After an hour long conversation with General Manager Chris and Chef Dan of Otto Enoteca Pizzeria a few weeks back, a gaggle of gluten-free bloggers descended upon Mario Batali's pizza and pasta haven, Otto. We thoroughly enjoyed a gluten-free pasta dinner, easy conversation, and some bloggy gossip. The "we" was Catherine from Gluten-free Guide, Kelly from Celiac Chicks, and Jennifer from Jennifer Ate.
It was truly wonderful meeting these very accomplished women whom I’ve read and admired on the blogsphere for so long. It was an added bonus eating with people who needed no explanation for phrases like: “I can’t have this; I’m allergic to that; I need that on the side; no sorry, thanks but I can’t share your dish.” I think we all felt a sense of comfort and relief dining together.
Now to the dinner: Ms. Guide gives an accurate and excellent run-down of the dishes we all had with pictures and an overall review. I won’t duplicate the effort here. I will say that as a former Otto regular, pre-gluten-free days, I had no doubt that management would be anxious to rectify a previous unfortunate dining experience. I was not disappointed.
Chris served us personally, I believe, to get a sense of concerns so he could better inform his staff about serving special needs patrons. He explained and suggested items on the menu with a food allergy/intolerant eye: “This has dairy. Is that okay for you? We can make it without the dairy?” Also, he checked in with the table often, quite helpful when a diner has special requests.
As Ms. Guide mentioned, my dish was an off-menu item. I’ve always coveted the off-menu items. As an allergic diner, it was a rare opportunity for me to get something “special” that I could eat. I was super excited. My pasta dish, made with Tinkyada this time [all of us had Tinkyada and no one had stomach issues the next day] was especially good. The sauce reminded me of a Bolognese though much lighter and more delicate than your standard Italian meat sauce. It was made with house-cured pork, natch. I’ve only had pork one other time since returning to the universe of meat and I’d go back to Otto anytime for that dish.
Which raises another interesting point about this particular dinner: It’s been over two years since I’ve gone into a restaurant and ordered pasta. [ Jennifer brought up this point as well]. Going out for pasta ceased when I eliminated gluten from my diet. Even in NYC, which has so much to offer for everyone [special needs or not], what mainstream, non-GF specific resto, is serving GF pasta? Many times, I can create a GF dining experience in a mainstream resto by ordering plain steak or chicken and steamed veggies. But I can’t have steak every night, hardly. Unless I go to one of the few known GF-friendly restos in the city [which aren’t necessarily allergen-friendly] pasta is simply not on my menu or my mind. Until now.
Another highlight for me was that Chris sat down with us after the meal to debrief about our experience, and the GF and food allergy community’s needs. This was my not-so-secret wish when I spoke with Chris and Dan: that special needs diners [whether celiac, allergic, diabetic, kosher-any special need] and management would have an open exchange of needs, questions, concerns, likes and dislikes. Communication is key. And on Thursday, for a brief moment our square table became a round-table discussion between resto and diner.
Perhaps more resto groups like Batali’s will take notice. Otto’s adoption of GF pasta could be the first step for many restos to recognize that special needs diners are the loyal of the loyal: once we find a place that caters to our needs, and is yummy, we’ll be back for years to come. And we bring friends!
One Fifth Avenue
NYC, NY 10003
T 212 995-9559
PS: Please check out Celiac Chick's gracious post about our dinner and Jennifer Ate's roundup.