The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Italian @ Otto, New York

My MIL's flight back to Perth was last Saturday night, but she wanted to treat us to a nice meal before she left NYC. She's a pretty fussy eater, so we went with the safe choice of Italian food at Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, one of the many restaurants opened by Mario Batali of the American Iron Chef fame. Otto is Batali's most casual restaurant, serving pizza, pasta and antipasti with a very extensive winelist. In fact, Otto also has a pretty impressive and big bar space at the front. I'd also heard from NY foodies that the best gelati in NYC can be had at any of Batali's establishments, so with this in mind, we eagerly anticipated having our meal at Otto.

The restaurant was quite spacious, and the decor was quite posh, yet not uncomfortably formal. The staff was professional and efficient, and our waitress was very helpful in explaining the menu (written mostly in Italian). I thought that the menu was somewhat limited in its offering of main courses, and in fact there were more items listed in the wine menu than on the food menu.

We shared two generous servings of Bruschetta ($6) from the daily specials menu - there are different toppings depending on the day of the week you dine at the restaurant. On Saturday, the topping was Lilies, a yummy combination of leeks, onion and ramps (wild leek used mainly in American cuisine). The bruschetta was delicious and quite filling. We also ordered antipasti of prosciutto and olives to share.

For my main course, I really liked the sound of Pizza Vongole ($14): clams, garlic and mozarella. And it was a sight to behold - the pile of unshelled clams atop a pizza. The pizza base was thin and crispy - like dry cracker-crispy. For those who are used to thicker and softer bases, you might not appreciate this crust, but I love crunchy cripsy stuff, so I liked this pizza. The mozarella was a bit dissapointing compared to Lombardi's, but at least the pizza wasn't as floppy. Sure the clams were a bit of a pain to shell, but at least they were fresh. Rob ordered the Rigatoni con Sausage and Chard ($9), which he ended up having to exchange with his mum's Spaghetti alla Carbonara ($9) because the carbonara was too eggy for her taste. Rob said that the rigatoni was a bit too al-dente to the point that he thinks it was too hard and undercooked. The carbonara was delicious, and indeed it was very eggy. And Honey ordered Pizza Quattro Stagioni ($14) with tomato and mozzarella and sectioned into four toppings: swiss chard, mushrooms, cotto and peppers (i.e. capsicum). She gave away half her pizza because she couldn't finish everything. My favourite sections were the ones with mushroom and capsicum toppings.

Pizza and pasta aren't too photogenic, so I'll post the only one worth showing - the clam pizza:

When we were finished with our respective dishes, the table was cleared and we were promptly presented with the dessert menu. And we weren't dissappointed. I'd heard that the Olive Oil Gelato is a must-try, and I know it sounds like it's an odd flavour for an ice cream, but it actually works. Both Honey and I ordered gelato ($7) where we can choose up to three flavours, and my choice of flavours were hazelnut stracciatella (deliciously nutty and chocolatey), ricotta (strong goat's milk flavour, not too pleasant for my palate) and concord grape sorbet. Rob ordered Olive Oil Coppetta ($9) which included olive oil gelato, passionfruit granita, raspberries, basil syrup and sea salt. The olive oil gelato tasted like olive oil, and the combination of the fruity granita and raspberries cut through the olive oil flavour quite nicely. Rob's mum ordered a strawberry mousse/meringue-type dessert, which was lovely and light. I eyed Biscotti ($6.50) on the menu and we all shared an order of the biscotti because no one would let me forego ordering gelato in place of biscotti (everyone else wanted to try as many types of gelato as they could without making pigs of themselves). They were yummy, although I wasn't too fond of the marzipan flavour in some of the biscuits.

My hazelnut, ricotta and grape combo; Rob's Olive Oil Coppetta:

My MIL's strawberry mousse/meringue dessert; and the Biscotti:

Overall, it was a pleasant experience, and it's like they say: the gelato is good.

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