November 25, 2009

Celebrity Chefs, Restaurant Hype, and Pizza

Given a choice, I prefer small, local restaurants. In general, I am a bit wary of restaurants have too much hype. In today's world of Food Networking cooking shows and star the ultimately hyped restaurant is one with a so-called celebrity chef. So, I had tampered expectations and was slightly suspicious of two of the dining spots on our New York itinerary – Otto Enoteca Pizzeria and Mesa Grill.

Our fourth day in New York was a crazy day for me – waking up at 5:00 am, flying to Washington DC for a meeting, and returning to New York City by late afternoon. After a short nap at the hotel I headed out for a dinner date with my husband, Jonathan. We took the subway downtown to the Bleeker Street stop.

Owned by chef Mario Batali, the Otto Enoteca Pizzeria is a few blocks from Washington Square at the intersection of 5th Avenue and 8th Street. The restaurant has a warm vibe and is abuzz with activity. After we were seated at our table we started studying the menu and massive wine list. All the choices menu sounded wonderful – but we decided on antipasti (cauliflower, spicy rabe, lentils, and calamari), an escarole salad, a margharita pizza, and a bottle of Italian wine. The salad and antipasti was a very good and paired well with the wine. The pizza was perfect – good cheese, good tomatos, and crispy crust! Pizza is one of my favorite foods and this was very tasty. For dessert we ordered the sweet brioche with nutella, which was just as wonderful as the main part of the meal.Yes, Dinner at Otto was superb! I had been cautiously optimistic about the restaurant and it far exceeded my expectations. Most importantly food was delicious; in addition, the atmosphere was warm and lively and service was excellent! I will definitely return on a future trip to New York!

After dinner we strolled around Greenwich Village and listened to music at Groove, a small music venue at MacDougal and West 3rd Streets.

The following evening we met some friends at Mesa Grill. This dining experience also exceeded my tempered expectations! We had a fun evening with friends and the food was very good! I ordered the squash blossom appetizer and the chili rellano. Everything was artfully prepared and presented. The atmosphere here is perfect for an evening of conversation and enjoyment. The whole experience was very good, but of the two restaurants I preferred Otto.

Perhaps my preference for Otto over Mesa is due to my obsession with perfect pizzas. To me, pizza is one of the most simple and perfect foods – and the pizza at Otto was wonderful!

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