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Otto--NEVER again

tried otto last night with hubby. once seated, a busboy threw some stale, burnt bread on the table (no olive oil) and left. this was it for 10-15 minutes until we had to ask another busboy if we could order. waiter comes over, harried but nice. ok, fine. i don't have to hate this place. WRONG! our app seemed to be waiting in the wings somehow (are they psychic) bc it came within a minute. no joke. (shrimp w/chickpeas) odd and immediately made us feel they wanted our table turned....fast. not cool, esp after standing in their ill-designed bar for 20 min. underwhelming pizzas came (i thought i ordered some flavor but...) and i needed something to put on them. hot oil, perhaps? i asked twice. on third attempt, busboy brought it. we never saw waiter after ordering, nobody checked to see how dinner was. i was pi**ed. told mgr (she brought the check as waiter must have been out smoking something and i hope it was better than our dinner) and she insincerely apologized, told us they were busy (aren't they always?) and that she was sorry we won't come back. it is the first time we've ever left a 12% tip.

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  1. the bread never comes with olive oil...as with some areas of Italy.

    there is no question that the service can be lacking in the back...which is why eating in the well-designed bar area is the way to go.

    the verdure, carne and pesce always come out quickly because they're all pre-prepped and served cold--as is normal with an enoteca in Rome (like Gusto for example).

    the pizzas can indeed be underwhelming...though again, more authentic than any others in NY. but I rarely order them since the rest of the menu is fantastic. the lardo pizza, however, is fantastic and flavorful.

    how were your wines?

    1. The bread is not burnt.. It has a chared crust and is supposed to come that way.. I would be really surprised if it were stale too.. Perhaps you did not like this bread.. I love it.Its from Suillivan St Bakery if I am not mistaken

      The shrimp w/ chickpeas is a cold salad that has already been made.. I really like this dish and Mario who is a lover of chickpeas really lets them shine in this offering..

      Agreed with that the waitstaff can be a little off..

      What didnt you like about the bar? Why was it designed wrong? I think the bar is gorgeous as well as the marble counter tops in the enterance.. Also the wines are really great there.. Joe Bastianich as your wine guy certianly helps..

      I wish you ordered dessert..

      1. I always think of the film THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN when I watch people dining at Otto. It really appears as if they're paying to be abused, between the din of the place, the impatient servers and the unexciting pizza. At least they char the crust, which is good.I was shocked they wont give you extra sauce on a pie, but so be it. Still, people go there to be able to say the've been, I guess. The pasta is not good at all. It is a fun place to have a drink early-ish, though. They pour a fair glass of wine and the bar has life until it gets so loud you can't hear what your date is saying.

        1 Reply
        1. re: sing me a bar

          I find that a little insulting for someone to say the only reason people go there is to say they have been .. Almost as insulting if I said, Mario Batalli cooks really good Italian food and anyone who doesnt like Otto should stick with Sabarros. Because they are not sophisticated enough to understand authentic Italian food. I understand that in the end its personal choice, but please dont discredit people who like this style of food. The same way the original poster had never had a perfectly charred piece of artisinal bread and decided to say it was burnt and stale? You say the pasta is not good at all? Have you tried every pasta? How could it not be good at all?

        2. i couldn't agree more.it is far too noisy, and not really worth the pain and agony.

          1. Sorry you didn't like Otto. Personally, I think the huge bar area is fabulous--it makes me actually not mind waiting for a table. And I love the flavorful Sullivan Street Bakery bread. And, while I don't think they have the best pizza in the city, I think it's pretty top notch and I love that you can get uncommon toppings like lardo and marinated anchovies. It is a harried, hectic place--probably not a good choice for a romantic meal or special occasion--but for a casual Friday-night dinner, I think it's great.


            1. Otto may be the best place in the city for a few glasses of reasonbly priced wine, a cheese plate, some meats, and some amazing gelato. But try to put together a multi course dinner, and I think it becomes mediocre. It is noisy but I sort of like the energy of the place. I just think the antipasti and desserts are much much better than the pizzas and pastas. Sorry you didn't have a good experience.

