Allergic Girl and Otto

Apropos of this post, this Allergic Girl was invited by Chris, the GM of Otto to sit down with him and Chef Dan to discuss recent events.

It was a genial, educational, and powerful hour. The good-faith gesture to meet, discuss, and continue a positive dining relationship was appreciated. Frankly, I expected no less from this establishment; these are hospitality professionals in every sense of the word. I was especially glad to hear Chef Dan utter the phrase that any diner, but especially an allergic one wants to hear: "we’re here to accommodate you".

Here are some choice highlights of the discussion.

The staff at Otto has had at least one food allergen training by a representative from Food Allergy Initiative Chef Dan [who cooks there Tuesday through Saturday; on his two nights off his sous has the lofty task] went to great lengths to explain the kitchen’s allergen-free policies:

-Clean pans are used for allergic diners.
-Clean bowls are kept off to the side [three to be exact] just for allergic diners.
-Clean knives and cutting boards are used always.
-No gluten-filled pasta water is ever used for GF pasta.
-If a diner brings their favorite GF pizza dough, it will be cooked on a completely clean griddle; clean pizza paddles and clean cutters all washed thoroughly in the dishwasher.
-Diners have brought in GF pasta for Otto to cook, which they do happily.
-Both Chris, the GM and Chef Dan reiterated that the servers and the kitchen staff know their stuff and can respond to an allergic diner’s needs once they know what those needs are.
-To that end, Chef Dan likes the allergy card, really likes it. You know the card which you can find for free here and if you want to pay for one, here.

All great stuff and I was glad to hear it straight from the Chef’s and management’s mouths.

There were some lingering howevers however:

-They couldn't explain why the reservationists didn’t know that Otto carries gluten-free pasta or why I wasn’t connected immediately to a manager who would’ve quelled any food allergy concerns when I called.
-Additionally, they didn't know why our server had no clue that Otto served gluten-free pasta. They did discuss bringing back their food allergen trainer for a refresher course. Quite right.
-No one could figure out why both my dining companion and I became ill. Given their careful food handling practices as outlined above, I suggested it might be the pasta. Furthermore, I mentioned that in the GF community Tinkyada is the GF pasta of choice, as far as I know. I asked if they had done any field tests of Bionaturae before using it. The answer was, “ No.” [As per this convo, Chef is going to try the Tinkyada.]
-Chef Dan said they hadn’t had any complaints about the GF pasta thus far. I asked how many diners to whom they serve the GF pasta are regulars.
“None.” he said.
“Then who’s going to complain? If these diners are tourists, they’re gone the next day. If they live here, they just won't come back.” To which they couldn’t really argue.

Given the slight confusion surrounding GF pasta, I suggested it might be worth having some GF bloggers in to try the GF pasta and give Otto a fuller picture of the issues at hand.

So I’m organizing a GF pasta party at Otto after the July 4th holiday. Stay tuned for the results.


Can't wait to read what you all think of the gluten free pasta. We usually use Tinkyada, but I do have some Bionature. I've tried it and it does taste very yummy. BUT it isn't produced in a gluten free facility which makes me nervous even though they do claim to test each batch. Because I'm not the one who needs to be gluten free, the only way we'll know if there is a problem with it is if my son reacts. Doesn't really fall into my comfort zone.
Allergic Girl® said…
yeah that's one of the reasons i'm hesitant about the Bionaturae product. i dont know a GF person who uses it [except maybe you but not even really].
Celiac Guy said…
I have to say by my experience, bionature pasta IS one of the best tasting pastas.I'm not sure why your friend got sick, but I do believe it is unrelated to the bionature pasta being contaminated by gluten(at least by the company, I can't speak to cross contamination in the restaurant although they seem diligent at least in theory). I have been using it for years and it is FAR better than Tinkyada and I have never gotten sick with it.Perhaps there are some other factors that brought on her sickness unrelated to the dinner that night? They are the only pasta company licensed by the country of Italy to produce gluten free pasta, and testing every batch of pasta, I think helps validate the gluten free claims better than many other companies do.I do think heartlands finest makes a much healthier pasta and is very good tasting as well with about 4 grams of fiber and a much better glycemic profile and it takes about 1-2 minutes to cook so its much easier to cook; however I do know its made from Navy beans(which is very healthy) and may be unsuitable for some people with bean allergies and do believe there are trace amounts of soy.While I rather see them use heartlands finest pasta, I do believe bionature should be given a chance and not incriminated based purely on one episode where many things may have caused the problem that may be unrelated to the pasta company.
Allergic Girl® said…
well now i know 2 people who use it! ;-)

yes, absolutely, there are several possible factors that could have caused the tummy issues with both me and my friend and Otto's pasta.

however, if i rule out the restaurant's cross contamination issues, the product is the next logical place to look for the issue esp. as it was my first and only time using it.

we'll see what happens at the dinner. stay tuned and thanks for your comment!
Celiac Guy said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Celiac Guy said…
I completely understand thinking it was the pasta and I would wonder the same, I just wanted to let you know my experiences with the pasta(I'm purely Celiac no other allergies)since it seems few but me on your blog seem to be using it.I hope the dinner turns out to be both delicious and free of any discomfort for everyone involved.Although a new reader, I enjoy reading your blog and I was really happy to see Otto's response to you as well as the preparations and options available at the restaurant and the many others you write about.Very interesting reading,thanks for all your explorations through NYC restaurants.
Allergic Girl® said…
hey celiac guy! welcome and thank for your support.
Anonymous said…
DePuma's Gluten Free Pasta is actually much better than Tinkyada. Obviously it's just an opinion, but I really feel like John DePuma has come up with a solution that far surpasses anything else on the market. Has anyone tried it?

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