Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Otto Restaurant Enoteca Pizzeria, New York New York

After a long day of gallery hopping, shopping, and a wonderful lunch at Gramercy Tavern my sister, mother, and I decided to head to Batalli's Otto for a late dinner. Having tasted Babbo only 2 days prior our expectations were high, but at the same time I've had 'designer' pizza before and not been impressed. The good news? Once again, Batalli proved that he isn't like 'the rest' and the food was amazing. The bad news? A $3.79 12oz soda, loud, and the 65 minute wait for a seat at 9:15 on a Wednesday.

Entering the crazy-loud atmosphere reminded me of a college bar in Columbus...except people were well dressed, the beer was mingling with pricey wine, and the appetizers looked amazing. We were given a calling card (Como) and found a flattop to order some appetizers. To my delight the salumi of the night was Mario's famous Lardo and the Bruschetta was Sweet Pea and Pancetta. While I generally go out of my way to avoid fat, this was vacation and who am I to resist the fame of lardo? $9/3oz of Lardo and $6 for what seemed like a pound of bruschetta was a heck of a deal.

Honestly, I'm not sure what I expected from the Lardo, but what I received was certainly unique. Sweet, salty, a tad spicy, and fatty as can be. Admittely my mother and sister were grossed out and I myself will certainly not crave the dish, but it was absolutely worth the experience. The Bruschetta was amazing for the cost and the portion was so large that I was afraid I'd not be able to have pizza or dessert. A wonderful sweet pea compote on crunchy bread with crispy hot pancetta darted across the palate and scorched just right. Thankfully my sister loved it too and I was able to save room for the pizza.

Seated after approximately an hour, our server Nikki was quick to fill drinks, take orders, and get things moving...all told, Otto is very quick...almost frantic. For contorti we selected Octopus with Celery Lovage and Funghi Misti. My 3rd form of octopus in 3 days, this celery heavy offering paled in comparison to that of Babbo and Momofuku, yet it was still tender and tasty. The mushrooms, served just over room temperature, were woodsy and dense while still tasting wonderfully tender and fresh.

For pizza we decided to split the Margherita DOP with Tomato, Bufala Mozzarel, and Basil and the nightly special consisting of Funghi Misti with Thyme and Smoked Mozzarella. Both pizzas were wonderfully crisp with airy and irregular (clearly hand made) crusts laden with wonderful fresh toppings. Bufala Mozzarel, when done right, is heavenly and while ours was great I have certainly had better. The smoked Mozzarella, however, was beyond compare and one of my best cheese experiences ever. "New York" in crust and density, but very 'new age' in topings and presentation both pies were wonderful and a great deal at $11/ea for 6 well-topped slices.

Having heard rumor of the Olive Oil gelato, dessert was a must (when is it not?) but when I saw Mario would be taking on my favorite dessert of all time - tiramisu - I had to reassess. Thankfully my sister was in the mood for ice cream and obliged to the 3 flavors of gelati while my mother was so taken by GT's Rhubarb tart that she felt need to compare with Otto's Rhubarb Copetta with prosecco zabaglione, polenta, meyer lemon lavender gelato, pistachios, and strawberry gelato, and poached rhubarb.

Served quickly, the gelati trio was served with a nice looking cookie and divided into 3 triangles. While my sister loved the salty caramel and peppermint Chocolate Chip Gelati, I found both to be average. The olive oil, however, was the most unique item of the night (even over the lardo) and worth the praise bestowed by others in the past. Light, slick, sweet, salty, and perfect in mouth feel....just try it.

Mom's Copetta, similarly, was excellent and possibly even better than the earlier Tart. An incredible blend of soft polenta and crunchy pistachios, salty zabaglione and sweet gelato, sour lemon and mild lavender, the dish was almost too much...yet nearly perfect in most ways. If I were to utter any complaint it would be that there were too many 'seperate' flavors and not enough blending of the individuals.

Now, the tiramisu...amazing...yet flawed. What could have been the best tiramisu I'd ever tasted was demoted to 3rd or 4th by the relatively high rum content at the base. While top layers perfectly blended the delicate lady fingers, spicy rum sweet marscapone, and bittersweet chocolate, the bottom 2-3 inches were buzz inducing in punch. Perhaps it was the glass in which it was delivered or perhaps just the nature of this dish, but it just couldn't keep pace with the version at Il Mulino or Jean Phillipe.

All told, with tax and tip the 3 of us walked out of Otto under $90 and quite happy with the experience. Had we made reservations and skipped the overpriced soda (w/o refills) Otto could have been 5 stars for its genre, but instead it'll settle for 4.

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