I know I've just written about Otto, but tonight I had a marvelous dinner that cemented its reputation as one of my favorite restaurants in New York City. Did I mention that I shook hands with and exchanged a brief conversation with Mario Batali??? STARSTRUCK.
We ordered a cheese platter that came with a trio of condiments: truffle honey, cherries in brandy sauce, and apricots in mustard and chili oil. The cheeses that we ordered were: triple cream goat cheese, ricotta, ubriaco, quadrello, and rosso di langhe. Hands down, this cheese platter was the highlight of the meal for me. Although I wasn't really sure what I was eating, besides the more obvious ricotta and creamy goat cheeses, all the selections were delicious, creamy, and rich. We specifically asked for cheeses that wouldn't assault our noses and taste buds, and this was a great selection. The ricotta was fluffy and light, the goat cheese was similar to French brie that Alex loves so much, and the remaining three were yummy and cheesey. We learned that the ubriaco cheese has a rind that is washed with prosecco, and the wine-y aroma is actually really apparent.
Otto's cheese platter condiments were also superb. Alex is a fan of cherry-flavored anything, so he naturally took to the brandy-soaked cherries. The apricots, to me, had a bit of a strange fishy aftertaste, but was interesting nonetheless. The biggest revelation to me was truffle honey. When they poured it out onto the shallow dish, it looked like a bunch of flies trapped in amber (ew, sorry I realize that doesn't sound appetizing, but hear me out). I took the tip of my knife and hazardously dipped it into the viscous puddle. Just from that little quantity of truffle honey, my tongue was hit with a burst of unfamiliar, yet amazing, flavors. First, you get the incredible saltiness and earthiness of the truffle. Confession: I've never had truffle before, except for in the form of crema di tartufo (truffle cream sauce) on tagliatelle with mushrooms. Before tonight, I probably would not have recognized the flavor if you placed a sliver on my tongue. This truffle honey, though, was potent and memorable and also highly addictive. Then, after the truffle aroma and flavor sort of fades away, you get the sticky sweetness of honey, and a nice floral honey, not the kind you squeeze out of a plastic bear from the supermarket. Needless to say, I dipped many a chunk of cheese and bread into the truffle honey. Alex was not such a fan (doesn't like mushrooms, god help him) so I hoarded the plate and contemplated ways to steal the entire jar of honey.
After my little rendezvous with truffle honey, we quickly received our entrees: penne all' amatriciana for me and pepperoni pizza for Alex. My pasta was originally with bucatini (a long pasta, similar to spaghetti but thicker and often hollow) but I asked them to swap it for penne because long pasta plus tomato sauce plus slurping sometimes leads to unsightly spots on clothing. Either way, penne is much easier to handle, though I felt bad that I sort of bastardized the dish. The pasta was served with guanciale, onions, black pepper, and tomato sauce. What is guanciale? Besides being really fun to spell and pronounce (gwan-CHA-leh), it is a cured meat similar to bacon but made from...pig's cheeks. I looked this up on Wikipedia and it does not look appetizing...but the texture was also admittedly tender and bacon-like. In the pasta, the guanciale was sliced super-thin and sometimes I picked up a piece of food thinking it was meat but it was a sliver of caramelized onion. Eventually I found a little repository of the guanciale and evenly distributed it around my penne. The pasta was al dente, just like last time, and perfectly portioned. It was nice to have a stronger texture and mouth-feel to the pasta instead of eating a plate of mushy pasta drenched in ketchup like I might have at home....
For dessert, even though we were sufficiently full, Alex wanted to try the Black & White: a parfait of chocolate chocolate chip gelato, creme fraiche gelato, caramel-y chunks of brittle, butterscotch-y whipped cream, and a cookie. I thought this dessert was a bit less successful than, say, the olive oil copetta (which...I've never actually had but sounds divine), but there's nothing bad I could say about it, obviously. It was pretty much a standard dessert, but a wonderful way to end a delectable meal.
And then, after dinner we headed up to the front where the bathrooms were. We took turns, each holding the other's bag while waiting at the bar area. When we first arrived, I saw the telltale mint green Vespa with an orange helmet perched atop. I knew he was here. I kept looking around during dinner, but eventually gave up. When I was standing at the bar waiting for Alex to use the bathroom, I spotted him. And when he was making his way towards the exit, I stepped in his path, grabbed his hand for a handshake, and said "Thank you, Chef Batali, for cooking my dinner tonight. I mean, I know you didn't personally cook my food, but still." Obviously I can't speak coherently when I'm starstruck, but I meant that I was grateful to him for inspiring the cuisine that is served at Otto. He laughed and said, "No, I actually cooked everything you ate!" I kind of believed him for a glimmer of a second, it was that good.
And then two minutes later, after he left the restaurant and zoomed away on his Vespa, Alex comes out of the bathroom with a look on his face that I read as saying, "So, what did I miss?"