Otto: ‘Casual’ Italian, Batali-style
In the past month, I have spanned the gastronomic poles of Mario Batali’s universe, dining at the ever-chic and ultra-fancy Del Posto and at his casual pizzeria Otto. Otto transforms a pizzeria into a uber-stylish wine and Italian vittles den with luxurious wood paneling, scarlet retro touches, a spacious bar area with standing tables, and a casual 150-seat dining room with simple wooden tables and plenty of shimmery mirrors. While Otto clearly emphasizes simplicity with bread wrapped in paper, dish towel napkins, and rapid service, Batali leaves no detail un-thought-of.
The food is simple yet creative, interactive, and immensely flavorful. Imagine griddle-cooked pizzas of olive oil, garlic and fresh chilis or potato, anchovy and ricotta; Rocky Mountains-sized bruschettas heave under the weight of eggplant, chili and mint or chunky bits of spicy cauliflower; and the antipasti selection almost makes you want to skip the main course.
My boyfriend and I split the seafood antipasti platter, which came with bowls of calamari & potato, octopus, celery & lovage, anchovies & breadcrumbs, shrimps, ceci, & chilis, and mussels & mint. The bowls were served with thick slices of fresh toasted bread and ladling spoons. The chunky octupus and strips of slightly chewy calamari were the highlights and good enough to spread over just about anything. The spicy cauliflower bruschetta includes two thick slices of bread equal in diameter to a baby’s head and heaps of creamy spicy cauliflower heads – so good I’d walk through a blizzard for this every Wednesday night.
The main courses were good, but not nearly as satisfying as the antipasti options. Expecting excellence, I opted for the Spaghetti Carbonara. In short, it was just too much – too creamy, too salty, too thick. I wanted more pancetta, less egg, more pepper, less cream. As much as Mario Batali can flop, this carbonara variety flopped. The meatball pasta special was…comforting and hearty with small meatball nuggets packed with flavor: an all-around tasty dish, but not exactly game-changing. I regret not having sampled one of the pizzas as they looked like prime examples of Batali’s gift for serving up belly-filling goodness. Next time…
Otto is reasonably priced, quick, and damn good. The environment is warm and rustic, if not a bit fabricated for the masses. The wine is cheap and the service relaxed. Perfect for a group gathering, a quick meal with buddies, or a casual re-fuel at the bar, Otto delivers tasty ‘haute’ comfort food without too much pomp and circumstance.