Our friend M’s 24th birthday was this past weekend so we went to Otto Enoteca (pronounced Oh-toe een-oh-TEK-uh, not Ah-toe like my title suggests) on Saturday to celebrate. Jason and I have been to Otto quite a few times before because we love the atmosphere, the food, and the extensive wine selection. It is a great place for groups because the dining area is spacious and the service is friendly. The prices are also extremely reasonable and mirror the casual experience.

The Otto experience is great even before you go to the restaurant. As opposed to other establishments in the Batali-Bastianich restaurant empire, it is fairly easy to get a reservation – no 30 day waiting periods and constant busy tones. I called on Thursday afternoon for a 6 person, Saturday night reservation and was told they had most times available.

That night, Jason and I arrived 15 minutes early for our 8:00 PM reservation and decided to head in even though M and the rest of our friends hadn’t arrived yet. The front of the restaurant doubles as a waiting area and standing wine bar; obviously we took advantage of its dual purpose. We ordered the olive sampler and a bottle of white wine to enjoy while we waited for the rest of our party to arrive and our table to become available. Upon check in at the hostess stand, the hostess handed us a piece of paper that had the Italian town of Lucca printed on it. As you’ll see in the pic below, there was a big schedule board that would announce our town as soon as we could be seated. That is a great touch because it makes waiting much more interesting!

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If you have a keen eye, you may notice from the time on the board that we were seated 30 minutes late. The hostess was very apologetic though and honestly, it was the first time we had ever been there that they did not seat us at our reservation time. Thank goodness for our wait because if not for that, I wouldn’t have been standing in a prime location to see Mr. Joe Bastianich strolling in. This wasn’t the last I’d see of the restaurant mogul, but a bit more on that later.

Once we were seated, our waiter apologized for our late seating and to get in our good graces, gave us free booze. We were each poured a generous glass of prosecco and needless to say, we forgave him fairly quickly. After a birthday toast to M, we delved into the menu.

The menu at Otto is different every time we go because they use seasonal vegetables as much as possible. This past Saturday was no different. The menu offered side dishes with corn alongside pasta with late summer/fall greens like Swiss chard. Even their pizza toppings vary season by season! I appreciate the use of seasonal vegetables and try to do the same as much as possible when I prepare food at home. I have to admit, it’s hard not to shop out of season when I see something I really want, like strawberries in December. I consciously remind myself that they probably wouldn’t be that good, would be shipped from halfway across the country if not the world, and perfect strawberries are worth the wait.

But I digress…we ordered a host of appetizers, side dishes, pastas, and pizzas to share, so without further ado, pictures of our meal!

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The heirloom tomato caprese was fresh and delicious. M along with another friend S both agreed that though they normally don’t like tomatoes raw, the tomatoes used in this dish were exceptional. Again, there’s nothing like eating foods that are appropriate for the season and I’m willing to bet that if we go to Otto in a week or two, heirloom tomatoes will no longer be offered. Complementing the tomatoes perfectly, the mozzarella that dotted the tomatoes was creamy and flavorful, unlike the often dry and bland cheese-like substance some restaurants claim is mozzarella.

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The salumi platter featured all of their cured meats and was rustically presented on a wooden board. Everybody had their own favorites but my personal favorite was the prosciutto di Parma which was salty and sweet but not overpowering in the mouth. And it might go without saying that Jason loved the lardo the best.

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Luckily, I captured a picture with the two kinds of pizza we ordered (marghetrita and mushroom with taleggio) before it was devoured. Also in the picture are views of half eaten plates of the pasta we ordered (bucatini with guanciale, rigatoni with Swiss chard and sausage, and penne puttanesca.) Of the pastas, the puttanesca was my favorite with the flavors of capers and olives adding their distinct flavors to each bite.

Having been to Otto a number of times before, I have an opinion of their pizzas and pasta that is affirmed each time I’ve gone to dine there:

  1. I can’t say that the controversial griddle pizzas at Otto are my favorite pizza in all of NY, but I think it’s fair to say that it’s tasty and consistent every time. It is more reminiscent of pizza made with flatbread than pizza dough and it doesn’t have the crunch factor I like exhibited by most flat pizzas.
  2. True to Batali style, the pastas at Otto are cooked to al dente, the sauces are used sparingly, and the flavors work together perfectly. The combinations at Otto are traditional ones that cannot be categorized as elegant or particularly inventive; however, I don’t think that’s the purpose of this casual restaurant. I imagine that any one of the pastas offered here would be served in an Italian home on any given weekday night and that’s the point.

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Back to our meal, naturally it ended with a dessert. For me it was a cup of three homemade gelatos: pistachio, hazelnut stracciatella, and their ever popular olive oil sprinkled with sea salt. I love the olive oil gelato there and if I could, I would eat it every day. However, the flavor of olive oil in the cream based gelato wasn’t as prominent this past Saturday. It tasted more like sweet cream gelato with olive oil flavoring versus olive oil gelato. This won’t deter me from continuing to order it in the future because it was still delicious.

As for Mr. Bastianich, the closest I got to him that night was when he walked behind me to go to the bathroom. I smiled at him and he smiled back but by the time I got up the nerve to ask him for a picture, the most I could do was grab his arm as he was walking away. Thankfully, he thought it was a waiter bumping into him versus me, a psycho food groupie trying to attack him. On his way back he walked the other way (perhaps he did know it was me?) and I had to resort to asking the waiter if he thought Joe would mind taking a picture with me. Unfortunately, he told me the restaurateur was in the middle of a business dinner so he thought it would be a bad idea. Oh well, perhaps next time you will be so lucky as to get a picture with me Mr. Bastianich. 😀

Lastly, much thanks to “J Man” for showing what a classy guy he is, and sending a bottle of wine our way. It was thoroughly enjoyed and though you couldn’t be there in person, you were with us in spirit!

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Salut and happy 24th birthday M! 🙂

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