Food in the US – Shake Shack and Ōttō

Wednesday evening in New York, Tawn decided to attend a yoga class led by a particular instructor about whom he had read.  This resulted in a late dinner, so our friend Biing suggested we try Ōttō, Mario Batali’s family-style wine bar (is that an oxymoron?) and pizzeria on Fifth Avenue a block away from Washington Square Park.

The challenge was Biing and I had several hours to kill before meeting Tawn for dinner and we were hungry.  Working our way over to the Madison Square Park area near the yoga studio, we decided to split a burger and fries at Shake Shack by way of an appetizer.

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On this pleasantly not-frigid evening, there as quite a crowd gathered around Shake Shack, which is nicely nestled in the midst of the park.  The Empire State Building looms to the north (visible on the left of the picture).  Lights strung across to the still leafless trees reminded me of a line from the Les Miserables song “On My Own” and the tables closest to the heaters were still popular, a reminder that Spring had not quite yet sprung.

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Opened by New York restauranteur Danny Meyer, whose restaurants include Grammercy Tavern and the Union Square Cafe, the Shake Shack is Meyer’s attempt to tackle the classic American treat, the hamburger.  Considered by many to be the best burgers in the Big Apple, I found the burger to be good but not great.  There are a lot of relatively expensive, good quality burgers out there these days.  To that end, I might as well just eat one of those relatively inexpensive, good quality burgers that are also available.

Not that there was anything wrong with the burger – there wasn’t – but I just don’t see the fuss.  As for the fries, they reminded me of Ore-Ida fries taken from the freezer, devoid of fresh potato flavor.  We didn’t try the nameshake – excuse me, namesake – shakes as the weather was still a bit chilly.

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Arriving at the building where we were to meet Tawn, Biing and I had to ride in what is the narrowest lift I’ve ever seen.  The camera is being held in the upper corner of the car.  Thank goodness for wide angle lenses.  After picking up Tawn we walked down to Ōttō, building up his appetite and burning off our burger.

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Ōttō’s design conceit is that of the Italian train station.  Names of guests waiting for a table are displayed on a signboard that looks like an arrivals and departures board.  It is a pretty space, a little loud, and definitely made for socializing.  This is Mario Batali’s “low end” restaurant, the one that is most accessible to the masses, and it is known for its antipasti, pizzas, and pasta.

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Service was friendly and pretty attentive, given how busy the restaurant was this late in the evening.  A small package of brown butcher paper was set on our table, which we unwrapped to discover some fantastic bread along with imported breadsticks.  I’m not sure I understand why breadsticks need to be imported, but they were light and crispy and enjoyable, so why ask questions?

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We ordered a trio of verdure – greens – for $4 each.  Our selection was the Funghi Misti (mixed mushrooms), Asparagus and Pecorino cheese, and Roasted Peppers and Capers, front left.  This was a tasty combination to snack on with the peppers being my favorite.  The saltiness of the Pecorino cheese didn’t seem to rub off on the asparagus, which was barely cooked and not seasoned.  The mushrooms were nice although they also seemed a little under-seasoned.

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We also ordered a plate of Salumi for $9, a really tasty sausage with hunks of lard mixed in with the meat.  I was reminded of a meat appetizer dish I had on my first night in Italy back in 2001, after which I spent the next day drinking copious amounts of water trying to rehydrate myself from all the sodium.

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According to Biing, pastas are the weak point on the menu at Ōttō.  We ordered a Linguine Puttanesca, a classic sauce made of anchovies, capers, olives, chilies, and roasted tomato.  It was tasty but wasn’t very distinctive.  For $9, though, it was a reasonably priced bowl of pasta.

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The pizzas are supposedly the big deal.  Some say the best in New York but of course everyone has an opinion when it comes to that matter.  We ordered a Margherita DOP, with nothing more than tomato, Bufala Mozzarella cheese, and basil – perhaps the best combination with which to compare the qualities of a pizza.  Interestingly, Ōttō’s pies are cooked on a griddle.  This results in the crispest crust I’ve ever had on a pizza, one that remained crispy throughout the whole eating, down to the final piece.

The sauce, however, was a let-down.  It tasted like a tin of tomato paste with no added seasoning.  That was the flavor: flat tomato and nothing more.  And it was spread rather thickly on the pizza so it soon became the overwhelming flavor on the tongue.  They say it is the sauce that can make or break a pizza and in this case, I’d agree.

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For dessert, we enjoyed the homemade gelato, which offers some very unconventional flavors.  Last August I stopped by here while Biing and Tawn were shopping for an afternoon pick-me-up of olive oil gelato.

