A True Iron Chef

I'm sure you have all seen the Food Network show Iron Chef America. And you probably also know that many of the Iron Chefs have restaurants in New York and around the country. I have been to one of Bobby Flay's restaurants, Bar Americain, but had never been to any of Mario Batali's. Lucky for me, that all changed last night. I had heard of Otto since I moved to NYC, but had never been there before. So, I was very excited when it was suggested for dinner last night. (And I have to say, as much as I love being the one who always recommends or decides on a restaurant, it was so nice to have someone else pick for a change. Just tell me when and where, and I'm there!)

I didn't know much about Otto, except that it was Mario Batali's more casual restaurant...a "pizzeria," the website calls it. Once we were seated and given menus, it quickly became clear that it was much more than just a pizzeria. It was essentially an Italian version of Spanish tapas...with inexpensive, small plates. I was sold! I love sharing and being able to try a lot of different dishes on the menu, versus just ordering an entree.

I had begun to notice this "Italian tapas" trend creeping up around the city, and apparently I wasn't the only one to pick up on this. While Otto wasn't specifically mentioned, Adam Platt of New York magazine (my alma mater!) devoted an entire section to The Italian Small-Plates Invasion in the recent Where to Eat 2008 issue. I guess Mario was a few steps ahead of the trend, since Otto opened in 2003.

It was hard to decide which small plates to order because so many sounded great. After a little debate, we ordered a specialty bruschetta, a plate of three cheeses that we selected, two vegetable antipasti, and one pizza. It was the perfect amount of food for three people. The cheeses were all very good, and were served with a trio of dipping sauces to accent the flavors of the cheese. The pizza was cooked in a wood-burning oven, which always makes it taste so much better. They were all great choices.

Some suggestions:
- The bruschetta is del giorno (makes me think of Jim Carey's "soup du jour" comment in Dumb and Dumber!). On Tuesdays, it's the white bean and olive oil one that I had last night. Each day's sounded great though.
- The best dip was the honey with black and red pepper flakes. Sounds weird, I know. The only other time I eat honey is when I dip apples in it once a year! But, trust me, it was delicious.
- Don't hesitate to ask the waiter/waitress a lot of questions. Most of the menu is in Italian, so there were a lot of cheeses and meats I wasn't familiar with.

1 Fifth Avenue
@ 8th Street
Menu Pages listing