Whether it's in or out, I don't know—and I don't care. To me, Mario Batali's Otto on 5th Avenue and 8th Street is the mecca for cheap, al dente Italian eats. I know when I go there I can have perfect pasta with a perfect glass of wine, and afterward be full, happy, and not entirely impoverished. But by way of confession, I always order the exact same thing: Otto's perennial Linguine Siciliani with zucchini, fresh chillies, mint, and bottarga.
Bottarga is a rare restaurant find, a cured fish roe that is grated over the pasta, imparting a briny salinity, but also its inimitable Parmesan-like crumbling texture and thickness. Mario's Spaghetti with Bottarga from his book Molto Italiano is a simpler dish that highlights the bottarga, matching it with only hot red pepper flakes, garlic, and parsley. To make it more like the Otto rendition, try adding tomato paste, zucchini, onions, and mint (instead of the parsley).
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As for the price, one plate of pasta at Otto goes for $9, plus tax and tip. Hopefully, the only ingredient you'll actually need to go out and buy for this will be the bottarga, which can be pricey, but a little goes a long way.
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