Mario Batali's Otto: The Honeymoon Is Over For This One-Hit Wonder (reprise for newfound Grub Street traffic)
The first time I was blown away. I left with a big old Mario Battali Kool-Aid mustache. The wine, the cheese plate, the drizzled cherries, the petite mort truffle honey, the smashed apricots... It was all somehow worth the preposterous Disneyland wait and I could almost forgive him for being a redhead, and wearing pink wool socks with orange Crocs year round.
Some time passed. Anticipation built. And built. And built. I was truly excited to return and do it all again. And this time we vowed to be patient and only sip wine while we waited and then order the cheese plate once we were relaxed and seated. And so we did.
This was the time for Otto to really knock my teeth out. Now was the time for Otto to grab its spot as a true legend and not just a one hit wonder with beginners luck. This was the time for Otto to shine like U2 with a catalog of hits, but instead Otto came off like Dexys Midnight Runners and Fine Young Cannibals. My first trip to Otto was a wet dream. The second trip... it left me high and dry: a typical celebuchef tourist trap veiled as some sort of iconic New York pearl. Mario's got the famous address, One Fifth Ave., but that's about it.
Let me start by saying yes, I do realise Otto offers a more "subtle and relaxed atmosphere" with a price tag that's significantly lower than that of Mario's other restaurants such as Del Posto, Esca, and Babbo. The majority of the dishes are under $15 and the wine list is extensive, but way too extensive. But if Otto is to be the Mario Battali gateway drug, they need to step it up a bit because the honeymoon is over, fellas.
The music in this place is not eclectic but downright schizophrenic! At one point we actually heard Cypress Hill's " How I Could Just Kill a Man"!!! It was just dumb.
All that being said, the cheese was again good. The portions were not. Its cheese, guys, its not gold. Break me off something legit, will ya? The cheese pairings remained stellar and unique. Furthermore, the lentils "Toscana" were deelish as were the carrots & parsnips with Aceto. These were just appetizers though.
For some reason I could not continue drinking my Riesling with dinner as they only serve it by the bottle once at the tables which makes absolutely no sense. So I was sipping a talented Riesling at the bar by the glass but when I sat down I had to order something else or order an entire bottle for myself. I then made the foolish mistake of letting our server suggest something she deemed Riesling-esque and it tasted like Boone's hooch.
My girl's Prosecco however was splendid and she WAS allowed to order by the glass at the bar AND the table! What a novel idea! Any self-respecting restaurant should know you never change horses midstream and switching a wine mid-dinner is just as unfortunate and lame. Rules like that are for Sbarro's and Pizzeria Uno not Otto: Enoteca to the stars!
Oh, we also had the famous Sformato di Parmigiano (parmigiano cheese soufflé) which was once again delicious but right around when munck and I started discussing and realising that everything must be flash frozen and then microwaved backstage before hitting the tables. There's no way it could all be ready so fast and it's the only way Mario Battali: oompa loompa to the stars could have quality control.
Oh, and did I mention our waitress had the personality of a damp slab of corrugated cardboard? I found the comatose gay couple seated next to us more entertaining.
The bread at Otto is crustaceous and delicious. We asked for a little plate of olive oil to dip our bread into and it tasted like apples; like actual oil made from green, sour apples. I've never tasted anything like it; even if it was extra extra extra virgin virgin olive oil, it tasted like ish; like oil squeezed out of unripened olives.
Our main course, a pasta we shared, was the icing on the farewell cake for Otto. They were on the ropes, and with this next bit, they were down for the 10 count. Not even the bizarre olive oil gelato could save them from what was about to transpire. Last time I'd had a simple "PASTA ALLA NORMA" which reminded me of the pasta featured in the all-u-can-eat buffet bar at your local CiCi's.
This time we ordered the "PENNE CON NOCI E ZUCCA" (penne with hazelnuts, butternut squash and smoked ricotta) but I think they gave us smoked mozzarella and it was absolutely ATROCIOUS.
It was like paint-by-numbers pasta. The opposite of subtle. My 2-year-old cousin could have done a better job. Heck, I could've even done better! Seriously. It was the clumsiest dish of pasta, ever. It was completely inelegant. It was bumbling, bungling, oafish, and downright ponderous! There were CHUNKS, strike that, ENORMOUS CUBES! of butternut squash big enough to choke a cavallo. The "smoked ricotta" was not melted at all. It was like Polly-O part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese straight from the bag in "your grocers freezer". It was clumsy.
Moreover, there was absolutely nothing sauce about any of it; it defied the laws of sauce. It was simply all these things assembled on a plate. It was penne, some hazelnuts, cubes of butternut squash and shredded smoked ricotta on a plate like some sort of ingredient roll call:
Penne? Present!The term "al dente" comes from Italian and means "to the tooth" or "to the bite", referring to the need to chew the pasta due to its firmness. In cooking, al dente describes pasta that has been cooked so as to be firm but not hard. Well, everything on my plate was al dente; from the pasta to the family sized chicken bouillon cubes of butternut squash.
Giant cubes of butternut squash? Present, sir.
Shredded smoked ricotta cheese?
Shredded smoked ricotta cheese?! HERE, SIR!
We picked at this dish like it was a slab of toxic moonstone and finally got the bill. We ordered some vanilla, olive oil and banana gelato which was decent but by then it was too little, too late.
Finally, the glossy postcard which we found conveniently tucked into our bill wallet proudly promoted Mario and Joseph Bastianich's "B&B Ristorante" in Las Vegas and I think that pretty much summed it all up.
Mario Batali has lost it. He is no longer a chef but now a cartoon character albeit with a rather respectable empire. And it's not that Batali has lost control, and its not that the inmates are running his asylum, its just that he doesn't give a fuck because he doesn't have to; Otto is on autopilot now and Batali is napping soundly on his laurels. He's out in Vegas with Lidia's son looking to milk some more tourists... and thats exactly it! He's aiming his guns at the rubes who think he's still in the back slaving over a Wolf with all 6 burners on high.
After a while you get the feeling that Batali thinks everyone is a rube and Otto isn't all that far removed from The Olive Garden. For reals.