Ramps and bottarga at Otto Restaurant NYC

The NYPost food writer, Steve Cuozzo, must have woke up on the wrong side of the bed. In one of his latest rants, The Gripes of Wrath, Cuozzo is calling out what he pens:

‘We haven’t ranted about petty dining-out nuisances in a while, because the not-so-petty ones must take priority — like fame-craving chefs fleeing their kitchens, and the utter abandonment of culinary creativity in favor of “branding.”’

I don’t really take any offense to any of his rants, except when he decided to call out ramps:

‘The good stuff we really want, like local peas and asparagus, doesn’t turn up for at least another month. So impatient chefs smother us in ramps, the garlicky, leek-like wild onions that come out of the ground in March. They’re supposed to presage the glorious bounty to come. Instead, they remind us of winter’s bottomless pit of turnips and rutabaga. I’d rather eat wild grass on the High Line.’

Ramps with bottarga and chicken eggs

 
To get the appetite whet, last Saturday I had dinner for a friend’s birthday at Otto. Having group wine tastings in the front “wine bar” area is also one heck of a fun Sunday activity. I like Otto although am clearly not in the camp of others that love the place.

One special recently caught my attention. Sadly I cannot recall exactly what was on the ramps pizza special and let’s blame that on the wine and grappa. The other ramps special was a salad: ramps con duo ouvaramps with two eggs. The waiter informed me that one of the eggs was a sunnyside up egg of sorts and the second, bottarga. Boom! It was ordered.

Poor man’s caviar 

 
The poor man’s caviar, i like that. Bottarga is the roe pouch of a tuna or grey mullet. It’s massaged by hand (ohh la la) and then dried and cured in sea salt for weeks. The result is a hard slab of fish roe deliciousness. It has a rich and savory, very slightly fishy, salty flavor and a tacky, waxy bite and mouth feel. Bottarga is fun to eat as it sticks to the roof of one’s mouth and behind the teeth.

Grated bottarga from Scottpartee’s flickr stream

It is best-known in Sicilian and Sardinian cuisines and its culinary properties can be compared to those of dry anchovies. My mom uses dry anchovies all the time to make fish broths for Korean soups, so I’m a big fan. Surely though, bottarga is more expensive.

Sliced bottarga from Gaspartorriero’s flickr stream

Fish roe pairs with nero do’avola

 
Bottarga is often served with lemon juice as an appetizer or grated into pasta dishes or as in Otto’s case, grated over a salad. The ramps were sauteed in olive oil with chilies as it had an intoxicating and addicting heat to them. The sunnyside egg on top of the ramps provided a silky texture due to its undercooked whites and beautiful yolk. It was the bottarga that transfigured this dish, providing it a unique mouth feel and a dreamy salty fishy roe taste. The residual heat from the ramps and chilies lingered pairing gorgeously with the bottarga.

Following the party in one’s mouth with nero do’avola, the most imported wine from Sicily, just re-opened the taste buds as this varietal of grape was designed by God to be drank with bottarga (and ramps)! Cuozzo, if you ain’t down with that…we got two words for ya!

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