It was all a numbers game a few weeks ago at OTTO where I held my twenty-second birthday dinner extravaganza, with seven people, three courses, a single and singular Bear, and countless delicious moments, pun definitely intended. Otto means “eight” in Italian and is coincidentally a lucky number for the Chinese and a great omen for my twenty-second year. Lucky indeed that we chose to go to OTTO for a birthday dinner, because it turned out to be one of the best ones yet!
Located at 8th Street and 5th Avenue, OTTO is Mario Batali’s casual pizzeria and enoteca. The 8th Street entrance is a short walk from the 8th Street station on the N and R trains, the Astor Place station on the 6 train, W 4th Street station on the A, B, C, D, E, F, and M trains, or the Christopher Street – Sheridan Square station on the 1 train.
Because of the ubiquitous detours and delays that plague New York City transit, we took full advantage of the charming enoteca at OTTO. The hostess ushered us over to tables set at bar height, with a full view of the pizza-making process and the ample bar while we waited for our whole party to arrive. She offered us the extensive drink menu and wine list, and we had a fun time people-watching the large assembly of young professionals yelling, “Chug! Chug! Chug!” as their peers downed half-glasses of expensive wine.
Once we were seated we were presented with paper-wrapped bread, which was excitingly dairy-free. For those of you who are unfamiliar with our experiences at Italian restaurants, edible bread is the equivalent of free boxes of Mike and Ikes at the movie theater—a rare and delicious occurrence that enhances the entire experience. While I would have liked olive oil to accompany the bread, the server did not provide any, although I’m sure he would have been accommodating had we remembered to ask.
Our server asked us for a wine selection and though we were at an enoteca, I know nothing of wine, other than that I prefer white to red and I hardly order it at restaurants save for special occasions. For a dinner drink, I have been told red is more preferable, so on a whim, I asked for a rosé. (If it’s not obvious already, I’m a pink sort of princess.) Our server suggested sparkling, which seemed appropriate for a celebration, and he brought a bottle of the Flor ROSE’, which is the rosé version of Mario Batali’s house prosecco. The bottle itself was gorgeous—just a simple lavender and gold fleur-de-lis in the absence of a label, and the rosy hue combined with the delicate bubbles solidified its status as a wine for a princess. (But the non-royal guests also enjoyed the wine.)
For my dinner I ordered the bucatini alla gricia from the pasta menu. I informed our server of my food allergies, and he was immediately accommodating and understanding. He guaranteed my plate would have no cheese, and answered with a confidence that suggested a practiced policy at OTTO.
The bucatini was a thick spaghetti-like noodle, somewhere in thickness between traditional spaghetti and a fat lo mein noodle. The dish also contained guanciale, a thick, bacon-like fatty pork meat, sliced into morsels and crisped to perfection. The sauce was an olive-oil-based drizzle with sweet onions and cracked black pepper that added an unexpected kick. Normally I shy away from spicy food, but the pepper actually enhanced the caramelized onions and gave what I suspect food critics mean by “body” to the dish. Though the portions were not excessive, I felt quite full by the food, which is hard to accomplish.
By some subtle hinting and not-so-subtle-bluntly-stating by one of my favorite people, our server along with several other servers in tow brought a sparkling chalice of two-toned sorbet, embellished with a waffle cookie and a candle so fancy that it seemed previously unused. (All my candles have been previously used, even the fancy ones. Especially the fancy ones.) The blood orange and tangerine sorbetto combination was the perfect citrus-y counterpart to the pasta: light and tangy and juicy in juxtaposition with the overwhelmingly savory combination of pork, onions, and pepper. Bear loves ice cream and complimentary dessert is definitely something we can get behind. (See above re: hypothetical free candy.)
Our dinner party of seven consisted of cousins and close friends and the rest of the OTTO clientele seemed to be similar groups gathering for special occasions and celebrations. Most groups of students seemed to be from the neighboring NYU, but there were several families with young children, and many dates there as well. Eating at OTTO definitely adds up on a special occasion, especially if you choose to include appetizers, desserts, wine, or other drinks in your selection, but the menu itself is reasonably priced for a fun weekend excursion on a student budget. Of course, we recommend that you find a mysterious benefactor to treat you to delicious Italian meals whenever possible. (Note to potential mysterious benefactors: please refer to the Contact Us page.)
We had a magical evening at OTTO, twirling pasta, clinking wine glasses, and sharing dessert. All in all, it was a perfect birthday dinner. I would highly recommend OTTO anyone looking to celebrate a birthday, a new job, a new haircut, or really any other occasion. I really appreciate Mario Batali’s dedication to excellent customer service and food allergies, as we have always had great experiences at his eateries. (He’s so Brunch-with-Bear-friendly that we should call him Mario Bear-tali.) The staff is always ready to answer questions, and when they are unsure, they are comfortable asking the kitchen to confirm. The restaurant itself is charming and as a whole, OTTO is highly accommodating and warm, and welcomes everyone from men chugging wine to birthday girls with teddy bears.