I went to Otto with three other people last night and was able to sample quite a bit of their fare. I am a determined Batali fan: by this I mean I loved Babbo so much the first time I went that I have wanted, badly, to love the rest of his restaurants, but if I am to be totally honest, I have been disappointed more often than delighted. But I have to say last night's meal challenged me like no other.
First of all, the restaurant is unbelievably noisy. Our table received a small piece of bread wrapped Houdini-style in paper, and we kept having to ask for (and wrestle with) more of these throughout the evening. We ordered an olive plate; funghi misti; eggplant caponatina; a home-made spicy salami; "arancine," the fried appetizer of the day (I'll explain in a sec); an assortment of three cheeses; and three pizzas. Where do I begin? I have had better olives from Fairway, the mushrooms were cold and utterly flavorless as though scooped into a ramekin from a buffet table that had been sitting for hours, and the arancine - supposedly saffron-infused risotto balls stuffed with chicken liver and something else - were mealy and flavorless other than a slight dog-food aroma. But the saddest thing was what they called a "cheese plate." Never, ever, in my entire life have I seen more miserly portions of cheese - the four of us trying to share them became almost comical as we gingerly cut a few crumbs off the "primary crumb" on the plate. They generously gave us really delicious condiments for the cheese, and as a result I may never again eat cheese without honey or some other sweet foil, but since we each barely got a taste, the delight was fleeting.
The pizzas were mediocre at best: fresh ingredients on a crust that was unreasonably chewy for something so thin. None of our toppings stood out: the special salami pizza of the day got an "...um, interesting flavor," but that was about it.
Finally, the desserts. Mind you, by this point we had all but stopped trying to make conversation over the din, but we still ordered three: an olive oil gelato with salt and fresh raspberries, a ricotta gelato with figs and walnuts, and some fruit and amaretto thing I didn't read about on the menu. The olive oil gelato was one of those one-taste-was-plenty experiences: the olive oil slickness lingered unpleasantly on the palate. The ricotta gelato was intensely lemony, which I did not expect, and my friend said the reconstituted fig was of an unpalatable texture. The amaretto thing, well, I can't be very objective as it's not a flavor that appeals to me.
The best thing about the meal? Either the cheeses, however microscopic the portions, or the espresso, which was smooth and hot, just as espresso should be.
So now I'm curious - what have other people thought of this place? Was this just a bad experience, or is this restaurant really as avoid-worthy as I thought?
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