Went to Otto last Friday night, arrived dripping ever so much (it was raining) and was immediately welcomed into the warmness. A party of four we were told it would be a wait of at least 40 minutes so we got our ticket and moved the bar. One note about the waiting game at Otto, you're given a ticket and an alias, when your table is ready, they write your alias on a chalkboard near the entrance. Fun system but also a pain in the ass, when you're having fun at the bar, who wants to keep listening for a weird Italian name that has been randomly asigned to you???
on to the food. instead of getting one of the high cafe tables, we opted for a windowsill and followed another diners lead by using it as a bench. very fun! the bar tender and waiter were very helpful navigating the two menus - the "assaggi dei vini" which was three tasting menus (cheese, fish and meat)of three pre-selected items each paired with a 1/2 to 1/3 glass of wine. the other menu is the full menu. all of us chowhounds and one of us a veggie, we opted to share the fish and cheese tasting menus from the "assaggi dei vini".
To wet your appetite, they bring around bread and three spreads which they dole out from huge quart-sized preserve jars carried around in a wooden crate honey with black truffles, curried pears and cherries preserved in amaretto. Loved the honey (in fact I wanted to eat it with everything) and the cherries could go without the pears.
Fish vs. cheese. The cheese won hands down. The Toma paired with erbaluce di caluso (ferrando 2001, piemonte) was a hit. We all loved the wine and liked the cheese, great cheese for a picnic or on a sandwich, but not a standout. Next was pecorino ginpro paired with a chianti classico (cennatoio 2000, toscana). The chianti was too earthy and the cheese too rindy for me but the wine was a favorite of everyone else. The final pairing was hands down the best, we all loved them both: a creamy, fluffy capretto with a brindisi riserva vigna flamino (vallone 1997, puglia). With the exception of the chianti (which only comes in the 5L bottle) each of the wines on the cheese course were available by the bottle and less than $20.
The fish. Mussels paired with pinot grigio (plus bastianich 2000, friuli). Not a good match, the wine was way too sweet but we didnt mind, the mussels werent so great anyway, no flavor. The winner was the baby octopus paired with a refosco (furlan 2000, friuli). Drenched in a spicy sweet marinara sauce the baby octopi were a delight and the wine was a subtle fantastic table type wine. Last was scungilli with celery and chilis paired with lagreun (grieser colterenzio 2001, alto adige). Loved the wine and the scungilli was different but good.
For the main course we opted for three pizzas, a salad and a bruschetta. With a vegetarian we were limited and unable to get my first choice the Quattro stagioni (artichockes, mushrooms, cotto and asparagus). Going meatless we chose 1) porcini and taleggio 2)fennel and bottarga and 3)potato anchovy and ricotta. The pizzas were nothing remarkable. The crust was two thick and chewy to be thin and crispy. It felt more like pizza on a pita than authentic Italian pizza. And warning the taleggio cheese is very strong with an almost offensive odor like really bad body odor or, dare I say it, pungent feminine odor. Although you cant smell it as you are eating it, it hangs in the air around the table. Also, the anchovy pizzas are only for anchovy lovers (I happen to be one but many are repulsed), the anchovies used are SUPERB light and fluffy they almost disintegrate when touched. However in anchovy land that means that the anchovy flavor dominates all the other flavors.
We ordered the lardo bruschetta which we adored except that it was hard to eat. The bread was nearly 2 ½ inches thick. Im not sure how wide your mouth is, but I had to struggle to get it in mine, which almost spoiled the subtle buttery-ness of the lardo.
The beet salad was a definite winner and something Id love to serve at Passover beets, horseradish, walnuts and juice. How could you go wrong?
Dessert cinched the experience. Although totally stuffed, we opted for three desserts and the grappa tasting flight (3 flavors for $12). The sorbetti was good but nothing fantastic strawberry rhubarb (good but there was no bite from the rhubarb), grapefruit with compare (obviously fabulous) and lemon basil (like the strawberry rhubarb, it was dominated by the lemon without even a hint of basil). We also had the olive oil gelato with strawberries and salt. Fruity, salty, sweet and creamy all at once, this was a GOOD dessert, especially after all the wine and cheese. My hands down favorite, and I think one of my favorite desserts ever, was the ricotta gelato with poached figs and candied walnuts. It was absolute heaven. Rich and sweet, this is a sophisticated dessert with distinct flavors that worked in perfect harmony. Paired with the pear grappa, I thought I was in heaven. Of the three grappa, the pear was by far the standout, we werent too impressed by the currant (too sweet) and raisin (just plain yucky) grappa. But the portions were generous and the price too low to beat.
What made our evening at otto a success was our groups willingness for total sharing. We tried as much stuff as possible and opted out of a pizza heavy evening. To make it even better next time Id again go with lots of antipasta dishes, two or more salads or a pasta/plate of the day, get no more than two pizzas (for a group of four) and go heavy on dessert. Its also a great place for just drinks and starters or just dessert