22 Feb The EATORIALIST: WHEN THE BAR IS THE STAR, OTTO
At OTTO, the restaurant at One Fifth Avenue, a 1927 Art Deco apartment house at the corner of 8th Street in Greenwich Village, you’re in for some rustic Italian eats courtesy of the media-meal-man of Food Network fame, Mario Batali. He’s often in residence and easy to spot – there’s no mistaking the signature trademarks of thinning ginger frocks and fulsome girth atop the Crocs of this chef and restauranteur extradordinaire.
Years ago we’d stop for a drink at the bar of One Fifth, the longtime restaurant that was all about clubby 20th century dining style. Now, however, instead of a martini and steak you’re likely to be pairing vino to pasta, pizza and antipasti. It’s a good thing that Mr. Batali aims to please your palate as well as your pocket – you’ll be hard pressed to find another restaurant in NYC, or for that fact, America, where an exceptional bowl of fusilli con escarole and sausage comes in at $10. Ditto for tasty thin-crusted pizzas like a Margherita with buffalo mozzarella ($11) and flavor-packed antipasti plates. At OTTO, Get ready for lots of soddisfacente delizioso-ness at this trattoria that is as much neighborhood hangout as it is destination dine.
About that dine, skip over the dining room – gone are its prewar charms, replaced with a middlebrow hotel sensibility of bad light fixtures and budget-issue furnishings that are all tied together with sensory dulling maroon colored carpeting. Thankfully the front-of-house barroom has a design of its own.
Reminiscent of a price of viagra train station by way of Italy, stand-at-only counters populate a polished space anchored by a long wide white marble bar. Shelves stocked with wine are a backdrop of the bar packed with regulars and attended by barmen that guard the seats by the kitchen door should Mr. Batali pop-in to hold court. These keepers-of-Mario can be a bit gruff – almost as if they were protective childhood pals – in these otherwise welcoming environs. Even still, they know they’re stuff and are easy to ignore with all the comforts of this bar – the day’s New York Times and Daily News strewn about, the paper-wrapped crusty bread and, of course, the simple yet immensely satisfying arrives-in-no-time-flat you’re-in-Italy fare.
No doubts about it, the bar is the star at OTTO, NYC.