When you walk into Otto Pizzeria, located in the western part of Greenwich Village in New York City, it's all you can do but take in the scenery. The decor is warm and inviting, yet the atmosphere emanates that of a bustling train station. The smell of freshly baked pizzas and other Italian delicacies invigorates your senses. It is clear that this is a kind of hipster place to see and be seen - not to mention indulge on a smorgasbord of deliciousness.
This restaurant was cleverly modeled after an Italian train station. When you arrive at the hostess station, you are given a train ticket which reads your Italian destination. While you wait for your train - I mean table, the bar is an obvious place to pass the time. Otto has over 500 bottles of vino to choose from. My friends and I ordered bottle of sauvignon blanc - Bastianich 2008, for its crisp fresh taste, and more importantly, its price. We sipped on our refreshing wine as we watched the train board clicking away displaying Italian destinations. We were oh-so happy when our ticket destination showed up on the train board, as the aroma of food was beginning to make our stomachs growl.
The menu is an exciting compilation of Italian vernacular with a little bit of everything. A cheese plate is an absolute must if you're dining at Otto. A slew of specialty cheeses are offered, and served with specific ingredients to compliment the natural flavors of the cheese. We had our waiter (who looked an awful lot like a possible relative of owner, Chef Mario Batali) choose our cheese plate for us, and let me tell you, he made some excellent selections. The cheeses came with a honey and truffle sauce, glazed cherries, and an apricot spread. Seriously, unbelievably delicious. We also had an eggplant appetizer, called Eggplant Caponatina, and a Caresse salad. I loved the Caresse salad because of its unconventional presentation. As opposed to the popular slices of tomato and mozzarella with basil leaves, this aromatic version was served with stewed tomatoes, soft fresh mozzarella, and a basil pesto. I love this twist on a classic Italian salad because it made the flavors so much more pungent.
An now for the main course: pastas and pizza galore. On my previous visit to Otto, I had a prosciutto arugula pizza with tomato, cacio, mozzarella, crudo and arugula. On this visit I had to try something new. I'm usually pretty adventurous when it comes to ordering, but I figured the classic pepperoni pizza had to be something special here. Mario didn't let me down. The freshly prepared crispy thin crust was topped with ingredients: tomato, spicy salami, cacio, and mozzarella of the finest quality available. I'm still craving it. That's the thing about Otto - so many of the menu items are time-honored Italian favorites, but clearly made with time and care, and the freshest, purest of ingredients. In my opinion, it is this attention to detail that sets such a high standard of excellence.
My friend, Lindsy, ordered a pasta dish called Pappardelle with Peas and Parmesan. What attracted her to this dish was the use of mint in the sauce. This dish was beautifully prepared and such a vibrant color of green, that you just knew it was fresh. Obviously I had to taste it. Now, I'm no expert, and my opinion on food is mine, and mine alone, so, having said that.... I didn't care for the pasta. I felt that amount of mint used was a bit of a misstep - but that's just me. I typically don't care for mint in savory dishes unless it is just a very slight undertone flavor. But what do I know...
Dessert. You may have think you've had the best ice cream in the world, but unless you've been to Otto, I can't take your opinion seriously. What I love is the nontraditional flavors on the gelato menu. From sweet corn, to balsamic strawberry, to olive oil, and salty peanut, the flavors are nothing shy and interesting and sometimes weird, but on all accounts, fabulous. For sake of bursting at the seams, we ordered 2 scoops to share among the 4 of us. My personal favorite from a previous visit, olive oil gelato, and a new one, salty peanut. They really and truly taste like good olive oil and a salty Spanish peanut respectively, yet with the sweet, creamy-cool smoothness of ice cream. Incredible.
In conclusion: yum. Otto makes for the perfect venue for so many occasions and celebrations. The reasonable prices and vivacious atmosphere make it great for family dinning, yet I also think it would be a really fun place for a first date. I love it. Love it, love it, love it, and I can't wait to go back.
So sorry we missed each other while I was in NYC. I had a thought - what do you say you, me, and Bobby Flay start a project together? This might be the best idea I've ever had... think about it: we all have red hair, we all love to cook and eat, what could be better?! Or maybe we could be a team on Iron Chef America, "Team Ginger". Have your people call my people. Ciao!
P.S. In case you forgot... my birthday is next month and I would just love a copy of your new book. Feel free to sign it as well.