It was one of those lovely days in NYC when you really appreciate the fall weather. I had just finished my morning workout at Equinox Printing House and I was pretty much dying of hunger. Combine an indecisive girl like me suffering from sever hunger pains, and city like New York where there are literally hundreds of restaurants per capita, and you could have a potential disaster on your hands (think fainting, tourist-abusing, and yelling obscenities at pidgeons). With so many options I was starting to panic, but lucky for me my trusty foodie friend recommended OTTO ENOTECA PIZZARIA – close, Italian (think carbo-loading), and it just so happens to be a creation of celebrity chef, MARIO BATALI. Now at first I was hesitant, since Batali usually comes with a price tag that poor post-graduate students like myself are not excited to shell out, but I was assured that OTTO ENOTECA PIZZERIA was reasonably priced (insert raised eye-brow), so I decided to try it out. The entryway to OTTO is bright and open, and has stylish tall standing tables that are perfect for a quick espresso and croissant, or a panini and glass of vino at lunch. We arrived right around 12:30pm, so it was still relatively empty and we were seated right away by the friendly hostess.
I must say, being from an Italian background I am a bit judgmental when I go to Italian restaurants (even though I hypocritically find nothing wrong with using Parmesan from Wisconsin in my own recipes when on sale– insert cringe). This being said, I was impressed with Otto’s extensive menu of very traditional Italian pastas, sides, pizzas and antipasti. And let’s not forget to mention their INSANELY large wine list. So large, in fact, that our poor server had to ask me about 5 times what wine I wanted before I made a decision, (yes, I made her describe each one – I’m that customer) and even then I had customer’s remorse… well at least until I tried it – a medium-bodied red from Puglia – which I was then substantially satisfied with my choice.
With so many options the only right decision is to share, so lucky for me my companion did not fall into the category of SRE (AKA Stingy Restaurant Eater), which happens to be my biggest pet peeve. For our appetizers we ordered a salad and a side. Every single side on the menu sounded delicious, but I have an ardent love affair with roasted beets, so obviously there was no other option but to go for the Roasted Beets and Saba. The beets were perfectly cooked (there’s nothing worse than undercooked beets), and had a beautiful balance of oil and saba, which complimented their slight sweetness.
For our salad course we choice a typical Italian combo that consisted of arugula, prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and parmesean, and was equally delicious. Even my friend, a male that proves his manlihood by eating red meat raw and drinking beers by the case, was impressed. It was light and flavorful, with a generous amount of both prosciutto and parmesean. Both were gone in a matter of minutes.
While the pizzas and main courses sounded amazing, we could not pass up the $10 dollar pasta menu. Ok side note for one second. WHERE in New York can you find a pasta dish, in a restaurant, by MARIO BATALI no less, for $10. I assure you, you can’t. Okay, maybe you can at Eurpoa Café, but let’s not go there.
I was having issues (surprise, surprise) deciding between the LINGUINE ALLA CARRETTIERA and the TACCOZZETTE CON STRACOTTO, mostly because I wanted the linguini as the pasta but I wanted the stracotto ragu as the sauce. To my delight, the lovely (and obviously telepathic) sever asked if my issue was with the pasta type, to which I begrudgingly replied it was, and she happily offered to substitute the linguini for the taccozzette. BUONISSIMO! When it arrived, steaming, I was immediately offered an abundance of fresh parmesean, which I gratefully accepted. The pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente, the sauce was thick and rich with just enough garlic and salt. The scracotto (braised pork shoulder, for you non-italians) was just on the rare side and melted in my mouth. It was, overall, a fabulous dish.
My friend ordered FUSILI CON SAUSAGE E ESCAROLE, and it was equally delish. I am not a huge fusili fan and I still though that this dish was awesome. The sausage was juicy and there was plenty of it, and the escarole added a nice green color to the plate, as well as a slight bitterness which balanced the sweet sausage well.
Overall, the meal was a hit. And for a total of $28 dollars each including tax, tip, and vino, it is a deal you won’t find in most places, especially with the name Batali behind it. DIY-NYC gives Mario’s casual Italian venture a huge DUE thumbs up. So good we will even temporarily forgive him for his atrocious fascination with Crocs.
Bring a little Batali home with his amazingly simple and authentic recipe for a classic Roman specialty. Recipe taken from Batali’s cookbook based off the simple recipes brought to you at OTTO, MOLTO GUSTO.
MARIO BATALI’S SPAGHETTI CACIO E PEPE
1/4 cup coarsely ground black
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound dried linguine, Bavette, or SPaghetti
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for serving
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
* TRADITIONALLY YOU SHOULD USE 1/2 CUP CACIO DI ROMA CHEESE… BUT THE RECIPE HAS BEEN ADAPTED FOR AN AMERICAN/INTERNATIONAL KITCHEN WHERE CACIO DI ROMA MIGHT BE HARD TO FIND
Meanwhile, set another large pot over medium heat, add the pepper, and toast, stirring, until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the oil and butter and stir occasionally until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat. Drop the pasta into boiling water and cook until just al dente. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.