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Otto Enoteca Pizzeria


Fat Guy
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I am still following the fate of the pizzas with interest. Catching up on my reading, I saw that Moira Hodgson reviewed Otto for the Observer a couple of weeks ago. She liked the appetizers, raved about the gelatos, but described the pizzas as "incidental" - she had the usual complaints about the crust. She said that the beginning and end of the meal were good enough to make you forget the middle.

Doubtless to be continued...

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Good write-up, seeming to concur with a significant proportion of the posts here.

I had to laugh at the line in the second paragraph "The name (pronounced oh-toe) is Italian for eight" which proves conclusively that the writer is a reader of eGullet :laugh:

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John Mariani's writes:

"Let me start with the obvious: The pizza here ain't pizza at all. I cannot see how anyone-least of all Batali-could call the ultra-thin, lavash-like flatbreads cooked here on a stovetop griddle a pizza except that they're round pieces of dough. Debate all you want to about the virtues of a brick, wood burning oven versus a tile gas-burning oven, but not to cook pizza in any kind of oven is, shall we say, challenging?.......Unfortunately there were some problems with the griddle breads we did order, including one with lardo...that was not cooked through; another, with chard and goat's cheese was all right, but the margherita...was rather bland, its basil merely tossed fresh atop cheese and tomato only barely melded." He liked the gelati.

http://communities.prodigy.net/food/john.html

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(February 14, 2003)

URGENT URGENT URGENT

WARNING -- NEW YORK CITY IS IN A HIGH ALERT TERROR WARNING

PROTECT YOURSELF

HAVE THE GELATO FIRST

DO NOT RISK THE DELAY

I found myself down on 8th Street at lunch, so I hopped, skipped and jumped over to the infamous Otto (pronounced "Otto") to have some lunch. Not that I needed lunch, or any other dietary intake for the next few weeks. To get an understanding of what I'm talking about, see the first ten minutes of the movie "Seven". (Actually a good film, notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Pitt just can't act. Don't ya think that he and Jamie Oliver could have a nice fat tongue contest, whatever one of those may look like.)

I had been to the place a bunch of times when it was Clementine. It was dark and trendy with a long oak bar that ran down the length of the place. As mentioned above, Mario gutted the place. I think the only similarity is the cute little window on the door leading to the bathroom.

It is, in my opinion, spectacular. Whereas I'd always found the entry foyer dark, they managed to open up the windows and get a surprising amount of natural light. The front room is filled with tall, rectangular tables topped with cool, clean white marble, streaked in grey. They were probably made for the restaurant (unless someone else above reported otherwise) but they look as though they were rescued from a vintage bank or post office and restored. Here's a dark picture, and a picture of the antipasto station, with the odd choice of framing prominently a large collumn:

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Following the general genius of Italian cuisine, they took a few simple and fresh ingredients and made a beautiful room. The long white marble of the bar, framing a deep stained red wood bar back filled with hundreds of bottles of wine, spirits and grappa; The neat and clean block lettering. I thought it was an incredibly comfortable place, appearing, to my limited Italian experience, quite authentic, without at all looking like it was decorated by Pottery Barn.

I got in a 12:30, and there were only a few diners at tables in the main restaurant and one middle-aged couple at the bar. He sat curled on his bar stool, comfortable in cordaroys and marroon sweater vest, with a well-trimmed beard and thin hair pulled back in a pony tail. He reminded me of what I think Papa John would have looked like if not for all the herion. As I sat down, the waiter handed him the bill and said, "grazie". Hmm, actual Italians, I thought. She was small, wearing three shades of black, with black rimmed glasses and short, spiked salt and pepper hair. The she squinted behind the bar, and a breath of air lifted from her lungs and passed over what could only have been a rusty No. 9 wood file imbedded in her throat: "Graapa?" (think aapple) "Honey, whaat's graapa? Look at those pretty bottles."