This evening, I had the trio of dark chocolate, Guinness, and salty peanut gelati topped with coffee bourbon sauce and chocolate crumble.  It was very tasty.  The Guinness gelato tastes just like Guinness beer.

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Tawn had the Olive Oil Coppetta, a mixture of olive oil gelato, candied clementines and kumquats, lime curd, tangerine sorbet, and fennel brittle.  It was also very nice although the mouth feel of olive oil gelato remains a bit heavy for me.

My only concern about the gelati is that they are very soft when they arrive and they, of course, quickly become softer as you try and take pictures, even if you hurry!

So the overall review?  Ōttō is an enjoyable place for a group meal with good service and decent prices for what you get.  The food is good, not great, and the pizza is on my to-avoid list.  For a drink and some appetizers, though, this is definitely a good choice.

 

0 thoughts on “Food in the US – Shake Shack and Ōttō

  1. Chris, I need to tell you something. I have consciously lost many pounds, trying to eat healthy. Then I read your posts, and by the time the pictures of the desserts appear on your blog, I am pushing my chair behind, and heading to the kitchen to grab me some dessert. Just saying!!!

  2. In the rainThe pavement shines like silverAll the lightsAre misty in the riverIn the darkness the trees are full of starlightAnd all I see is him and me forever and forever…These are some of my favorite lines from any song, not only from a song in a musical. I love singing this song at the top of my lungs.I didn’t have a great impression of Shake Shack either. I just thought they were okay. I think it’s mostly hype from people who don’t really know what a truly good burger is. I should revisit burgers, actually.Otto, I’ve never been to; but it seems like standard good-value fare. That salami looks incredible though; and I think I’d enjoy those little antipasti. Pizza doesn’t look like something I’d like either. It’s interesting how people’s tastes seem to be able to be swayed by popularity, isn’t it?

  3. I think the charm of the Shake Shack is just being able to eat a decent burger in Madison Square Park (especially when the weather is nice) and at the same time generate some revenue for the park upkeep.Your other options around that part of 23rd St. are your typical fast food restaurant chains and then there’s a large Korean deli on Fifth Ave. south of 23rd.

  4. Your experience seemed eerily familiar to the one I had at Five Guys burgers. I was not impressed either. Everyone raved about the place and they were OK but I’m so not into the greasy burger. The fries were dripping in grease too. I think I prefer to make my own hamburger and eat at a restaurant what I can’t make myself! Your photos were lovely and the little elevator made me chuckle.

  5. I am trying to get my three month preggers aborted by starting a work out regime and not over eat and there you go with all that food porn which makes me want to keep munching! Bad Chris! Btw, I don’t think an elevator can get any narrower- it’s so tiny!

  6. Have you ever had Irish Beef Hamburgers? I don’t know if it is a seasoning that they put IN the beef, the result of the fodder that the cows feed on or a combination of both but I wish there had been a way for me to freeze dry a couple of pounds of their Irish Ground beef to bring back to the States with me!!! It had a very distinctive taste that stayed with you for hours after wards so you enjoyed it again and again…lol. It made the ordinary hamburger and “proper” fries (Made me wonder what IMPROPER fries are…lol) a most enjoyalbe experience!!! By the way, have you been following the political upheaval back in Bangkok? I hope things have calmed down a bit by the time you and Tawn return home!!! Ruth Ann

  7. @Redlegsix – Ruth Ann, I’d imagine that the Irish cows actually eat grass instead of corn, which probably accounts for the taste.  That, plus the Guinness they drink from the trough.  Ha ha…  We’ve been back more than a week and the political situation continues.  Really not a big deal despite what you may be reading or seeing on the TV.@rudyhou – Oh, I don’t know about the coolest or the best.  We’re just lucky to have a lot of foodie friends who make good recommendations wherever we go.@Dezinerdreams – Truly, I have never been in a smaller elevator and can’t imagine that it would be possible to make one much smaller than that.  As for your weight problem, recent pictures don’t provide any evidence for your claims.@Wangium – Yes, that’s what I thought when I saw the boxes.  Except the fries look like they came from the freezer.@murisopsis – Maybe hamburgers are such an individual taste that it is hard to agree upon what a great hamburger is.@TheLatinObserver – True, context is an important factor here.  The park is nice and during the warmer months I bet it is a great place to hang out and enjoy some summery food.@CurryPuffy – I’m lovin’ the camera.  One of those times when I am really pleased with the money I spent.  Need to get out and use the wide angle attachment more so I can get my money’s worth out of it.

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