The Girl Who Ate Everything

Blogging about food and whatever since 2004.

Not Eating Pizza at Otto (But Plenty of Pasta and Gelato)

[I interrupt this Parisian patisserie love-fest for a semi-brief New York fooding update.]

I've been to Otto, the popular reasonably priced member of Mario Batali's restaurant empire, a handful of times in the past few years for its super thin-crust pizza. Do they make my favorite pizza in the city? Not necessarily, but it's good enough that I keep going back, although not mindblowingly so. The gelato, possibly the best in the city, is the main draw for me.

But man, I've been doing it wrong all these years. Totally wrong. SO WRONG, I HAVE DONE. Kathy already discovered the trick to doing Otto right, that is, by skipping the pizza and going for the vegetable-based side dishes and generous pasta dishes. For some reason my brain barely registered that that half of the menu existed and I always overlooked it.

I went to Otto last Thursday with two Kathy-approved dishes in mind: English peas & prosciutto, and pasta alla norma. But first, the wait.

the sign
Fuck you, Padova, party of 5!

If you want to experience the frustration of waiting at an Italian train station for a train that seems to have fallen off its track and exploded, just go to Otto after 8 p.m; it's almost as painful. Okay, it's a small fraction of the pain, but seeing the Italian city names (which correspond to each party's ticket) flicker on the Italian train station schedule-esque reservation board next to the hostess's table reminded me of waiting in Venice for "the train to Bologna that did not exist." We waited at a table in the bar area, turning our heads at every flick flick flick indicating a possible relocation into the dining room, and groaning many times over the hour it took for a table to free up for our party of five (Lee Anne, Kimberly, Poonam, Danial, and me). On the bright side, our stomachs were frothing with anticipation and hungorz when we were finally seated.

English Peas & Prosciutto

After devouring the complimentary bread and breadsticks, I dug into the English peas & prosciutto with a hint of mint. Oh, those peas. Glorious peeeaaas. Why do those mildly sweet, fat green chlorophyll-enhanced globules make me so happy? You know how people like popping bubble wrap? It's kind of like that, but you pop it with your teeth, and instead of being rewarded with a delightful pip/pop sound, a burst of freshness fills your mouth. It's the taste of sunshine. But the good, non-burning taste, as a real taste of sunshine would scorch you and probably kill you, or at least give you skin cancer.

Figs Agrodolce

I liked the figs agrodolce, fresh figs soaked in a sweet and sour sauce, despite the alcohol content. What else was in there besides alcohol? ...I don't remember. I was mostly relieved that the bitterness from the alcohol didn't totally ruin the figs for me.

Cauliflower “alla Siciliana”

The cauliflower "alla Siciliana" was seasoned with olives, capers, and lemon juice. ...And other things I can't recall. There's a recipe near the bottom of this BBC page if that helps at all. Because I'm useless.

pasta alla norma
Pasta, it is here.

While I definitely like pasta, I could never say that I love it until eating the pasta alla norma, penne pasta topped with a light tomato sauce, small chunks of pudding-esquely tender roasted eggplant, a few basil leaves, and three plops of creamy bufala ricotta. Of course, this is based on my personal preference—I just happen to think that the combination of all these ingredients results in one of the best things ever, like chocolate chips and cookie dough, or pork and salt, or my head and a big, fluffy pillow. But it's not just the toppings that make life worth living—the pasta is a smidge on the undercooked side, giving it that slight chewiness that I find missing from 99% of the pasta dishes I've eaten in my life. The pasta plus the creamy sauce (creamy once you mix it all together), and the eggplant and basil in every other bite made for what is now my favorite pasta dish, something I think about whenever I'm eating something of lesser deliciousness, which is most of the time.

penne con sausage and swiss chard
But this is also good.

Lee Anne and Kimberly shared the penne con sausage and swiss chard. No creaminess factor here, but it was also very good. Same al dente pasta, just this time with garlic, sweet sausage bits, and swiss chard.

clam pizza
Pizza!...with shells.

Poonam went with the vongole pizza, pizza topped with whole clams, garlic, and mozzarella (no sauce). I suppose the idea is that you pick out the clam meats and put them on the pizza yourself. I tried a bit without the clam, but it still had that briny clam flavor from the clam juices that had soaked into the cheese. It ain't a clam pie from Pepe's, but it's still tasty.

gelato = so good, oh so very good

And then came the best substance to plop atop a belly of semi-digested pasta and pizza matter: gelato. The olive oil gelato alone makes it the best in New York City; I have yet to come across a more delicious gelato. Aside from the olive oil, salted caramel is my other favorite flavor. I could've stopped there, but one cup allowed for a maximum of three flavors and when given the opportunity to eat a wider variety of things at no extra cost, you take it. (For the disciplined eater, one cup is large enough to split between two people without making either feel like beached whale, but I could never fathom the idea of decreasing my gelato intake. Any gelato lover could totally eat a whole cup without a problem.) I decided the white nectarine sorbetto would be a good way to balance out the rich gelato.

The olive oil was as good as it's always been: oil-enhanced richness with a hint of salt to enhance the olive oil flavor. Salted caramel was almost equally satisfying: not as rich, but just as smooth and with a unique salty and smoky flavor, aside from the caramel. At least, that's what I tasted; Lee Anne said it was quite bitter, but my taste buds mostly registered the salt (it's weird because I know it's bitter, yet for some reason I gloss over that flavor and skip to what I consider to be "the good stuff"). Each bite of the white nectarine sorbet was like eating a finely puréed ripe white nectarine, yet much more exciting in frozen treat form than if it were just a white nectarine someone shoved in a blender.

