For the first time in a long time, I ate at Otto last night. Otto is a restaurant owned by one of my favorite chefs, Mario Batali, along with Joe Bastianich, and they are two of NYC's most successful restaurateurs, if ever there were. Otto is modeled after an Italian train station, and if you've ever been to an Italian train station, it captures the feeling fairly well...well, except that there aren't any children trying to pick your pockets.
I guess one of the reasons (or perhaps THE reason) I haven't been back in a long time is the general level of crowd-ed-ness of the place. The other night was no exception. But when 2 friends and I popped in around 9 o'clock, after too many cocktails at Pegu Club, we were seated at the bar in under 20 minutes...and it's nice that the bartenders pretty much keep everything in check as to who is waiting for seats... a good touch.
In order to get some food in front of us as quickly as possible (cocktails make me hungry), we ordered a ration of the house-cured smoked paprika salami, which showed up in an instant, along with a bit of bread (to help soak up the booze). It didn't last long...
We know that the house cured meats at Otto are and always have been, great. But it's also a bit amazing that 7 or 8 years on and the kitchen is still putting out very good food, even excellent food at its price point. At $4 a pop, the vegetable antipasti are good. But double that price, and order a seafood starter - that's when you're convinced that the kitchen knows what it's doing. So along with the green beans and charred onions, we had perfectly cooked shrimp with chilies and garbanzos. Simple - yes. Delicious - undoubtedly...
Then we moved on to a pizza. Now, I've never had great things to say about the pies at Otto, and others have had similar reactions - the style is not to everyone's liking. But our pie, with arugula pesto, ricotta and chilies, topped with a handful of fresh arugula, was as good as any pizza I've had in a long time - including a recent trip to Totonno's to taste Coney Island's best once more...
Moving on to entrees, we each had our own pasta dish. I reluctantly shared my buccatini al' amatriciana, and my dining companions shared theirs as well: one was a penne with spicy cauliflower and the other spaghetti alla carbonara. All 3 were, in my opinion, textbook examples of proper pasta cooking and proper saucing. Oh, they were delicious, too - and is there any other place in Manhattan doing pastas this good for $9?
Dessert - 3 gelati to share. Do I need to say more? Okay, the olive oil gelato is still capable of stopping conversation - not ours of course, but you get the picture.
There's no way this place needs to get any more popular than it is. But if I can remember to pick and choose my days and times correctly, it's worth adding it back to a semi-regular rotation.
One Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10003
All pictures thanks to Lauren A. and her awesome iPhone thingie.