I've always been a sucker for Ironchef and other cooking shows and was more than ecstatic when my boss told us he'd bring us out for dinners in restos of celebrity chefs.
First night in New York, we headed to the casual dining concept of Mario Batali: Otto Enoteca Pizzeria. Located on Fifth Ave. and Eight St., Otto is supposed to be designed like an Italian train station. Upon entering you get a ticket with a city name on it (we were headed to Firenze); the big destination board on the entrance wall flips regularly to inform you once your table is ready. The place definitely has the hustling and bustling of a busy train station. It's very casual and the crowd is mixed from yuppies, to college students, young families. The front is occupied by the enoteca and you see happy people sipping wine for the extensive wine card. The back portion is the pizzeria, which is far more spacious than what it looked from the outside and the noise level of people chattering all over definitely doesn't make Otto your romantic dinner rendez-vous hotspot.
Our waitress wasn't the most friendly, but we got served rather efficiently so I credit her for that.
We started off with some cheeses and cold cuts. We got a selection of all meat antipasti and some of the cheeses (Parmigiano Reggiano, Aged Peppercorn Goat Cheese and Gorgonzola Dolce). The highlight for me here were the condiments. We were served 3 little plates of stewed apricot, black cherry compote and the star of the night, honey infused in black truffles. The condiments complemented the cheeses perfectly. I will never eat parmigiano without honey anymore! Once the cheeses were gone, we dipped the meat and the fresh crunchy bread into the dips. Delicious.
As main courses, we all shared 2 pizzas and a pasta dish. We settled for classics such as the Quattro Stagioni and Spaghetti Carbonara as well as an Otto special Pizza Swiss Chard and Goat Cheese. There was a mistake in the kitchen and we got served Quattro Fromaggi instead, but we were too starved to wait any longer. The pizzas were scrumptious: super thin crust and very tasty tomato sauce (I wonder if Mario would email me his recipe...). The pasta was good and I had seconds, maybe even thirds, but I wasn't blown away. After all this was Mario Batali's restaurant. I suppose my expectations were too high. Not to mention that I was bummed because Mario wasn't there.
But the sweet tooth that I am, I couldn't resist ordering dessert, despite my pants stretching from all the carbs we just enjoyed. We finished off with ice cream: Olive Oil Coppetta with Olive Oil Gelato (like nothing I've ever tasted before! Intriguing and addicting at the same time!), candied clementines, kumquats, lime curd, tangerine sorbet (refreshing) and fennel brittle. As well as a cup of Pistachio and Creme Fraiche Gelato. The scoop of pistachio reminded me of all the reasons why I love pistachio ice cream in the first place. It's a little salty, a little nutty, a little sweet all at the same time. Perfect. The Creme Fraiche Gelato was probably a terrible idea considering my upcoming wedding, but then again with bread, pasta and pizza, the damage was done anyways... It was creamy and thick and tasty. I was scared that it might just taste like cream but it had a distinct flavor and held its own against the other flavors.
Overall we had an outstanding dining experience, with great food, good wine (according to my companions) and lots of laughter. The service could be more cordial, but then again the place is so packed and busy it's no wonder the staff looks harassed. If you expect privacy, candle-lit dinners and plenty of attention from your server, Otto is not for you. Otto is the perfect hangout for friends who look for a taste of Italy at decent prices.
I would definitely go back during my next trip to the Big Apple as I think it's worth the hype. I'm still dreaming of that truffle-infused honey on cheese!
Otto Enoteca Pizzeria
1 5th Ave. corner 8th St.
1 5th Ave. corner 8th St.