bring the sister restaurants closer together by tapping a single chef to oversee both. Jay Wolman is now at the helm of MIMI and BABS — and he’s revamped their menus in a manner that stays true to each restaurant’s roots, while also forging a fresh identity for both.

Wolman has cooked in New York for some time now, mostly in Brooklyn. His resume includes stints at LaLou, King, Hart’s, and several of Andrew Tarlow’s restaurants — namely Roman’s, Marlow & Sons, and Diner — whose local, seasonal, and comforting approach to cooking “informed a lot of how I think about food,” Wolman notes. Today, he draws inspiration from regional French, Italian, and British cuisines, which he calls his “three pillars,” in addition to what his farmer and fishmonger friends are most excited about.

At MIMI, this translates to French food that’s lighter than it was in Johnson’s day and a tad rustic, but all elegantly plated. BABS, on the other hand, borrows from coastal Europe. Both menus are meant to be shared. “I don’t like when people just want to order and and get out,” says Wolman. “The intention is that the dishes are meant to be crossed between each other.”

Wolman is only one person, which means he can only be in one place at one time. Still, he works in both restaurants throughout a given week, clocking in some shifts in MIMI’s kitchen and others behind the pass at BABS. The same goes for most of his kitchen staff. “All of the cooks are cross-trained,” he says. “So, it’s a nice opportunity for them to be working on two different menus throughout the week. It keeps things interesting.”

Here’s a closer look at what Wolman and his team are up to MIMI and at BABS, through the dishes they’re making, in Wolman’s own words.

Rabbit Sausage & Pomme Purée From MIMI

“The one dish that I know we are not going to change because it’s near and dear to me and it feels like no matter what time of year it’s around it sells is the rabbit sausage. It’s a product that we make in house with one of my co-workers [Marcelo Argueta] who focuses on butchery. It’s a beautiful roasted rabbit sausage and comes with a really velvety pomme purée, classic reduced jus, and chives,” says Wolman.

“It’s something I ate a lot in Paris; I ate various versions of sausage with mashed potato. And I felt like I had to do my own version of it.” [Note: The most famous iteration is served at Les Arlots, a bistro in the 9th arrondisement.] “It was one of those few moments where I was like, ‘Wow, this is absolutely incredible.’ So it is kind of a nod to that place, and just how simple and straightforward it is. The amount of cream and butter that go into the potato is very thoughtful and intentional. It just feels really good and unpretentious.”

Radicchio with Stilton & Sticky Walnuts From MIMI

“I just put on this radicchio salad, which will run throughout fall and winter. I tend to really love radicchio and bitter greens. It’s one of the vegetables that I think farmers I work with in the Northeast have really mastered. And they take a lot of pride in it, so I’m happy to showcase it. The salad is a mix of different radicchios that get dressed in a Stilton blue cheese dressing. Usually when people see blue cheese in a salad, they expect weird chunks and all that, whereas we emulsify everything together into a creamy dressing, which coats the leaves really beautifully. Then it gets finished with these candied sticky walnuts. It’s a really balanced dish of sweet and salty and bitter. And there’s acid. For me, it’s a beautiful thing to make, and it looks beautiful on the table. And it’s just unique. It doesn’t taste like a salad I get out in other places.”

Duck Leg Confit with Thomcord Grapes & Cipollini Onions From MIMI

“Duck confit is something I’ve been cooking for a long time. It’s one of my favorite things to eat. And I don’t think it’s something you see, oddly that often around anymore. We started with this set that has roasted grapes that are served on the vine, they are Thomcord grapes, and charred cipollini onions. It sits in a little bit of reduced duck broth, and there’s some grape syrup that gets dressed on the onion. So, you have lots of beautiful color here.

“Grape season is not going to be around for that long, so then we’ll probably do this set with roasted apples or pears or some sort of other roasted fruit. I really like duck with fruit, so I feel like we’ll have a few iterations of this as the season gets colder.”

Head-on Prawns with Rouille From BABS

“The prawns dish is something I ran at [LaLou] and had a lot of success with it. I felt I needed to bring it back. So, it’s four head-on prawns, and they get marinated with a ton of paprika and garlic. And then we throw them on the grill. They get served with a rouille, which is basically like a saffron aioli that originated in Marseille. It’s the yellow sauce that is typically with a Bouillabaisse. I feel like this is the most honest depiction of the type of food I want to serve here.

“It’s really straightforward. It’s super seasoned. There’s a level of audacity to how simple the plate is, which requires the dish to just be really tasty. It’s just four prawns, a lemon wedge, and a little dollop of aioli. So I think if it’s not awesome, it’s a bit of a letdown. And that’s how I’ve always viewed cooking: if you’re gonna do it simply, it’s just got to be really good. It evokes that style of cooking that I think exists in parts of Europe where it’s really simple food, but it’s all so fresh and delicious. And it doesn’t feel there’s any need for complication, it can just be what it is, and no one’s complaining.”

Beef Carpaccio with Sea Beans & Caper Aioli From BABS

“I think that this is an interesting approach to [beef carpaccio]. I feel like most of the time when you see beef carpaccio, it’s just raw beef on a plate with arugula. So what we do here is we sear the beef ahead of time; it’s an eye round. And we just do a quick really hot sear on all the sides to get some flavor and color on it. But it’s totally raw in the center and we slice it on the meat slicer quite thin. It comes over a very salty, herbaceous caper aioli and then we dress the beef with garlic oil and fish sauce, so it’s it has a lot of flavor and umami. Then we top it with blistered sea beans.

“Sea beans are a little sea vegetable that grows along the coastline. They’re super salty and they’re actually in the succulent family. They’re a good thing to chew on. One of my mushroom purveyors sources it.”

Chicken Milanese From BABS

“We want to be known for [our] chicken Milanese being delicious. It’s pretty straightforward. It’s a pounded chicken breast that gets marinated in garlic, lemon peel, and chili flake ahead of time and then it gets breaded and fried. We are serving it with a condiment of Calabrian chili and sun-dried tomato. We make it like a mixed paste, so it’s a quite spicy but also acidic little condiment, and then right now it’s coming with dressed puntarelle leaves, which are a nice bitter leaf. That salad will also change as the season goes on. We might even do it with beans or something else at some point but the be the star is always going to be this giant pounded golden chicken.”

 

MIMI is open Tuesday to Thursday from 5:30 to 10 p.m. and Friday to Saturday from 5:30 until 10:30 pm.

BABS is open Tuesday to Wednesday from 6 p.m. to midnight, Thursday to Saturday from noon. to midnight, and on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

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Emily Wilson is a Los Angeles-based food writer from New York. She has contributed to Bon Appétit, Eater, TASTE, The Los Angeles Times, Punch, Atlas Obscura, and more. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Resy, too.