The menu has been discussed at length above, so I wont go into it here:

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I decided to skip the antipasto, notwithstanding the raves it has received. The plates that other diners (who followed me) received sure looked good though.

I chose two pizzas, figuring I'd eat a little of each. After all, the pizzas suck, don't they? I chose the fennel & bottarga, and the prosciutto and arugala. Whilst waiting, I overheard an interesting converstion betwixt the waiter and a customer discussing the kitchen's continuing experimentation with the dough. Seems that they are well aware of the criticisms, and are trying something new every few weeks. (This means, of course, that the pizza I sampled may have been different from what other, less satisified people at a few weeks back.)

I ordered a glass of the Fratteli Tedeschi Amarone Della Valpolicela 2000 ($18), and the waiter poured a nice portion into a small decanter. I was so cold coming in that the first taste felt like warm tea. But as I warmed up, the wine got much better. I was also brought two slices of bread, wrapped nicely in paper:

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The pizzas arrived, and looked thus:

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At first glance, I thought the crust would be as bad as I'd heard. But it wasn't. Sure, this is not Original Famous Rays or othewise what I would think of as "New York" pizza. But this certainly wasn't matzoh or pita. The crust was thinner than average, and therefore not as chewy. And it doesn't have the ability to absorb some of the sauce. But it was not at all dry, crisp or crunchy. Nor was it without flavor. Perhaps it benefitted from the tomato and a white pizza would not have been as good. As can be seen in the pictures, the sauce and topping covered an appropriate and adequate portion of the pizza. The cheese was sublter -- nothing like the chewy melted moz from the usual slice.

The taste was, pretty good. (I have been suffering a little bug, so my palate was not up to its super-tasting best.) But not great. I just didn't think the flavor of the toppings came through. On the fennel and bottarga, the fennel was cooked with the pizza and added a very nice afterflavor. Not a strong anise bouquet, but rather a gentler caress in the back of the mouth towards the end of the bite. I didn't taste much of the bottarga at all, which surprised me. (Bottarga is a salted, dried block of tuna (or salmon) roe, that is powdered for this purpose.) But that could have been my illness.

For the proscuitto and arugala, it appeared that the toppings were not cooked with the pizza. Instead, the prosciutto was laid on top after slicing, and fresh arugala added thereafter. Have you ever tried to slice prosciutto with a table knife? It's not easy, and I ended up pulling ham all over the place. Mario, bubby, slice the damn ham with the pizza. The fresh arugala was a very good touch, with the aromatic greens giving a much different flavor than they would had they been cooked. Again, however, I didn't get much flavor from the prosciutto, and it was not nearly as salty as I expected.

I ate half of each and boxed up the rest.

Then the gelato. Pistachio, raison, and hazelnut. A bit stiff at $7 for what I'd call a medium sized bowl. But every bite was like falling into a thick, soft cushion. But this has been said above.

So, then, my final assessment. First, the question of whether this is pizza. Of course. What I was served is pizza. I've been to upscale places that try to appeal to the every-man by putting pizza on the menu and then serving a dull flat bread (like Tuscan no-salt bread) with inane "California" toppings. (I don't know, something like chiptole rubbed mango with seared ahi.) This wasn't that. It was a thin crust pizza. Thinner than average, to be sure. If it had been loaded with toppings it would have lost its rigidity and flopped forth like a flaccid pizzle. But it's not that kind of pizza. It's a lighter and gentler animal, that probably fits better in a meal where the appetizer of antipasto is more substantial than a regular appetizer and the entree is pizza is toned down more than a typical American entree. I think this pizza makes a great lunch.

On the other hand, I doubt if the pizza itself would have made a thoroughly satisfying dinner. Good pizza is a great thing. A mouthful of hot, chewy crust, with acidic tomato sauce and a spicy sausage or pepperoni topping is a wonderful, visceral, and absorbing eating sensation. This is not that.

