Thursday, August 18, 2011

You "Otto" Not Go Here

Otto Enoteca Pizzeria is located in a bustling Italian town square. The sky is pale blue with a gentle brushing of wispy clouds, contrasting the clean, earthy tones of the ornately-architectured buildings surrounding the plaza. Street performers, from human statues to operatic singers to court jesters on stilts, showcase their acts throughout the day.

Granted, this piazza is inside a hotel. The Venetian Hotel, Resort, and Casino in Las Vegas, NV, to be precise. Those Vegas architects and designers outdid themselves with the Venetian’s Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), because everything about the environment feels real. No detail is too small; you truly feel like you’re in Venice!

In any case, back to Otto. The place is a Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich partnership. The two restaurateurs’ goal with their second Vegas project (the first being B&B Ristorante) was to “offer guests a gathering place to enjoy la bella vita, or ‘the beautiful life'” by integrating food and wine into a casual Italian eatery. Otto’s menu contains much variety, including various antipasti like house-cured meats, Italian-imported cheeses, and various fritti snacks; thin-crust pizzas; pasta dishes made with all types of noodles; gelati and sorbetti for dessert; and an extensive exclusively Italian wine list. My companion and I wanted to eat fairly lightly at lunch (a.k.a. just the main course, no appetizers or desserts), since we knew we’d be having another large meal for dinner. I accordingly selected the Pancetta and Goat Cheese Pizza (tomatoes, caramelized onions, and Coast Farm cheese); she went with the Spaghetti and Meatballs (beef brisket with a touch of cayenne).

The sous-waiter quickly brought packaged breadsticks and "fresh" foccacia to the table. I didn’t try the sticks, but the foccacia that arrived looked promising: fluffy with an herby exterior. Unfortunately, it was room temperature. I always believe that bread should be warm—if not steaming hot—when served before a meal, Italian or otherwise. I feel that it accustoms your palette to the hot entrees soon to come (unless you’re dining primarily on salumi, cheese, or salad). The excellent olive oil and balsamic vinegar slightly mollified my distaste for “cold” bread, but I was still disappointed.

Entrees came soon after. My opinion on the pizza was lukewarm. On the bright side, the thin crust was delicious. You could see and taste the oven-baked char on the crust, which gave the pie a rustic flavor. The dough had its own strong herby flavor; if this was placed before me at the start of a meal, I’d wolf it down in seconds flat. Trust me, it was much better than the pre-meal foccacia. Combined with the toppings, however, the pizza dough’s taste was drowned out by sauce and extreme saltiness. I know I chose pancetta (a type of Italian bacon) and goat cheese, both naturally salty ingredients, but I expected the chef to temper it with sweetness or whatever is opposite to the salty taste bud receptor. I had to drink plenty of water to clear the excessive sodium from my mouth.

My companion found her spaghetti all right. She was slightly off put by the volume of each meatball, each about the size of a marble. I tried one and found the taste good. You could tell the beef brisket used was high quality, and the gentle kick from the cayenne perked up the meat and imbued each meatball with a light spiciness. If only they were larger! She thought the al dente noodles tasted fine and were of the right consistency, although the tomato sauce was salty. She wasn’t blown away by her dish.

If you’re in the Vegas area, there are countless other places to dine. I’d pass this salt-philic place up and try a different eatery… like Thomas Keller’s Bouchon (coming soon in a future post!).

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