Otto Enoteca Pizzeria
As fate would have it, last week I basically met Mario Batali. Met his gaze, that is. I was walking to campus when I saw an unusual sight stopped at a traffic light. I promise you, it was the orange Crocs that I saw first. Then the orange helmet. And that sexy green Vespa! It had to be Mario Batali! And, as I walked in the crosswalk no more than 5 feet in front of him, we totally made eye contact. Actually just last night by pure coincidence, I watched A Day in the Life: Mario Batali. He explained his philosophy behind food and even though it sounds a little cliche and cheesy, it was basically: to use simple, fresh ingredients to cook things people wouldn't normally make at home.
Today, Alex surprised me with an after-8-hours-in-lab dinner at Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, one of Mario Batali's restaurants in New York City. We've eaten here before, last summer when we all looked kind of like little kids dressing up in mom and dad's closets: most of us had summer jobs and internships and were coming to dinner straight from work, a very clear sign of the near future. Anyway, I thought the food was delicious and unexpectedly affordable. I was dying to come back, so here we are!
The place was buzzing with business on a Tuesday evening. Compare this to last Monday when we were literally the only two people at a restaurant for dinner. We were seated very quickly by friendly staff. Everything on the menu looked delicious, but we eventually settled for fusili with sweet Italian sausage and escarole (me) and rigatoni with braised pork shoulder in tomato basil sauce (Alex).
I sort of love that all the food on the menu is between $5 and $15 basically. Our pasta dishes were $10 a pop...which, on the one hand is a total rip off because anyone can make pasta at home...but on the other hand, is completely worth it because not everyone can make pasta like Mario Batali at home.
Our food came bizarrely fast, but all the better because my dinner companion was starving. First, we got an appetizer of broccoli rabe with ricotta. It came in a cute little ramekin, these wilted dark greens dotted with white clumps of ricotta, and here and there, a bright red slice of chili pepper. It was a good appetizer, well spiced and made me feel good about eating my vegetables.
Our pasta followed while we were still whetting our appetites. My only regret was that one of the waiters grated a ton of Parmesan onto my pasta, making it quite salty. However, the pasta itself was delicious, definitely not something I could easily make at home. Kudos, Iron Chef! My curly springs of fusili were al dente (at home I cook the hell out of my pasta until they stick together and almost fall apart when you pick it up). I think I never knew the feeling of al dente until tonight! The Italian sausage chunks were flavorful and the wilted escarole provided a welcome leafy ingredient to soak up the other prevailing flavors.
Alex's rigatoni was also heavenly: the braised pork shoulder was fall-off-the-bone tender. Although pasta is extremely filling and probably not good for you in large quantities, I found myself wanting to eat more of my dish, more of Alex's dish, and more of all the other pastas on the menu. nom nom nom nom nom!
Now, the one real thing that led me to Otto in the first place is its famous ... olive oil gelato. WHAAAAA?
Yes, one of their most famous dessert items is the olive oil copetta (olive oil gelato, blood oranges, kumquats, and candied something-or-other) which sadly was $11 so we opted for the baby version of just scoops of olive oil, hazelnut stracciatella, and dark chocolate gelati ($8). The little goblet of the trio of gelati came with a drizzle of glistening yellow olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. I couldn't help it: I dug into that olive oil-topped olive oil gelato. It was...quite an experience! Alex didn't enjoy it as much as I did, but wow was it interesting. On the whole I thought it was very tasty. At first it was very weird to be tasting the sea salt and olive oil - savory components - at the same time as the gelato component, but I have to say the flavor of olive oil is really just floral. If you don't think about it being a savory thing, it actually works quite well as a gelato! The hazelnut stracciatella also deserves honorable mention: the little chocolate nibs were buried in possibly one of my favorite flavors of gelato, nocciola (♥). Makes you nostalgic for the breezy nights in Florence, walking by the Arno with a gelato in hand...