And then there's the cost. The pizzas I got were, I think, $13 each (total of about $53 for the lunch). I'm guessing they were about 50% of the surface area that a "regular" pizza would get for the same price. That a lot of money for cutting back on the oomph. But at Otto, you get a beautiful room, and the opportunity to have at that gelato. What's that worth? (Of course, I've never been to DiFara's, nor do I claim to have. Not that it counts anyway, being in the outer burroughs.)

Edited by Stone (log)
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On the other hand, I doubt if the pizza itself would have made a thoroughly satisfying dinner.  Good pizza is a great thing.  A mouthful of hot, chewy crust, with acidic tomato sauce and a spicy sausage or pepperoni topping is a wonderful, visceral, and absorbing eating sensation.  This is not that.

Great report, Stone. Nice photographs.

I think the point is then that this is indeed "pizza". But not pizza.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Ed: "It's not pizza!  It's flatbread with toppings."

Isn't that what pizza is? Would people have been happier if Otto had more of a raised edge?

When I grew up, pizza was "NY" style (maybe New Haven style, I had pizza once near Yale but I don't recall it being much different) or Sicilian. Every pizza had cheese and tomato sauce. Topping including sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, mushrooms, olives. That's about it.

When I first saw fried eggplant, sauteed spinach, artichokes, sun dried tomato, and, God curse the demon son of the devil, pineapple on pizza, I cringed. Was that pizza?

Pizzaria Uno sells a grease laden monstrosity with a pastry crust.

Then came white pizzas with ricotta. Pizza is now served as salad pizza. (Stone them.) With pesto. And then, California Pizza Kitchen appeared to destroy everything traditional about the world. BBQ Chicken pizza. Pad Thai pizza. Feh pizza.

Maybe this will be Fat Guys' next Elle article, now that he's blown the lid off folks who slice and roll a peanut better sandwich and call it sushi.

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What with all the commotion I decided to try this place. It was a schlep for me to come in from upper Westchester but I thought I would see The Pianist and kill two birds, as they say. I loved the look of the place, especially the front room. I can see myself standing there wearing a Borsolino and smoking a long thin black cigar with a young Anna Magnani on my arm, feeding me olives.

What I would not be happy doing is eating those so-called pizzas. Very unsatisfying. I felt like scraping the toppings off and eating them as side dishes with my wine. Individual pizzas are great. thin crust pizzas are great. These are not great. They are an attempt to solve a problem--no pizza ovens allowed. IMO, they fail. Call them Biaylis with toppings for all I care. They are not very good eating

The Pianist, on the other hand does not disappoint.

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They are an attempt to solve a problem--no pizza ovens allowed.

This raises a very good point. Once Mario learned that he could not install a pizza oven in the kitchen of his pizza restaurant, why didn't he just find a new place? It seems terribly unnerving that a restaurantuer of his stature would let the space dictate how he was going to cook food. Imagine if Danny Meyer decided to open his BBQ joint in a place that wouldn't permit a smoker, but instead of finding new digs, decided to work around it by dipping all the meat into vats of liquid smoke? Or if a Brazillian rotisserie BBQ just had 100 Ronco rotisserie's in the back room.

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Individual pizzas are great. thin crust pizzas are great.  These are not great.  They are an attempt to solve a problem--no pizza ovens allowed.

This is the second account of a claim that no pizza ovens are or were allowed. To my knowledge, both accounts are unverified and it's likely the second feeds off the first. Has there been any published information that would make this a substantiated claim rather than rumor. Rumor has its place here, but only when it's not presented as fact.

I think Stone makes a good point and it tends to make me distrust the whole idea that everyone connected with Otto just forgot to research the pizza oven issue before signing the lease or that the professionals involved couldn't change paths if they wanted to at any point.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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This is the second account of a claim that no pizza ovens are or were allowed. To my knowledge, both accounts are unverified and it's likely the second feeds off the first. Has there been any published information that would make this a substantiated claim rather than rumor. Rumor has its place here, but only when it's not presented as fact.