              1. JeremyEG, I agree.

                I think a lot of people go to Otto with false expectations.

                It is a wine bar with excellent small plates. if you think of Otto as equivalent to Ino or Inoteca...but with a far superior wine list...then it all makes sense.

                and, of course, the gelato is just a bonus.

                1. There's no accounting for taste and no excuse for bad service, but I happen to like Otto.

                  Excellent contorni, great wine list, fun (I think) environment. The pizza is good and authentic, though not, as one poster claimed, the most authentic in the city. I'd give that title to Una Pizza Napoletana. And the gelato is AMAZING. Olive oil gelato is a life-changing experience. The list of digestivi is also really cool.

                  Service can be spotty, though. The last time I was there, the sommelier looked at us like we were from space when we asked her to keep our white wine chilled.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Odelay101

                    OK, would like to respond to a few of your comments and I do appreciate them all.
                    --Nathan, the wine was great. Wonderful. I am sorry I didn't stop there. I have spent time in Rome and although some premaid verdure came out quickly, I never felt rushed. I can see why you and others would like the bar, it IS beautiful. But I walked there and didn't feel like standing for 20 minutes. It was our first time there and frankly, I would have worn more comfy shoes if I thought a seat wouldn't be readily available.

                    --Daniel, My bread was charred on the outside, I promise. And stale on the inside. I am sure some people like the charred outside and I may be alone in my take on this. And they did replace it with unstale, unburnt bread. Also, we did order dessert (some kind of caramel gelato) and it was great. Again, the wine was perfect.

                    After all the nice posts and recs from friends, I was most disappointed in service and expect more from Batali place. I adore Lupa and Babbo and expected a more gracious staff. Thanks again for all your feedback...

                  2. I like otto, but I will only go there during off-hours. Lunch after 2:30 and dinner before 6 or after 10:30. They serve food until midnight and the atmosphere improves the closer to midnight you get. I do agree that the service is pretty lackadaisical and spaced out and sometimes even condescending. The sommelier's are cool, though. They often come over if I order an unusual wine (even a cheap one) to see how we like it and the one time we thought a wine was possibly off, they readily replaced it.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: bolletje

                      I like Otto a lot as well and will definitely be back because I love the food, but the last time I was there, I had an experience far different from the poster's above. We were a group of 6 and ordered two bottles of the same wine, one of which tasted OK and one of which tasted off (according to me and a friend who had ordered the same wine there recently). I asked for a replacement and the manager brought it back and asked me to taste it again, saying that it was fine. I said no and that we had another bottle of the same wine sitting on the table that did not taste off and that we would like another. He reluctantly agreed after a 5 minute conversation. I might have understood if it had been an expensive bottle, but he was making me justify sending back a bottle that probably cost them $12 wholesale. Luckily the other times I have been, food and service have been great, so I won't hold this episode against the place unless and until it is repeated.

                    2. I personally like Otto very much... the Olive Oil and the Avocado gelatto are some of the best things I have ever eaten. But I once asked to have my Pizza crispy and the waiter almost had a stroke. (I like it that way... sorry if I'm unsophisticated!) And a friend just told me about an awful experience ther a few weeks ago... confused service, rude waitstaff, etc. So I think you take your chances there, and I think the poster above is right about going during off-hours.

                      1. I've been to Otto at least once a month since last year and I've never had a problem with service. I love the watermelon sorbetto.

                        1. I completely agree with JeremyEG. We have always gone there for an array of small plates, wine and then the "life-changing" olive oil gelato... and that bread!! But, based on the treatment the author of the o.p. described, I think they really need to be careful. Regardless of how great the food is, the treatment described is unacceptable and shameful. Whenever I encounter similar treatment at other great places, I can't help but wonder how well the staff is treated and whether they have adequate # of servers. It sounded like the author of the o.p. was initially ready to cut some slack just like we all do. It's busy, bad day, someone out sick, etc. but the whole experience seemed to spiral downward.

