Every once in a while, my chowdar goes awry.
From print reviews, personal observations, and Chowhound posts, I like to figure out if I'll like a place before I eat there. And if this type of triangulation come to a sad conclusion, I try to avoid places -- especially loud, trendy, noisy, crowded places that I fear will be annoying.
A few months ago, some friends and I had dinner at Cru and we stopped at Otto around midnight, after they had stopped serving food. I wanted to look around, and the maitre 'd couldn't have been nicer. He gave us a tour of the place and urged us to come visit.
So, a few months later, we did.
Yes, it was packed at 8 on a Saturday night, but the hostess greeted us with a smile and what turned out to be a totally accurate estimate of our wait time. We obtained one of the tables in the bar area, and a courteous and friendly waiter took our drink orders, and was helpful in wine selections.
When our table was ready, we had just ordered another round of drinks. Everything was handled with aplomb and a smile.
This extended to our waiter, who seemed a little disappointed when we didn't have too many questions about the menu, but couldn't have been more efficient and helpful.
And then there was the food. Everything I ate was delicious. The caponata and cauliflower "alla Siciliana" were terrific appetizers. I've heard so much about the pizza at Otto that I was convinced that I would be disappointed by it before I had tried one bite. As I admitted upfront -- I'm an idiot. Maybe it was a fluke, but I thought that the cheeseless Aglio, Olio, and Pepperoncini pizza and the more traditional Quattro Formaggi were superb. The crusts must be thicker than they were when Otto opened. At first, it does feel crackery, but then the chewiness kicks in -- I loved the texture.
And then, of course, the gelato, which is easily the best I've ever had in New York. I wish I could say something original, but my favorite flavor among those I tried was the olive oil. But I also loved the caramel and hazelnut and, to a lesser extent, the gorgonzola. I hope, when I grow up, to be able to consume more than one speck of the intense chocolate gelato. My least favorite was the pear sorbet. These are adult, not-too-sweet desserts, balanced and satisfying.
We barely made a dent in the menu, not even trying any of the salads, the meats, and the very tempting cheese selection.
Yes, Otto was loud, and perhaps we were just lucky, but where we were seated (in the first room closest to the bar area), it was easy to carry on a conversation without screaming.
I loved just about everything about Otto, especially that you can go with a group when some of you are starving and others just want a bite. We didn't order that much, and consumed and paid for almost all of the liquor before we were seated, but we received the opposite of attitude -- smiles all around. And we weren't chased out when we lingered with some espresso after dessert.
I may be an idiot but I'm not crazy. Otto, I'll be back.