Many people go around NYC anxious to see a celebrity walking down the street. While I admit that glimpsing Al Pacino would render me completely speechless, there are few others that would have the same effect. I cannot say the same, however, when discussing chefs. I met Harold Dieterle the first time I dined at his fantastic establishment, Perilla, and met Tom Colicchio when my friends and I tried the tasting menu at “Colicchio and Sons.” I think I thoroughly terrified both chefs, and was shaking so hard when I met Colicchio that I actually spilled some wine, resulting in him telling me to “calm down.” One chef I have not had the pleasure of freaking out in front of is Mario Batali. I work right near Eataly and will sometimes walk through there in the afternoon when I need a break. Being around that much cheese and proscuitto calms me. I will also admit though, that one of the reasons I swing by so often is because I entertain the hope that maybe, just maybe, I will come across Mr. Batali and his orange clogs one day. It hasn’t happened yet, but it will. And when it does it will be the highlight of my year.
I’ve been to many of Batali’s restaurants, Babbo, Del Posto, Manzo (in Eataly) and Otto. While most of his establishments are rather pricey, Otto is wonderfully gentle on the wallet. It serves primarily pizza and pasta, and you can order cheese/meat plates or vegetable antipasti to start. I recommend a reservation when going. It’s always crazy and if you don’t have one you can end up waiting quite a while. I remember going one Friday night with a friend and we waited an hour and a half (we probably would have left earlier, but they kept telling us “10 more minutes”…it’s how they hook you). If you do end up waiting though, you can order some wine and a cheese/meat plate in the waiting space, which is complete with 8 or so tall tables for you and your friends to rest at while you pick at some munchies.
Most of the time, my boyfriend and I start the meal with one of Otto’s pasta dishes. Not all of the pasta is homemade, and I am a lover of homemade pasta, so our options are usually limited to the ravioli or the goat cheese agnolotti. We have yet to try the ravioli because the agnolotti is so spectacular. The agnolotti itself is tender, the goat cheese is flavorful, and the whole dish is covered with the buttery lemon sauce, with plenty of black pepper. It’s also surprisingly light for a cheese-stuffed pasta dish, so you have plenty of room for the main event: Otto’s pizza. Another pasta dish they have, which is seasonal and sadly not on the menu currently, is their sweet pea ravioli. The sauce is made with a bit of mint, peas and marscapone, and the stuffing in the ravioli has some mint to it as well. You can also see in the picture that there are fresh peas in the sauce, and they are HUGE. I tried to re-create the dish at home, with limited success, but was unable to locate fresh peas at any of the 3 supermarkets near me, Sadly I do not have a picture of the agnolotti, but you can see the amazing ravioli below.
Now onto the pizza. I love truffles — who doesn’t? — and the first time I went I indulged in their pizza del giorno, which included pecorino cheese and shaved truffles. The crust was crisp and it was very good, but it pales in comparison to the pane frattau — pizza with pecorino, tomato sauce and a sunny-side up egg. I order that every time I go now, and it is one of those dishes that I am very reluctant to share. In fact, the first time I introduced a friend to Otto I recommended the pane frattau. He didn’t get it and instead opted for the cacio and pepper (saltly Italian cheese and pepper pizza), which is delicious, but is no pane frattau. He wanted a piece of my pizza, and I gave him one, but I was not happy about it. Anyway, the pane frattau is magical. The tomato sauce is perfectly seasoned and covered with salty, toasted pecorino that — and parden if this sounds obnoxious — gives the pizza a nuttiness I had never experienced. Then, there is the egg. I’ve discussed before my love for egg yolks, and that love is not limited to breakfast dishes. On this pizza you break open the yolk and spread it all over that nutty pecorino and you will think you have died and gone to heaven.
I love the pane frattau so much that my boyfriend and I even tried to create it at home. I think you need a real wood-burning pizza oven to properly execute, but we tried. We also threw in a burrata pizza, both done on the grill. Fun, but I am no Batali.