                          1. I live in the neighborhood and eat at Otto fairly often but I agree on several points raised here in this post.

                            1) AVOID Otto during peak times. It is NOT worth the wait and the harried vibe to eat there. Saturday and Sunday lunch are great times to go. It is not busy and therefore the service improves dramatically. It is fun to grab some wine and soak up the vibe in the bar on a weekend night but that is it.

                            2) This is a place you go to graze and drink good inexpensive wine NOT have a dining experience. It isn't meant to be a fine dining venue.

                            3) The food is meant to be simple and tasty. Since it is a BATALI place people build up expectations that are innapropriate. I have often heard people complain about the "undercooked" pasta and "bland" pizzas. The pasta is cooked al-dente, if it isn't your taste don't order it. I like it but I have plenty of friends that don't. The pizza's are all pretty simple preparations, the less adventurous ones ARE pretty bland (in my opinion).

                            There are always a good number a small plates, meats, pastas and pizzas to choose from to get a fun eating experience and plenty of yummy vino. Go off hours. Order lots of different things and drink some wine. You will probably walk away very happy.

                            1. I think this thread is hysterical. One poster said "the pizzas can indeed be underwhelming...though again, more authentic than any others in NY." Another said ". The pizza is good and authentic, though not, as one poster claimed, the most authentic in the city."

                              Actually, Gonzo and Otto are the only New York places I know that serve griddle cooked pizza, I've never had it in Italy at all. So do you mean it's authentic New York Pizza, or authentic griddled pizza, or what? Certainly not "authentic" Italian pizza - that's nearly always baked in a very hot wood or coal oven - rarely if ever on a griddle.

                              But who cares? The question is not whether it's authentic, the question is do you find the pizza to be delicious or not, and I'd have to say not...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: DavyTheFatBoy

                                Fair enough. I actually didn't realize that.

                              2. I actually enjoy going when it's busy so I can pace and stretch out my meal, have a glass, some olives, and some freebies at the bar, then antipasti when I sit down, end up being there for 3 hours.

                                1. I posted about my terrible experience at Otto on this board about a year and a half ago. A manager was so rude to me that I swore I'd never return, and I haven't. It's one thing when a waiter is rude; it's unpleasant, but it doesn't necessarily reflect on the whole establishment. When a manager is rude, though, it's hard to escape the conclusion that it's a restaurant run by jerks.

                                  If you read the reviews of Otto on citysearch or menupages, literally a third of them complain about rude treatment, so clearly Otto has a big problem in that area.

                                  1. One word to ensure good service: Lourdes. She's the best thing the restaurant has going-- she's knowledgeable, quick, and really pays attention. Whenever we go and sit at a table, we always, always ask for her. If you go back, ask to be seated in her section.

                                    We've got a review of Otto coming up this week, and while we had some service problems with the busboys (who are admittedly terrible), it was a pretty fine meal.


                                    NYCnosh* http://nycnosh.com

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Nosher

                                      well-stated comment, nightfly. this is exactly what i was implying.

                                      1. re: nativeNYer

                                        I have to agree with this as well. The food has always been outstanding and fresh. We had a few curt waitresses, but the male waiters have all been stellar and attentive - I cannot explain why (mixed group each time...). But the busboys have to be the most awkward, ham-fisted bunch I have ever seen in a mid-scale restaurant in NYC. Whether they are dropping plates, knocking over glasses or silently and aggressively running off with dishes that we are still eating from, it's a laugh a minute at Otto.

                                        I also agree with an earlier post that off-peak dining is best there. Great service, great food, and no rush at all.

                                    2. I happen to like Otto. However, the place is (forgive me) a stereotype of what Americans think Italy must be like. Neither the food nor the physical place bears any resemblance to anything I've experienced in Italy--Rome or elsewhere.

                                        1. I'm sorry Dutch, but this kind of argument hardly ever needs to be stated, because it comes off sounding elitist. OF COURSE it's not like anything in Italy - it's in Manhattan, run by Americans. I lived in Italy for almost 5 years during school, and indeed, the only way to get real Italian is - surprise! - to go to Italy.

