You may think a Mario Battali/Joe Bastianich restaurant is going to be expensive. Not so with Otto. I can have lunch for $10 and be satisfied. I also can spend more and enjoy the meal; it just depends upon my mood.
I decided to try Otto on Eighth Street in the One Fifth Avenue building because of the location, and because of the famous names attached to it. Now this restaurant is one of my favorites due to the cuisine and the staff, which makes me feel welcome on each visit, especially Ray, the floor captain. He is always willing to answer questions about the menu without making me feel I should know that ingredient.
The atmosphere is relaxed — I do not seem out of place in my casual tour guide attire — but it can get noisy at lunch with families and children or business meetings. As a people watcher, I enjoy the busyness.
But I do go for the food! Wonderful salads, especially the chopped salad, which can contain different ingredients, depending upon the day and the season. Beans and Italian dried sausage, hard cheese with the greens and various vegetables all work together for a filling entré. The $10 salad and the crusty bread brought to the table when being seated provide me with a satisfying meal.
Depending upon the weather, I may choose one of the pastas, also about $10 per plate. Pasta ala Norma is a rich tomato sauce with roasted eggplant, fresh basil and Bufala Ricotta — pure pleasure on a cold day. Also, the Taccozzette con Stracotto (braised pork shoulder with basil and tomato) is flavorful and more than enough to fill me up.
I have tried several of the small dishes, vegetable antipasti, and thoroughly enjoy this style of grazing at lunch. Red beets diced with herbs, brussel sprouts, spicy rabe...I have ordered too much and had to ask for a take home package.
Try one of the small plate pizzas — again too large for me to eat at one seating, but fun! Toppings range from Fennel & Bottarga to Margherita pies. With the range available, you cannot get bored or tired of visiting Otto.
If you still have room for dessert, go for it. Only once did I have enough courage to stuff myself with dessert and loved it!