Monday, April 03, 2006

A Dish Worth The Trip : OTTO

It’s no secret that I am fan of the Mario Batali empire, and just north of Washington Square in the heart of the NYU neighborhood is one of his most interesting and glorious creations, Otto.

Many people pronounce it “Ah-Toe”.. but think Oh-Toe as in the number 8, in Italian.

The restaurant is in many ways a simplified version of Babbo and Lupa… and is given free reign to experiment in ways the other two may get slapped for. But time and again Otto seems to work… as confirmed by my visit last weekend when I encountered a 25 minute wait at 11:00pm. Nice.

The interior of Otto is just about as fun as a restaurant can get in this part of town. The bar scene is just that, a scene… with an working European Train Marquis, that by flipping it’s black letters announcing that your table is ready (we were on the train to Parma).

So, let’s cut to the chase. As good as the dishes are here… the pizza is suberb and the pastas can be as well (if you are into very al dente cooking with a lean to sometimes gamey pork cheeks), but the stars of Otto are wine and cheese.

The wine list is really spectacular as Mario and partners have gathered a darn near completely Italian wine list that would make even the most uptight wine snob smile. Want to take wine classes?... You can. But the cheese. The cheese.

First, cheese in and of itself is magic. But when you compliment the cheese with say, condiments? Well… you get a reason to make a reservation at Otto.

The cheese platter comes with your choice of how many (3, 5, 9) from a list that features everything from Parmesano Reggiano to Manchego. But… oh yea, the condiments.

Well, when the busboy whisks by your table and drops three empty plates down, you get curious. Then they arrive. A bowl of sweet, gooey honey infused with black truffles, a jar of black cherries in their own compote and a jar of stewed apricots in a thick marmalade.

Enough said. Ya take the cheese, ya dip it in, ya go speechless. Paired with just the right wine, and you start to think differently about dinner. Hmmm, maybe we'll share a pizza... share a pasta. Maybe we'll order more cheese.

Each great restaurant has their signature dish.

At Otto, this is it. I'll see ya there.