Thursday, October 9, 2008

Eating for the long haul at Otto

Last night, the bro and I ventured down to Otto for a pre-Yom-Kippur meal. Sure, it's not all that Jewish, but it offered delicious and very filling food for not too much money. I'd been to Otto once before about a year ago for a big work event, and the food was incredibly delicious but very heavy-- I left feeling pretty sick. But I was determined to conquer Otto, so we headed down there once again.

We made our way through the large and lively, rustically-decorated space to a table in the back room. The runner dropped a stack of menus, a package of breadsticks, and a chunk of peasant bread wrapped in butcher's paper on our table. I was hungry so I dove right into the bread-- or, at least, I tried. It was a huge hunk only partially cut down the middle into two slices, so I ended up trying to rip one slice free while mangling the whole operation horribly. After I managed to separate some of the frangments, my brother requested some olive oil, and we both waited until a pool of the stuff showed up (for the record, when it did arrive, it was really good oil-- flavorful and green).

Authentic Italian thin breadsticks

The challenge

...And my mangled failure

In the meantime, we placed our orders. The menu is divided into antipaste (carni, insalate, verdure, pesce, formaggi); pizza; and pasta. Otto is known for its pizza, but I'm not a huge pizza-eater and the bro had had pretty much nothing but pizza this entire week (see previous post on Lazzara's), so we both delved into other areas of the menu to see what we came up with.

We munched on the bread, breadsticks, and olive oil, and within a few minutes our food arrived. The bro had selected the spaghetti alla carbonara. When the plate arrived, it looked rather small-- it was certainly a reasonable portion, not the metric ton of pasta one usually receives as a portion at restaurants nowadays. But as he ate, it became increasingly clear that this was incredibly filling pasta-- so much so that he struggled to finish the entire plate, and after he did, we had to take a little post-dinner walk to settle it all down. But, that said, he declared it very good carbonara.

It looks innocent... but it packs a punch

I went with a trio of the verdure, or the veggie antipasti. There were a lot of lovely choices for me here, so it was hard to choose. But I'm satisfied with what I got. The three small ramekins arrived nestled appealingly on a nice little plate.

Trio of spoons, ready for action

My first selection was brussels sprouts with vin cotto. For some reason I expected this dish to be warm; when I bit into the sprouts and they were room temperature, I was somewhat surprised, but I got over it quickly. The sprouts looked much greasier than they were, which was a good thing. In reality, they were delicious: glazed on one side with the faintly sweet vin cotto, and chock full of caramelized nutty brussels-sprouty goodness. There were also a few shards of bell pepper mixed into the bunch. Yum, yum, yum.

People should eat brussels sprouts more.

My second selection was the funghi misti. This was a melange of cooked mushrooms and bits of onion, all rendered down to a mix of tender goodness. The mushrooms were savory but not too earthy, lacking that musky funk that sometimes makes mushrooms gross. These were truly delicious.

Looks like meat, but it's mushrooms

My last selection was the broccoli with pecorino. I LOVE pecorino, a sharp sheep's-milk cheese, so I pretty much had to get this. The broccoli in this dish was barely cooked-- still firm and chewy and green. And it was showered with lots of little bits of pecorino, so that after I had finished the broccoli there was a bunch of pecorino at the bottom of the dish that I gobbled up enthusiastically. If only all broccoli were like this... people would like broccoli more.

Pecorino snow!!

These three veggie dishes were actually really filling; it was a deceptively large amount of food for what it looked like initially. Neither the bro nor I could even contemplate dessert, so we waddled out of there, stuffed and ready to take on the long struggle that would be digesting this meal. The bro suggested three Offset Spatulas for Otto, but since we didn't get to have the gelato (which I've had before, and which is truly, truly incredibly), I'm going to have to give the place the benefit of the doubt and throw an extra spatula in there. The restaurant has a really good soundtrack, for one (lots of Counting Crows; good eatin' music), and perhaps more importantly, it's CHEAP. Yes, this is a Mario Batali joint, but our dinner for two cost $22. So-- go, bring your friends, have a drink and a bite or just a bite and several more bites. It'll leave you full, fat, and flush. Enjoy!

1 Fifth Ave, at 8th Street

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