I think Stone makes a good point and it tends to make me distrust the whole idea that everyone connected with Otto just forgot to research the pizza oven issue before signing the lease or that the professionals involved couldn't change paths if they wanted to at any point.

I was told by someone who is familiar with the negotiations that the building placed very firm restrictions on him. A coal or wood burning oven was totally off limits. He said he did not want to be like any other place with a conventional gas pizza oven so he went this way. Looking at the space, I think the design and layout is very different.

When I asked the owner of a Roman restaurant what he thought of the pizza concept he used, the Italian guy shrugged and said "management decision."

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I spoke to Mario and several of his team (two of those present were Italian) last Tuesday.  Originally, they wanted to do something very similar to "carta da musica," or Sardinian flat bread.  It failed.  It was too dry, too cracker-y, and didn't work with toppings.  So they modified it and made it a bit more moist, a bit thicker, etc.  (god knows what it was like when they first did it - a piece of wood?) I asked what it was similar to now, and they said "nothing."  That it's Otto's style of "pizza alla piastra" - which means pizza on steel, aka grill. I asked whether it had anything to do with Neopolitan pizza verace...and they said absolutely not.  It is now a unique Otto creation.  They described it as similar to the food in their other restaurants - Italian style with their own take on it.   There's a description of this approach on the Babbo website:

http://www.babbonyc.com/vision.html

That being said, some more words on the pizza - I have been to Otto 3 times.  The last time, when I was with an egullet group on Friday, the center was markedly soggier when it arrived at the table.  When I picked up  a piece, the corner even flopped over.  But the several inches starting from the edge arrived hard, with an unpleasant texture.  And moments after it arrived, the whole crust turned similarly hard.  Once again, I tried the crust plain on each pie, and found the crust utterly tasteless, odorless, and tough.  At one point I attempted to cut a piece off with a fork and a knife, and I had to saw and saw just to get the knife through (and this was not at the edge).  Blech.

During my conversations with members of the Otto staff, they confirmed that they could have put in standard pizza ovens, but not another kind (wood, coal, brick, whatever). And they were not interested in competing with other standard-oven pizza in NYC. They wanted to do something entirely different and unique in NYC, so they chose to do the pizza alla piastra.

What puzzles me is that they didn't test and "perfect" this thing - or at least finalize their version - before they opened. It's bizarre, and suggests a level of unpreparedness that is shocking, especially from a group that has opened restaurants successfully in the past. And that they're *still* tweaking it? I find that absurd. Didn't they taste it? Didn't they have people taste it? How long are they going to tweak? Ridiculous.

If Stone ate something that was substantially different than it was a few weeks ago, then obviously his review is not a review of the same food many of us ate. I'll go back when I've determined that they've opened the show, and are no longer in previews. Until such time, the reviews of the "pizza" are meaningless, since it keeps changing, unless someone is interested in their progression. I, for one, am not interested in paying full ticket price for rehearsals, or helping them figure out how to put one foot in front of the other. They should be giving those pizzas away, or at least charging half price or some such thing, if they're still soliciting customer criticism and are openly acknowledging that it's a work in progress.

Edited by La Niña (log)
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If Stone ate something that was substantially different than it was a few weeks ago, then obviously his review is not a review of the same food many of us ate.

Definitely true, and I hope I remembered to put that qualification into the review. (I don't know if they're openly acknowledging anything. I was eavesdropping a bit. Poor ettiqutte on my part?) But even if the pizza is a rehearsal, go for the gelato. And one of the many authentic original rays is right up the block at 11th street.

Edited by Stone (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...

Grimes' A Pizzeria Where You Can Skip the Pizza in the Times, Wednesday February 26th.

My advice is not to overcommit to the pizza. Some are terrific, notably the pizza topped with lardo, or cured salt pork... The crust, which was chewy bordering on tough in the early days, improved greatly with time, becoming lighter and flakier.

Otto has average pizzas, good pizzas, excellent pizzas and odd pizzas...

