I've long been a Food Network fan, but never quite 'got' the whole Mario Batali thing. When I first started watching FN, Molto Mario was canceled and that was when Iron Chef America's quick camera cuts made me nauseous (I have since gotten used to this style of filming, and am now officially an obsessive Iron Chef watcher).
Never one for the long, unkempt red hair or the orange Crocs with socks and shorts look, I had only heard ravings about his restaurants, but never personally given one a chance. When a dinner date with my new pal and co-worker Lauren came up, she suggested Otto and I jumped at it (not only for the fact that I've wanted to go to Otto for years but could never afford to during my NYU days, but for the fabulous company of course). That coupled with Catherine's Mario Batali cookbook ravings was enough to put me into full-blown excitement over the famed pizzeria.
On the corner of 5th avenue and 8th street - you can see why it tortured me during my time at NYU - Otto is a rustic, yet upscale pizzeria with an old-world Italian twist. Though not an inexpensive meal, I must say that the food was (mostly) impeccable and the atmosphere was cozy, inviting and cool. Let's get down to the deets..
Near the front of the restaurant lay the pasta and dough making station. Yep, I kinda fell in love with all of those red appliances. I think they'd fit perfectly in my own kitchen actually...perhaps they'll go out on loan once I learn how to make pizza dough and (obviously) become BFF with Mario...
The Big Cheese
One of my favorite aspects of Italian restaurants are the cheese plates. I could basically eat these anytime, anywhere, especially when served with unbelievably decadent dressings and bread. Oh, and don't forget to note the fabulous bottle of wine we shared. Though the wine list offers many, many wines, ours was easily narrowed down by our one qualification - an (in)expensive red. So right there it knocked off most of the list and we scored one for $29, a price you can't beat at a place like Otto (or most of Manhattan for that matter).
We had 3 cheeses on our plate: ricotta, parmigiano reggiano, and a soft goat's milk cheese that was not in fact on the menu, but that our server highly recommended and we obliged - when ordering the latter you may just need to pretend you're in-the-know about the secret stash of cheeses.
To top off the cheese (which needed no topping, but I wasn't turning them down), we had black cherries, truffled honey (no words for this one), and candied apricots. For me, this combo of creamy, salty cheese and sweetened, decadent dressings was the best part of the meal. I mean really, truffled honey, juicy sweet 'n sour cherries, and candied apricots? Is there anything wrong with that picture? Heck, I'd go back just for the cheese plates alone. If you have the means, I highly recommend it.
The Small Plates
For this portion, we got marinated mushrooms and cauliflower with kalamata olives. Savory and oily (but not overly so), this was the perfect counterpart to the sweet 'n salty cheeses. Though there's a huge list of small plates, I highly recommend these two.
Tale of Two Pizzas
I know, it's like, haven't we had enough deliciousness for one night? And the answer would be no. After all, we were at a pizzeria so who were we to decline the main attraction? So Lauren and I felt it necessary for proper tasting (and research) purposes to try not one, but two pizzas. We went with the marinara and the special, a goat cheese and mushroom topped pizza. Wow.
So being raised by an Italian mother where good sauce is the almighty barometer of food, I'll admit, I'm kind of a sauce snob. So, I tend to devour sauce with a critical palette. And this one did not disappoint. The sauce to cheese coverage was perfect, especially on such a wonderfully thin crust. My one and only complaint about the pizza and the meal in general was the chiles. Why do they put chiles on the pizza? I'm of the mind that sauce should be more sweet than spicy and this was kind of a deal breaker. I thoroughly enjoyed the first slice (after all the other components were wonderful) but by the second I had a small inferno going on inside my mouth. Next time I'm going margherita or bust.
And the goat cheese pizza. I cannot tell you enough about my love for goat cheese. Though just slightly dry from the goat cheese (it's a natural occurrence that I have not yet figured out how to remedy), this pizza was absolutely delicious. The mushrooms, just like in the small plate, were delicious, and again it featured a delightfully thin crust - the only way to do pizza in my opinion.
So there you have it. A restaurant roundup of Mario Batali's Otto, an amazing pizzeria that quite honestly I can't wait to go back to. Oh, and let's not forget about Lauren and her awesomeness for 1) suggesting Otto for our first date and 2) taking lots of great photos when my camera just wasn't adjusting to the light. Love ya Laur! So will you be checking out Otto? If you have, do you agree with my assessment? Any other famed pizzerias that I should check out for comparison?