In an earlier post, we briefly touched on the offerings of both Bonobo and Otto, two well-regarded pizza restaurants here in Portland. While, after our first, tentative slices, neither restaurant could have “go-to” status immediately conferred on it, we agreed that Otto was doing some impressive work on the pizza front, and vowed to return.
Last night, rained in with an endless parade of DVR’d episodes of “The Colony” and “Teen Mom” stretching before us, pizza seemed like the right choice for a night on the couch. Since we haven’t come anywhere near working our way through every pizza restaurant in town, our intention was to order from someplace new, but when we really considered the gluten-free-basil-crust-artichoke-and-barbecue-sauce options that lay before us, we didn’t want to risk our whole evening on that silliness, and instead returned to what has been one of a few standout pies: Otto Pizzeria.
I haven’t really worked out my issues with Otto. When I try and go through the list of what I want pizza to be, Otto nails it in many regards: A thin crust, which thickens up to a nice rolled edge, with some cornmeal on the peel, the tiniest bit (for me, not enough) of black char, and some satisfying, crunchy baby blisters on the underside, the result of cooking at high heat. The dough has a nice amount of crunch on first bite, which gives way to a satisfying chew. The cheese blend is of a high quality, and the staff has always been great: friendly, conversational, and proud of what they do.
What is it, then, that is continuing to make me keep trying other places, keeping me from declaring Otto the end of our pizza search? Last night, as we worked our way through our bacon, mushroom, and vidalia onion pie ($19 for a large), I tried to carefully consider each ingredient. The crust was spot-on, as usual. The bacon was crumbled into tiny pieces, which gave a nice, porky crunch to each bite, and was a nice surprise; I imagined wet, wiggly mini-slices, which never work out. The mushrooms were fresh, and I was amazed at how much flavor they are able to get into them. Instead of shriveled little gray slices of nothingness, these were fat, moist, and full of flavor. Could they be marinated before cooking? Even the onion was impressive; sweet and complimentary. The whole pizza was sprinkled with fresh ground pepper, and there were a few nice black spots on the top of the crust.
On my second slice, I began picking the toppings apart, and found that there…was no…sauce? AHA! This pizza needed a fresh pizza sauce, maybe even uncooked, with some chunks of fresh tomato, some basil, some acid, a little moisture! “Otto isn’t saucing their pizzas,” I thought. Then, today, in preparing for this review, I realized that I am an idiot: Otto very clearly states on their menu that the pizza we ordered was a white pie. In fact, more than half of the pizzas on Otto’s menu are served “white” style, with toppings laid bare over crust.
I think this is the source of my reservation. On a pizza with ricotta, or apple, or mango (!!!), there are plenty of other opportunities to introduce some moisture and some freshness of flavor. Even a heavy olive oil drizzle might help. But on our particular pizza last night, the flavors are all too similar: too smoky, too earthy, too oniony, and, ultimately, too much.
Make no mistake: Otto certainly knows their way around a pizza oven, and offers creative takes on classic pies. The question for next time will be whether the normally friendly staff will have any patience for requested (obnoxious?) customizations to their specialty pizzas. For next time, we’re getting a red pie, heavy sauce, well-done. If that doesn’t make them too grumpy, we may have a winner on our hands.