                                          For what it is though - a throwback to casual, salumi-heavy enoteca cuisine - I have to say they do pretty well. It certainly makes me feel better when I get nostalgic.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: djwackfriz

                                            I also like their food; we're in agreement on everything you wrote. I was merely responding to some of the posts above, which to me seemed to suggest the initial poster didn't understand this was "real" Italian food and that may have been why they were underimpressed. I was merely responding to that (see above thread).

                                            1. re: DutchOenophile

                                              Ahhhh my mistake! I missed the earlier post. Darn my touchy Mediterranean roots!

                                          2. Otto like anything Mario outside of Babbo is overrated. The servers reaaly are pushy "A%$holes.

                                            1. I also swore off Otto after a visit several weeks ago - it was inexcusably bad! My girlfriend and I eat out more nights than not, and we have been to Otto several times before. We went between 5-6, were seated quickly in a half full room. The place was not busy - OR - understaffed. We waited 15 minutes to have someone come to the table to talk to us, had to ask someone other than our waitress to have our wine AFTER our appetizers had been served, and had to ask for our check at the end of the meal because no one stopped by to see how we were doing. The servers were all standing around talking, they clearly could have cared less. I can overlook many things, but this went too far. [Edit: and I like the food for the most part, which is why this made me so mad]

                                              1. I'm a fan, despite some service issues and food inconsistencies. On our latest visit on Sunday, there was a lot of confusion around the cheese plate (accompaniments and bread were given to us 5-10 minutes after the cheese arrived), but our server was otherwise friendly and knowledgeable. The food was also mostly very good. We loved the special pizza (smoked mozarella and eggplant), the cheeseplate, our simply-dressed salad, and of course the gelato. On the other hand, our bucatini was somewhat mushy (if you can believe it at a Batali place).

                                                1. this place sounds like a nightmare all the way around.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: hon

                                                    It is! I realized the crowd in there a night or so ago was like that at a Cheesecake Factory, (an L.A. venue), with unruly kids running around in gelato-fueled sugar tizzies, gloppy pasta and undressed pizzas. For the price, could they spring with some sauce?

                                                  2. actually Otto is very very similar to Gusto in Rome. but if you haven't been to Gusto you'd be forgiven for thinking that it is not like anything in Italy.

                                                    as for service issues, I can't speak to them as I've never bothered to sit at a table. why would you when there is a long spacious bar to eat at with impeccable service?

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Nathan07

                                                      Usually b/c I don't like to be crowded by people trying to get drinks at the bar.

                                                    2. i hate to admit this but i continue to go to otto even though i've literally had bussers aggressively throw the bread and breadsticks (unremarkable and barely edible, anyway) at my table without acknowledging our presence, remove food before we were finished, and sigh with disdain while wiping tables down.

                                                      the only possible redeeming quality is the eyecandy factor, which works for very few people.

                                                      the bar is nice but spacious is the key word - most of the time it's not. in the evenings it's so raucous and cramped that service tends to slow down. took me 15 minutes to get a cocktail once.

                                                      now, since all of this whining is said and done, i think i'll grab myself a nice cheap pasta dish there tomorrow evening.

                                                      1. that was a typical otto experience, but i dont think you should never go back again because of it

                                                        number 1... the bread NEVER comes with olive oil AND it is very rustic so of course it will be burned

                                                        number 2...its a bit of a crazy restaurant. we went there once and literally had 3 different waiters. its always chaos. you just have to expect that when you go there

                                                        regardless of the service, its still one of the better pizza places! maybe next time you go you should eat in the enoteca. you might enjoy it more! or, maybe you should try one of mario's other restaurants that aren't so chaotic!!

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: NiKoLe1625

                                                          so, in a city full of great restaurants who don't take their customers for granted (some do, of course, but i am not talking about them) you think we should spend more $$ there? to be treated like an afterthought? with bland pizza? no, thanks. but apparantly they have many fans (like you) to keep the chaos going. so G-d bless, enjoy. i'll be at Lupa....

