Ordering in from Otto

As a New York based food blogger, I often make an effort to vary my posts so that those of you not in New York–which, I imagine, is actually the large majority of you–can feel like I’m speaking to you too.

But this post, despite its New York specificity, has what I imagine is universal appeal–mostly because of a chef that I’ve loved and admired for as long as I’ve been interested in cooking. That chef is Mario Batali.

Mario’s show “Molto Mario” was the show, along with Sarah Moulton’s “Sarah’s Secrets,” that coaxed me out of my law school slump and lured me into the kitchen. I vividly remember making a braised lamb dish that Mario made on his show (I still have the recipe protected in a plastic sleeve (I should make it again!)) that was so intoxicatingly good, it was like a gateway drug that propelled me into a world of hardcore cooking and eating from which I have no plan to escape.

Which is why, last week, when Craig was in North Carolina for a film festival and I couldn’t muster the energy to cook (“Wait? Didn’t you just say in your last paragraph…?” “Shut up!”) I began looking up delivery options in my new ‘hood. I’d ordered previously from the West Village Grand Sichuan and I must say, as much as I wanted to love it, it was really disappointing. My heart will always belong to the Grand Sichuan on St. Mark’s.

After some clicking around, though, I made a discovery: Otto–one of Mario Batali’s earliest New York restaurants–delivers. Not only that, I was in the zone for delivery; I could get Mario Batali food delivered to my door.

See why this is so exciting and universally relevant? Because everyone can relate to the excitement of having food cooked by their chef hero delivered to their door! And, true, this food wouldn’t be cooked by him directly; but it would be food overseen by him or, at the very least, inspired by him. I began studying the online menu with great enthusiasm.

And the food that I ordered was food that I felt best reflected the TV Mario who inspired my oh so many years ago (8 years ago, in fact, if you do the math). I ordered cardoons with bagna cauda–a vegetable and a sauce Mario addressed numerous times during his reign–and a pizza Napoletana with Tomato, Anchovy, Capers, Chiles, Mozzarella.

Ok, so the pizza didn’t necessarily reflect Mario, but I felt better about ordering a pizza delivered than pasta; I make pasta all the time and even if it’s Mario inspired pasta, I can’t imagine after journeying the fifteen blocks or so that it’d taste very good. That’s why I chose pizza.

And so here it is, the food unwrapped:


Let’s start with the cardoons. To be able to order such an unusual vegetable delivered to your door is a privilege. If I remember correctly, a cardoon looks a lot like celery, only with a rougher exterior that must be peeled off. The cardoons here were cooked well–not too mushy, still al dente–and paired really well with the bagna cauda (a sauce made with garlic and anchovies melted in oil). Was it a revelation? No, not really. It had a certain refrigerated quality to it that was hard to overcome. But for food delivered to your door, it was pretty impressive.

As for the pizza, what can I say? I quote the great Regina Schrambling who, on Twitter, in response to my Tweet about ordering from Otto, Tweeted back: “Wakeup call coming. Let me know if pizza crusts still taste like communion hosts.”

I wish I could say that she was wrong, but that was one cardboard-y pizza. The toppings were nice: the anchovies a higher grade anchovy than you might get from a traditional pizza joint, ditto the olives and the sauce. But as a whole, this was one sad, cold pizza.

What’s the moral here? Don’t put pizza on a pedestal before you eat it? Or: no matter how much you admire them, even your heros are fallible?

Nah, I think the moral is one that isn’t so universal after all: when ordering from Otto, don’t order pizza.

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