Otto Enoteca·Pizzeria | 1 Fifth Avenue (on 8th St.) | 212.717.4666 | | |

ALTHOUGH I ONLY started (photo) blogging (about food) less than a year ago, I have been a proudly professed "foodie" for longer than that particular term has been around. Growing up with southern soul food at home (much of it from my Carolina-born dad, who eventually studied at the Culinary Institute of America), I also got to enjoy some chi-chi offerings (caviar, duck) at the catered functions of my far more affluent prep school friends and parents.

I likewise got to enjoy frog legs for the first time as part of my AP French education, and I've been fortunate to be introduced to a varied assortment of indigenous goodies by friends, co-workers, even girlfriends, from all over the world.

And the more food I've gotten to enjoy over my lifetime—and the more food-related TV shows I watch, of course, over the last several years—the more I've realized of what I've been missing. And while PHUDE-ing,I try to make enough effort to "catch up" on all the unique eating that I have yet to afford myself. So I was very excited to find not one, but two items of my theoretical "food bucket list" on the menu at Otto, Mario Batali's pizzeria down in Greenwich Village. Those items were lardo, which is a thinly sliced pork fat cured with rosemary and other seasonings, and bottarga, which is dried and salt-cured fish roe, usually served slice or grated.

Not only had I been to Otto previously—about 5 years ago with Jeanette, who, along with "Trixie", has been joining me for meals around the city for over ten years—but I used to live in the neighborhood for a year while I attended NYU. Walking around the neighborhood now, 24 years after living in Brittany Hall on 10th & Broadway, I felt time catching up with me as a had to refamiliarize myself with the non-numbered streets and avenues, as well as walk among a demographic now less than half my age.

The front of Otto, though, was still classically memorable.

As was the inside, homey, comfy, warm and relaxing, with nice "old world" touches throughout the space, and charming simplicity in décor. I sat in the back room, which offered the most natural sunlight.

The staff were extremely friendly, letting me choose my table, then kindly having to move me to a second table so as to not be disturbed by a board meeting that was about to take place. The manager, whose name I forget, was nice enough to offer a glass of Prosecco for the scant inconvenience, and the very sweet waitress, Christine—possessing a great handshake, I might add!—who was not only kind enough to top of my Prosecco, but allowed me to revisit the exquisite table side extra virgin olive oil I remember being so impressed with my first visit years ago that I volunteered to buy a bottle of it to take home. (It wasn't available for sale at that time, but hear it might be available at Mario Batali's upcoming Madison Square eatery, Eataly.)

I ordered the lardo pizza and the fennel and bottarga pizza, and as I waited for them to come out to the table, I got involved in a nice conversation of ladies—longtime friends, themselves catching up with each other and their lives—who were lunching a table away, as I answered where Idina Menzel, presently on the show Glee, had performed on stage before she had starred in the Broadway hit, Wicked. I told them it was in the show Rent which, they were also happily pleased to learn, was where she met her present husband, Taye Diggs.

My pies came out in short order, hot and smelling wonderful. The fennel and bottarga pie was rich with layers of flavor, from the citrus-hued piquancy of the fennel to the earthiness of the bottarga, which boasts the same flavor property—almost—as anchovies, with more subdued salinity and brininess.

The lardo pizza, with its highlighted rosemary bouquet, was deftly served the thin slices of fat that turned into almost silky pools of porkiness that were a complimented righteously by the crisp, light, and still airy crust.

The ladies at the next table, who started with a few plates of arugula sald, had ordered three pizza pies themselves. Unfortunately, the were all meatball, so I offered them a couple slices each of the lard pie and fennel with bottarga pie, which they happily sated their curiosities with, being much surprised at how much they enjoyed the fennel and bottarga slices as well. In kind, they sweetly offered me a slice of one of their meatball pies, which boasted a much more rich sauce, splendidly seasoned with hints of the tomato's inherent sweetness, topped with tender yet firm mini meatballs that showcased a parity of flavor depth.

I did what I could with the two pies I had (depending on your appetite, two adults could share one pie and be satisfied), but I knew I'd have enough to go home with.

Add to that the generosity of the ladies from the "table next door" who left and offered me the scant few slices of the meatball pie they had left, I had almost a pie and a half worth of slices to take home,happy that they would carry me through the rest of the day.

I thanked the staff for their attentive and friendly service as I left, snapping photos as I walked my way through the other rooms of the restaurant towards the front door. At one point I did see Mario himself, holding court at the corner of the—hisbar. But only for a second or so as I fear my camera may have deterred him from being available to me and/or my camera.

But I did leave with a sense that I did meet Mario, through his food, the staff's professionalism and personality, and a room which he himself seems to treat as a second home (probably second of many!).

Either way, while I continue PHUDE-ing at more recently opened places, whether they are secret hole-in-the-wall gems or press- and blogger-obsessed mega- and meta-openings, I look forward to catching up with Mario, through his food or otherwise, soon. If I'm real lucky.

Maybe at Eataly...?

Bun Apple Tea!


Otto Enoteca·Pizzeria | 1 Fifth Avenue (on 8th St.) | 212.717.4666 | | |