Despite the fact that it was only lunchtime, we were eager to speak with the sommelier to see what she would recommend. The Skinny Chef shared that we both prefer red wine and love nebbiolo. In a moment’s time, the sommelier suggested we order a bottle of Cascina Luisin Langhe Nebbiolo 2012. We took her recommendation and were glad that we did. The wine had a classic taste with dried herbs, notes of fruit, and an almost smoky undertone. It was full bodied with a smooth finish and we enjoyed every last drop throughout our meal.
It was a dreary, rainy Saturday when The Skinny Chef and I decided to hop in the car and make our way to Manhattan to enjoy a nice Italian meal together. Just a short walk from Washington Square Park sits OTTO Enoteca Pizzeria, which is one of the many restaurants in the B&B (Batali & Bastianich) Hospitality Group’s empire. Although OTTO is located on the corner of 5th Avenue and 8th Street, the environment is as casual and comfortable as your local pizzeria, but serves cuisine worthy of the B&B brand. Upon entering the restaurant there was a large bar area with high bar tables and chairs and columns decoratively wrapped with wine bottles directly to our left. To the right of that was a counter with a glass partition that allowed us to watch the delicate process of slicing expertly aged meats on large red and silver slicers. Directly in front of us was the hostess, who warmly greeted us, and a long, rectangular dining room. We were quickly shown to our table and presented with the wine list and menu.
After munching on a few breadsticks, our meal began with verdure or more specifically, Eggplant Caponatina and Cavolo Nero & Ricotta. The caponatina was well balanced between the acidity of the tomatoes, creaminess of the eggplant, and briny flavor of the capers. That being said, the temperature at which it was served was problematic. When it arrived at the table, the caponatina was frigid and the temperature overpowered the dish and took away from the overall taste, which was a shame because I think the flavors would have enjoyed a beautiful marriage if served at a warmer temp. With a rich, dark green color and specks of creamy, white ricotta the Cavolo Nero & Ricotta boasted a slightly bitter taste with hints of spicy peppers and salty cheese. While the portions of both dishes were perfect for starters and the building blocks of each made sense together, The Skinny Chef and I were underwhelmed and wished certain tweaks had been made to both plates before being served.
For our mid-course, The Skinny Chef and I ordered the Fennel & Bottarga Pizza. Curious to see how the chef would integrate the flavors of each of the ingredients (tomato, raw fennel, bottarga, pecorino, and mozzarella), we couldn’t wait to take our first bite. With a rustic and crisp thin crust topped with slices of fennel, pecorino and mozzarella cheese, and a generous dusting of bottarga; this pizza looked too good to be true. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, when something "looks too good to be true, it probably is" and this was the case with the Fennel & Bottarga Pizza. The acidity of the tomatoes didn’t jive with the anise flavor of the fennel, fishy bottarga, nutty pecorino, and creamy mozzarella. We were disappointed by the disjointed flavors present in this dish and were left wishing we had ordered one of the other pizzas on the menu with more “traditional” ingredients.
For our pasta course, The Skinny Chef and I ordered Spaghetti Alla Carbonara and Fusilli Con Sausage & Escarole. The carbonara was thick and creamy with slices of salty, fatty pancetta to compliment the scallions and black pepper.
The sausage in the fusilli was plump and sweet and was paired perfectly with garlic, escarole, and fusilli that was aldente. The ingredients used created flavors that made for an enjoyable pasta course that hit the spot.
Having heard great things about Pastry Chef Meredith Kurtzman, The Skinny Chef and I were excited to order dessert. We were intrigued by the fennel gelato that accompanied the Pignoli Rosemary Torta so we ordered that along with our waitress’s recommendation of a Black & White. When I took my first bite of the Pignoli Rosemary Torta it was fluffy, buttery, light and covered with pignoli nuts. Sitting beside it were slices of bright orange, candied clementines with a white sphere of fennel gelato perched delicately on top. As I built and savored the “perfect bite,” which consisted of a little bit of each ingredient, the flavors of citrus, mild licorice, and buttery, nutty cake blended together in perfect harmony. The Black & White was also a well thought out and executed dessert. Consisting of milk chocolate chip and crème fraiche gelati, hazelnut croccante, chocolate sauce, and caramel crema, this dish was beautifully presented in a martini-like stemless glass. Just looking at this dish brought a smile to my face. Layers of gelati, chocolate sauce, and caramel cream were artfully displayed along with a triangular piece of a waffle cone carefully placed on top. Every spoonful of this delectable dessert was creamy, chocolately, caramel goodness. All elements of both desserts worked well and as a result, our meal at OTTO ended on a high note.
If you appreciate food in any way you MUST visit La Boqueria Market! As you walk through row after row of incredibly fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, cheese, fish, poultry, pork, beef, and so much more you can easily become intoxicated by the colors, textures, and scents. The perfectly ripe fruits and vegetables are supple to the touch and the cheeses range from soft to hard and mild to strong and funky. At first glance, the fish look alive as their glassy, clear eyes stare up at you, but the hues of their red, pink, and white interior confirm they are ready to consume. The poultry, pork, and beef; butchered with heads and hoofs intact seem to beckon you to taste the tender muscles, marbled in fat, that were grown and bred for your enjoyment, but leave you with a deep sense of appreciation for their sacrifice. In addition to having essentially every type of food product you can imagine, La Boqueria boasts several counters and restaurants that specialize in serving all that Spanish cuisine has to offer; carefully crafting each dish from the fresh ingredients available throughout the market. If you ever find yourself in Barcelona, making time to frequent La Boqueria should be at the top of your list!
La playa in Barcelona is most definitely a place to let your hair down, relax, and set yourself free in every sense of the word. Be prepared for your significant other to have plenty to feast their eyes and if you're the "jealous type" I would stay away from this beach. That being said, the sun and surf leave nothing to be desired and a day relaxing, swimming, and soaking up the rays on this beach would certainly be considered time well spent.