                                                          1. re: fat parish

                                                            i've eaten at all of mario's restaurants and i'm not saying that i don't love lupa. its great! but i do also love Otto and i've never had anything short of a great meal there!

                                                        2. I have to say, for better food and service, though a similarly chaotic atomosphere, I prefer Le Zie. Been there several times and have yet to have a bad meal. No pizza, sadly.

                                                          1. I swore off Otto after my last experience there. We were a party of 6 and ordered a massive amount of food and wine. Everything was fine until dessert. I asked for a different flavor gelato than the one that came with the dessert and they refused. When asked why they said "that's the way the chef prepared it and we won't deviate". I insisted. It got to the point that the manager came over, we fought over it, and I got the flavor I wanted. Pleeeeaze-with a bill over $300 they can give a different flavor ball of ice cream. That they gave us such a difficult time crossed them off my list...even though I love their pizza.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: synergy

                                                              $300 for a party of 6? In Manhattan? I wouldn't say that qualifies as dropping big bucks, and sometimes you have to respect the fact that substitutions aren't done. Certainly not worth going to war over.

                                                              1. re: MagnumWino

                                                                MagnunWino, you are right. $300 isn't big bucks for a party of 6. I've spent much more for a party of 2 other places. It's the principle. We are talking about basically an upscale pizza place...not Per Se. It's the attitude they have that irked me.

                                                            2. This argument over changing a flavor of ice-cream is exactly why eating in Manhattan can sometimes verge on the ridiculous.

                                                              As for a waiter in Otto saying 'that is the way chef (never 'the' chef) prepares it', is hilarious. The waiters hardly know what day of the week it is in Otto. Still, they have great olive oil gelato, so if you can take the ritual abuse (and many, above, obviously can), then it may be worth it.

                                                              Not for me any more. Too old for this class of carry-on.

                                                              - Sean

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Sean Dell

                                                                THank you Sean Dell, my thoughts exactly.

                                                              2. Service can be spotty, but like many posters have said if you go during off hours its fun, reasonably priced and kid friendly. I think the carbonara is great. If you live near by they do deliver so you can have the gelatto, starters, pizza etc.. with out the service. Alas they dont deliver the carbonara.

                                                                1. i've never been to otto. don't expect i ever will. hell i'm lucky if i get to NYC once in five years so . . . will someone please tell me what olive oil gelato tastes like.

                                                                  1. I like Otto a lot. It's a casual winebar where anyone can graze through the moderately priced food and good selections on wine. I just absolutely love the Olive Oil Copetta. It totally changed my perspective on gelato.

                                                                    In re: boppiecat, the olive oil gelato tastes very fruity like a really good olive oil with subtle nuances of vanilla, since I remember seeing vanilla bean flecks and it's sweet. If you want to see photos, I've just written a piece about Otto last night.


                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: chocokitty

                                                                      thank you tina! i still can't quite taste it in my mind but it looked wonderful. as did the pasta with speck and cabbage. liked your blog as well.

                                                                      1. re: boppiecat

                                                                        Thanks boppiecat! I really appreciate that. :)

                                                                    2. Sorry to post what is more than likely an unpopular response, but we love Otto..We usually go on off hours, maybe that helps..I think that their pizza, bread, gelato, and biscotti is the bomb..and their prices are very reasonable..

                                                                      1. I've posted before about how non-plused I was w/ Otto when I went there w/friends a few years ago. I agree with "Davey the Fatboy" I used to live in Italy and there is nothing "authentic" about those pizzas, and more to the point, there was nothing delicious about them either. It was also, compared to other places in the city, not cheap for what it was. More about the scene and the name than the food.

                                                                        1. OTTO....for OuT TO somewhere good...because it sure isn't good at OTTO!!

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. I rarely get there because of the waits...walked in on Saturday...1 1/2 hours. Ended up at the front bar area at the Knickerbocker.