Ok, so I didn’t actually dine with the Italian Chef and Food Network star, but his presence was felt at a delightful gluten-free dinner at Otto. The lovely, Allergic Girl, organized a gluten-free “bloggy” dinner recently, complete with gluten-free pasta, salads, sides and dessert. It was a practically perfect evening of conversation and food. AG and I were joined by Kelly of the CeliacChicks, and occasional blogger Jennifer.
Located on 8th Street and Fifth Avenue, just north of Washington Square Park, Otto is the type of restaurant I would normally avoid. A focus on pizza, pasta and Panini just doesn’t seem amenable to a gluten-free meal, so why put myself through it? When I arrived at the restaurant, I did get a little spooked. It was relatively early on a Thursday night but the place was buzzing. Crowded and noisy, how could my strict food needs possible be met? Dining out is always risky, so why take a chance when the odds seem stacked against me?
Well, I put my trust in the incredible Allergic Girl. AG had arranged the dinner after an exchange with Chris, the general manger, outlined on her blog. Before our dinner, AG met with Chris and the chef to outline exactly what was needed to accommodate gluten-free customers. Even with a jam-packed dining room and what must be a hectic kitchen, I knew that the staff was educated and that Chris wanted to make sure they got it right.
Chris was a gracious host, guiding us through the menu, giving recommendations for the multiple food allergies at the table. (I was lucky to just be limited by gluten!) There were so many choices – I was restricted only by the inadequate capacity of my tummy.
I started with a trio of vegetables. The “funghi misti” or mixed mushrooms were marinated and seasoned beautifully. Eggplant Caponatina is one of their specialties. It was on-par with the homemade versions I enjoyed in Italy; a perfect balance of sweet and savory. The Summer Squash with pecorino was a light and refreshing, a nice contrast to the other slightly heavier dishes.
During my years as a gluten glutton, I rarely ordered pasta in restaurants. Even with the most elegant presentation, it was usually something I felt I could prepare relatively easily at home or it wouldn’t live up to the pasta dishes I ate constantly in Italy. This, however, was a special occasion; I was in Mario’s domain. I was given the opportunity to select from multiple preparations and TWO different types of gluten-free pasta. Leaving any fat or calorie concerns at the door, I immediately gravitated to the Pasta alla Carbonara. Rich with cream, bacon, egg and cheese, it’s one of my all-time favorites. This version didn’t disappoint, with a surprising peppery accent to balance the cream.
When time came to look at the dessert menu, I was intrigued by the gelato flavors. A Southern Italian specialty, I enjoyed many Ricotta gelati topped with cinnamon during my summer in Ragusa. However, I had never tried olive oil or tarragon flavored gelato. I selected a trio: Olive Oil, Sweet Corn and Ricotta. The Olive Oil gelato was absolutely outstanding. Using a vanilla base and flavored with the finest Italian olive oil, it was smooth, sweet, with a hint of caramel. Kelly had the tangerine sorbetto, a tad healthier than my ice cream.
After an amazing dinner the question still remained, why exactly are they working so hard to help us eat safely? Chris was happy to explain. After being unable to accommodate a gluten-free request at Babbo earlier this year, Mario sent an edict to all of his chefs and managers, insisting that they have gluten-free pasta available in all of his restaurants. (Also of note, on a recent episode of Iron Chef, Mario asked if any of the judges had peanut allergies. It was the first time I had ever seen one of the chefs ask about food sensitivities.) Thank you Mario! I have yet to eat at the infamous and impossible-to-get-a-reservation Babbo, but I know I will enjoy a tremendous gluten-free meal when I do.A big thanks also go to Otto’s manager, Chris, who did everything in his power to make the evening as stress and worry-free as possible. With only one minor (but easily identifiable) slip-up, I was impressed. For those looking for more than pizza and pasta, Otto offers an extensive selection of wines and on my next trip I will order one of their artisanal cheese plates with some of their smoked and cured meats. To top it all off, their prices are reasonable, in fact cheap for Manhattan. What more could a gluten-free girl want?
Tweet Pin It
Is there a restaurant or bakery you want me to check-out? A product you want me to review? Any other questions or feedback?
glutenguide at gmail [dot] com