I can’t hear the name Otto without thinking about the worst mascot in college sports history. I’m speaking, of course, about the smiling piece of fruit that is the face of my alma mater’s sporting program, Otto the Orange. It’s not that the guy doesn’t bring a smile to my face, but how threatening can your strong safety be when he’s repped by a giant citrus with a painted on grin who likes to point his Mickey Mouse-gloved fingers a lot, and tuck up into a ball and roll around like the rotund snack that he is? My preconceived notion aside, this Otto was wholly different–despite its owner being round and orange himself. Batali is the master of casual fanciness (and the creepy, corkscrew ponytail). Witness his other joints around town, like Babbo, Esca and The Spotted Pig. I had been in this cavernous bar and restaurant many eons ago as a place called Clementine, but had no recollection of how vast its space was. The bar up front has a nice, long bar where patrons can sip trendy beers and a long list of wines, which are Otto’s specialty. They also sell the wine to go, and have wine classes and tastings and all sorts of grapey fun. Apparently that’s what makes it an enoteca (stupid). I was actually there for a large surprise party. Showing up early, we hung out at the comfortable bar and enjoyed watching tourists and families and couples filter in. It was relatively early, so the place wasn’t packed, but there was still a good crowd. In an organized fashion, they soldiered us back to our long table, and the food and wine starting flowing. There were meats (some of which I couldn’t quite identify) and cheeses and olives and pizzas and all sorts of other things I can barely remember through the red wine and beer haze. Oh, and there was an endless supply of wine. And then gelato and coffee and some more wine and good fun, and then my pants burst at he seams, I staggered around in my underpants and fell headfirst into the urinal and woke up only when the guy who mops up hit me in the head with his slop bucket. And even then, I was mumbling for some more of that deeelicious thin crust pizza (yet tasting something that was akin to a starlight mint doused in chlorine). But for real, I ended my Otto evening with some sort of fancy coffee in a little cup, a good buzz and a warm place in my heart for our buddy Mario. [MF]

1 5th Ave.