I know a lot of people who are nuts for Mario Batali's celebrated NYC hot spot Babbo. Needless to say, it is a lovely restaurant. Yet, I'm much more enamored with its casual cousin a few short blocks away -- Otto.
For years now, Otto -- or I should say "the bar at Otto" -- has been a regular go-to destination for many a lunch or dinner. In fact, I have a standing birthday lunch and Christmas Eve tradition at the restaurant's long marble counter, where I usually tuck into a number of the kitchen's glorious takes on veggies of the season, or "Verdure" as they are called on the menu. Whether I order all-year faves like Eggplant Caponatina and Cauliflower alla Siciliana, or venture into more seasonal selections like early summer's Asparagus & Pecorino and Corn & Fregola, I am always struck by the fresh, intense flavors that each little dish brings. And, then if I can't resist, I may have to dive into a wafer-thin Vongole Pizza topped with clams, garlic and mozzarella, or go for a twirl of my fork into a hearty rendition of Spaghetti all'Amatriciana.
And, did I mention the cheese that comes with marinated cherries, stewed apricots with chili pepper flakes, and a crack cocaine-like drizzle of truffle honey?
My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Now, you may ask why I specifically cite the restaurant's bar as my "go-to" rather than the entire pizzeria and enoteca itself. That's easy: Dennis, Frank and John, Otto's trifecta of amiable bartenders. No matter which one is behind the bar, they make you feel at home as soon as you sidle up, and are more than delighted to have you taste every gorgeous vino on the list until you find one that strikes your fancy. Don't want vino? How about a concoction known as a Bitter Wifey, marrying Bourbon with Mandarin Napoleon and OJ?
In addition, I have to say that there is also something about the buzzy cacophony in the bar area that simply makes me happy.
Oh, and one more thing...
Otto is home to one of the world's most remarkable gelato masters -- Meredith Kurtzman.
Want to try a Salty Peanut Tartufo, layered with bits of brilliant chocolate cake, Salty Peanut Gelato, butterscotch and milk chocolate?
Or how about an Olive Oil Coppetta comprised of Tangerine Sorbetto, Olive Oil Gelato, housemade fennel brittle, tart lime curd and blood oranges?
Then again, what about a lip-smacking twosome of rich Creme Fraiche Gelato and refreshing Cantaloupe Sorbetto?