That's what I love about good gelato/sorbetto: when it takes a flavor you love in its natural state and makes it ten times more addictive. But not ten times more intense—it's like the flavor is distilled to a pure state and then buffered with milk and sugar and things, but not masked, just reformed into a new substance designed to be eaten in large quantities. SWEET JESUS, DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT?

Man, I love gelato. And Otto.

Otto, Tavalon, Sandwich Shoppe, Once Upon a Tart, Bo Ky, and ice cream
Otto, Ginger and Spice, El Castillo de Jagua and Fancy Food Show aftermath


1 5th Ave
New York, NY 10003


Su-Lin / July 3, 2008 5:31 AM

OMG. For a first timer in NYC, would you recommend Otto or Babbo (which is apparently close to my hotel)?

Julie / July 3, 2008 12:46 PM

Man, the trial of your wait, that's what keeps me away from Pizzeria Bianco. I'm sure I'll get there one day, but it will be one of those days that isn't 110 degrees or hotter at the hottest time of the day (5 p.m.).

Amen, Sister, on this: " ... when given the opportunity to eat a wider variety of things at no extra cost, you take it." This is why I'm a strong believer in the potluck.

Kate / July 3, 2008 4:50 PM

I enjoy the yummy picture of the penne with the sausage and the swiss chard. Also, I do understand. Gelato is the essence of a food...the soul of it. It is the most addictive stuff out there. And I think I want to go get some now...

roboppy / July 3, 2008 9:45 PM

Su-Lin: Ooh, where's your hotel? If you're close to Babbo then you're close to Otto, heh. I'd recommend...well, I'd rather go to Otto cos it's cheaper, but it's delicious in a different way. Babbo is very good...and pricey. And you need to make a reservation a month in advance. Buuuh. I WANT MAH PASTA AND GELATO right away. :)

Julie: GO TO BIANCO, IT'S SO TASTEEE! ...Although I must admit, if I had to wait that long in a gazillion degrees, I dunno if I'd enjoy it that much. Go with a bunch of people so you can try every pizza in one go. >_

Olivia: Whoaa that was funky. I mean good funky, heh.

On that note, I still have to watch your videos..!

Kate: ESSENCE OF FOOD. True dat.

Steph / July 4, 2008 3:54 AM

This is perhaps the first time I've been left speechless by foodie-ography. You are a very lucky girl indeed.

- S

Megan / July 4, 2008 3:59 AM

I wonder if the detection of the bitterness in the gelato is related to all that "supertaster" business that was discussed a bunch of months ago on SE. Here's another example of where being "super" doesn't necessarily pan out.

And those peas look soooo good. I'm jealous.

roboppy / July 4, 2008 10:42 AM

Gordon: Nope, you don't have to make reservations! But go earlier than later if you don't wanna wait forever.

Steph: Go to Otto and RELIVE THE MAGIC.

Megan: Hm..I dunno if it has to do with being a supertaster. If it does then maybe I'm not one.

Erinq / July 4, 2008 11:53 AM

I know EXACTLY what you mean about good gelato/sorbet! There is a place in Baltimore (my hood) called Pitango and their gelato/sorbet taste like exactly what they are supposed to taste like! My favorites are peach (tastes like you are eating a peach, earthiness and all) and mojito, which has lots of lime and mint and it is like a joyful choir sings every time I take a bite. How do they DO that?? If you're ever in Charm City, you must stop by there. I'll probably be there since I go about...once a week?

Marisol / July 4, 2008 10:40 PM

Ahhh, all the food looks so damn good...I'm currently on orders to put atleast 10 lbs on my 5'8, 119 lbs frame (I swear to God; the Army has me on a "No Running" profile until I gain), and all that cheesy pasta encouraged me to grab more food from the the form of 4 hunks of cornbread :D

dynagrrl / July 5, 2008 10:13 AM

I ate at one of Mario's restaurants in Las Vegas and the starters were excellent but the pasta dish was far too salty and the waitstaff was rude (I posted about it on my blog...). I vowed to never darken the doorstep of a Mario Batali restaurant again, though your pics made me think about giving Otto a try the next time I am in NY. Thanks!

Danny / July 5, 2008 4:14 PM

Hmm.. I wonder if they always make the pasta super al dente... and why does everyone else make pasta that is more cooked (for lack of a better term). Either way, their pasta is quite yummy and a pretty filling lunch on a weekend day. :)

roboppy / July 7, 2008 12:28 AM

Erin: I haven't been to Baltimore in yeaars, but good to know there's a gelateria for me to check out!

Marisol: ..WUT. Oh man, I wish I had orders to gain weight. I weight more than you and I'm like half a foot shorter. Or more. Sobbs.

Dynagrrl: Boo to crappy service! :( The service I got at Otto was really nice!

Danny: Other people cook pasta wrong, WAAH, IT MAKES ME SAAAAD. I grew up with overly soft pasta.

Megan / July 11, 2008 10:25 AM

Oh yes, I do understand both your passion for peas and for gelato - when I was in Rome last year gelato was pretty much all I ate. Pineapple's my favorite.

Anyway, I'm new to food blogging but I'm very interested in it, and your humor really entertained me! Great work!

Megan S.

HINT Jewelry Design / July 31, 2008 2:08 PM

Wish I was in NYC, these are beautiful pics of tasty treats. I guess I'll have to settle for some homemade Italian while slaving away over a hot stove. Life could be worse :) Thanks for the yummy inspiration!

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