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Ron Johnson said: "...Interesting read..."

Interesting? No, I think it's a schizophrenic review and 2 stars is just nuts! And a 23 page thread on a pizza joint, even a pizza joint with Mario makin' the pies, is almost as nuts!!!

BeeT's :blink:

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For what its worth, I thought Grimes's review was dead on accurate.

So you agree with this, then?

"The crust, which was chewy bordering on tough in the early days..."

Chewy yes, but not unpleasantly so.

I thought the review was very representative of the restaurant and his general assessment of the pizza was pretty accurate.

Really, I think microscopic analysis of a reviewer's tastes is rather fruitless when you are dealing with restaurant reviews.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Interesting that it was the Underground Gourmet, and nice of them to mention the name of the pastry chef. Something I found glaringly absent from Grimes' review. Especially in lite of how the desserts were a particular high point of many peoples meals there.

edit: certainly they were for mine.

Nick

Edited by Nick Gatti (log)
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The thin crust, first griddled and then broiled to warm the toppings, is acceptable straight out of the kitchen, but becomes tough and unpleasant as it cools.

I left my leftovers out on the counter overnight. It was neither tough nor particularly unpleasant the next morning.

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Last Saturday, about 4:00 PM. The Village around NYU is packed on the first pleasant afternoon in ages. The Grey Art Gallery has a small, interesting show on the Park Avenue Cubists. The Strand was impossible. Inside Otto, every seat at the bar is taken. None of the standup tables is occupied. There are two names on the waiting board.

RS: "How long will we have to wait if we come back at about 6 o'clock?"

Typically good looking Italian guy, speaking with his whole body: "If you come at 6, you wait maybe a half hour, forty five minutes. If you come at 5:45, you wait maybe twenty minutes. If you come at 7, you wait an hour, more, who knows?" The latter comes with a shrug suggesting the unknowability of the universe itself.

We return for our first visit to Otto at 5:30. The bar is still busy, the barroom is still quiet. There are still just two (different) names on the board. We give our names, and are given Vicenza as our code town, to be posted on the waiting board when our table is ready. Another couple arrives, the man opens his mouth to speak, but the good looking Italian guy holds up his hand, stopping the new guest before he can utter a word. As he turns 180 degrees to face an attractive young woman who is leaving, his gains a devastating smile and focused eyes. With the latest arrivals now at his back, he devotes a positively selfless couple of minutes to the circumstances of this young woman's life, ending with the assurance that she will find him right there, waiting for her, when she comes back from LA. He turns back to business with a recitation of the arrival essentials. The other guy never said a word. All I could think of was Sid Caesar.

At 6:00, Vicenza, last on a list now grown to six, went up on the board, and we were shown to a table. We ordered a plate of Lonza, inscrutably described as "thicker" than prosciutto, but served sliced to translucence by one of Mario's sexy red machines. As are all pork products at Batali establishments, it was delicious. We ate it with the commercial grissini Torinesi that are ubiquitous in Italy, but rarely seen here. Then, some artichokes and some cauliflower, both very good. The cauliflower had almonds, maybe raisins and a hint of heat. The artichokes were cut up with red onion, pepper flakes, who knows what else. The table next to us ordered the large plates of both meat and fish appetizers. We thought later that a good strategy would be to have a pizza to start, followed by a goodly selection of these appetizers, bruschetta and/or the daily fritto as the body of the meal. The fritto on saturday was chickpea puree, which was bland.

You just have to take the "pizza" for what it is: flatbread dough topped with first quality ingredients, griddled and broiled. Eat it as fast as you can. The vaunted lardo struck me as a bridge too far, even for Mario. Melted fat on bread, seasoned and drizzled with good oil. Maybe one slice. The Margherita "DOC" (I love that) was delicious. Those toppings on a first class new york pizza crust, yum.

