For some reason Etto makes me think of Cato, manservant of Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies. Just the name, you understand, not the food, which has never attacked me by surprise nor turned my residence into a brothel. The food, in fact, is quite good, with one teeny tiny* exception.
* but unfortunately kind of essential
The best thing about Etto (1541 14th Street), one of the newer additions to the gentrifying 14th Street corridor, might be the overall feel: part decor and part service. I love the exposed brick, copper pipes, bright wood, open space, clean lines. The bar area is small but cute, and well worth a visit, more for the cocktails than the wine; I’ve forgotten the name of the drink I had on the first visit, Queen of something, like a more interesting Manhattan. They also do a mean Negroni, using local Green Hat Gin, which Mrs. Me finds vegetal but I like the edge.
Service at Etto is uniformly great, bartenders to hosts to servers. Informational, pleasant, reasonably efficient, present but not interruptive. Always feel welcome, even as the place fills up, which it does rapidly around 6pm because it is both tiny and popular. Not sure what the record number of people packed into the bar area (built for maybe a dozen max) is, but surely violative of various fire and other codes.
The restaurant is popular for the aforementioned reasons but especially also the food, which is whimsically described (“Other Meaty Things,” “the Gilda ‘Radner’ – some sort of anchovy-based appetizer I should have ordered but didn’t – plenty of anchovy options at Etto) and deliciously prepared. Lobster and chick peas is more interesting, and more lobstery, than the trendy lobster mac’n’cheese one finds at many restaurants these days. I loved the beet salad, with its small dice of different colored beets covered in thin goat cheese wafers and a balsamic sauce.
What? Pizza? Or “pizze” — yes, Etto has that too, and aspects are excellent, namely the sauce and the cheese and the toppings. Sausage and rapini is a nice combination of spicy/savory/bitter, and our dining partners gave the mushrooms a positive review too. I’m not qualified to rate mushrooms, so will happily take their word for it.
The pizza is unfortunately brought down several notches by the crust, which tastes fine, but the middle 50 percent is a soggy mess, even at the moment of delivery to the table, much less five or ten minutes later. Etto is operated in part by some folks from 2 Amy’s, which also has (and always has had) ongoing crust issues, only according to this Citypaper article, Etto’s crust is “just a little more complicated.” Maybe it is authentic, maybe it is more interesting and even more flavorful than other crusts, I don’t care, soggy crust is bad crust. You wouldn’t have to go far to find an example of how to do crust right: Ghibellina is right across the street, and my recent review is right here. Ghibellina gives you shears to cut your own pizza; Etto cuts it for you but hardly needs to, since it practically falls apart on its own, which would have been swell had we ordered the pot roast.
Kudos to Etto for trying something new, but for me, it doesn’t work. I will gladly return to Etto for drinks, and even for dinner, thanks to the atmosphere and service and Other Meaty Things, but I wouldn’t order the pizza again. Which is kind of unfortunate, given they are a pizzeria and all.