For a while, I've been wanting to bring AV to Otto. Since we met, he's been claiming he doesn't like brussels sprouts, and I've been claiming I could change his mind with Otto's legendary version. Well, after waking up inhumanely early on New Year's Day, I managed to snag a prime dinner reservation for that evening, so after spending the whole day lounging around my apartment, we braved the world to celebrate the new year at Otto.
Otto was busy and bustling and loud and frenetic. We were seated at a table right near the entrance to the kitchen, and the first thing our waiter did was move the table closer to the wall so he could access the table squeezed next to us. We were like peas in a pod. Unwilling peas.
Our obnoxious waiter aside, we were ready for the food. A runner brought bread and breadsticks just about as soon as our buns touched our chairs, but no olive oil was forthcoming. AV nibbled a bit of the bread, and he pronounced it "whole"... like whole-wheaty. It looked good, but I abstained.
We started by sharing an order of the fabled brussels sprouts with vin cotto. They were chewy and charred and slightly sweet and toothsome, savory and satisfying like only well-oiled roasted vegetables can be. There were a few bell pepper pieces in the mix as well, and AV and I gobbled the mixture up happily.
Then for the main course, AV tried the four cheese pizza. Whereas I think we were both expecting a pizza with a four-cheese mixture on top, oddly they sectored the cheeses so it was basically a quarter pizza of each of four cheeses. Whaaa? AV appreciated the pizza for what it was, although he noted he usually likes his crusts thicker. These paper-thin crusts tend to cool too quickly, and who likes cold pizza? Except for people who want cold pizza. Right.
My entree was the spicy rabe with ricotta salata. This wasn't quite as successful as the sprouts; despite being vegetabley and cheesy and allegedly spicy, it was bizarrely lacking in flavor. Every now and then I'd get a sliver of hot pepper, but the veggies were really not spicy at all-- and I'm a total spice wuss. Nonetheless, the dish wasn't bad, and I managed to enjoy it.
But once we were finished, the main event ensued-- dessert! Otto is known for its gelato, and after a taste of its olive oil gelato a few years back, I understood why. I decided to go for an order of gelato with olive oil, salty caramel, and hazelnut stracciatella as my three flavor choices (you can choose one, two, or three flavors for their standard order). The olive oil was just as incredible as I remembered-- almost preternaturally creamy, with the grassy, vegetal flavor of olive oil on the finish. (Yes, I'm pretentious.) The salty caramel was my least favorite of the three, but that's my fault-- I always think I'm going to like salted caramel ice cream flavors, frequently order them, and then ALWAYS regret it. Note to self: I like SWEET caramel, not burnt or salted caramel. This was not sweet enough for me and just tasted a bit bitter, not even really salty. But the hazelnut stracciatella was the surprise winner-- intensely hazelnutty with appealing little pops of ropy chocolate mixed about. After tasting my three flavors, AV reconsidered his decision to go only with a cup of coffee and ordered a cup of his own hazelnut stracciatella. That's my boy!
So there you go. We finally made it to Otto, and on balance, I believe we were quite successful. The brussels sprouts are certainly worth returning for, and the gelato is out of this world. Maybe next summer Otto will start a gelato truck, or a gelato cart? Mario, are you listening? I'd be your best customer... Anyway, Otto is a genial, family- and group-friendly three Offset Spatula restaurant, great for entry-level Mario Batali food that isn't too hard on the wallet. If you haven't been, it's certainly worth a visit.
One Fifth Avenue, at Eighth Street