We drank quartini of chainti and a merlot-cabernet blend, $9 and $11 respectively.They were both better than average house wines. We resisted an attempted upsell to the more expensive carafes. No need with this food. As it was, this was the equivalent of a $40. bottle, more than one would normally spend at a pizza place, but right for the rest of the food we ate.

The gelato was exemplary.

We could see the kitchen door from our table. It never stopped swinging. When we left at 7:30, there was no place to sit or stand anywhere in the restaurant. The good looking Italian guy is near the door, waving ciao to everyone. Business couldn't be better.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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  • 1 month later...

He Who Only Eats and I finally made it to Otto last night (Saturday). We arrived about 10:20 pm and were told we'd have a 30 to 45 minute wait. Turned out to be about 30. Enoteca was close to full.

While waiting, we started a bottle of Poderuccio Toscana 2000, a cheapie ($30) Super Tuscan -- the label only said "Indicazione Geografica Tipica." Not having had any ST before, can't say how representative a specimen it was. But as it opened up, it was very pleasant: a tiny bit smoky, smooth, maybe a little thin but good with or without food.

Once seated, we decided that the noise level was many times higher than the Bottom Line, where we'd just come from (Olu Dara :wub::wub: ). Our waiter didn't seem to like my telling him that no, we had not been there before but yes, I fully understood the menu. So he insisted on "explaining" (=listing) the daily specials, which are all listed on the menu anyway. And I don't think he wanted to answer my question about did they happen to have cardoons? :wink: But since it was so loud, we didn't have to listen to him. Anyway, he stopped coming to our table eventually and we dealt with someone else for most of the meal.

We ordered:

Antipasti: artichokes; cipolline; testa; scungilli.

Pizza: Funghi & Tallegio (one for the two of us).

The artichokes were wonderful: flavored with lemon zest and sweet onion strands.

The cipolline were just okay; neither really sweet, nor sweet/sour. And there was a LOT of cooked green and red pepper with them -- not my favorite filler. The cipolline at Prune were much better.

Testa was one of the best things I've ever eaten. Very obviously lots of tongue; I'm not sure of the source locations of the other bits of meat. What really got me about it, though, was the flavoring with orange zest (and maybe a hint of cinnamon?). Never had anything like it.

Scungilli was also just okay. Seemed pretty much your standard scungilli salad, with lots of thinly sliced celery and a mild, lemony dressing. Unfortunately, I think the portion was peppered AFTER it was placed in the serving ramekin, so the first spoonful I took was way too peppery, and the rest lacked it entirely.

Since we'd never been before, I can't say if the pizza has improved since the place opened. But once we got used to it, we both thought it delicious. Yes, the crust did seem to have some salt in the dough so it had flavor, and was nicely charred in places. A bit more chewy than crisp, didn't flop when picked up. Of course, with portobellos and tallegio, even matzo would taste good. This was much better than matzo, though.

At one point, our original waiter came over to clear some plates, and asked if we'd like more bread. Yes. So he took my partially-eaten bread, and disappeared. For a long time. Eventually another waiter noticed my bread-deprived wild look and came over, apologizing that they had run out of bread. (!)

Of course we had to have dessert: some each of the lemon-basil sorbetto, caramel gelato, and hazelnut stracciatella gelato. I was a bit surprised that HWOE wanted the caramel, because he's not that fond of sweet stuff. No need to fear, though. It was just this side of burnt sugar, with a little sugar sweetness left, a little bitterness starting to make itself known. The hazelnut was merely great. And the lemon-basil sorbetto was tart, herbacious but not overpoweringly so, and just sweet enough to still be dessert instead of a palate cleanser. Wingding, great work!

Rich, fragrant espresso, both regular and decaf, with good crema.

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in today's NYT, asimov mentions how silly it is to serve the clams on the clam pizza in their shells, noting that you have to shuck them before the crust cools and becomes rubbery.

also mentioned in this "In Defense of Weird Food" article is the foie gras/dark chocolate combo at Lutece, which i found extremely appealing. here's the link.

Edited by tommy (log)
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