In case you hadn't noticed, summer is quickly slipping away. The afternoon sky has that golden August haze. Thousands of isthmus apartments have new tenants and old furniture. Sports fans must juggle the Badgers, Packers and Brewers all at once (not to mention the Cubs).
If you are wise, you will squeeze maximum pleasure out of these last days of summer. And I can't think of a more idyllic way to do that than to have dinner on the canopied outdoor deck of Otto's Restaurant. With an icy gin and tonic in hand, gentle breezes, soft jazz filling the air and a sumptuous dinner soon to follow, these are evenings to remember next January, when it hurts even to open the front door for the pizza delivery guy.
Otto's is located in a beautifully restored 1870s stone house on Mineral Point Road, surrounded by mature oak trees. Since opening Otto's more than a dozen years ago, owner/chef Kamil Tanyeri and his wife, Dana, have built a loyal and appreciative clientele with outstanding Mediterranean and Continental cuisine, great drinks, excellent service and comfortable yet elegant ambiance. Best of all, the quality is consistent. Kamil runs a tight kitchen.
On a recent Friday night, four of us were seated on the deck (do make reservations) and were soon nursing our drinks while decompressing from the work week. The appetizer menu includes almond-crusted calamari, New Zealand mussels, kofte and more. We ordered Otto's sampler plate, which included broiled mushroom caps stuffed with cheese and spinach, marinated grilled shrimp, and bruschetta with whipped feta, tomato and basil. Everything was perfect. We also split an order of crab cakes, which had nice flavors of almonds, hazelnuts, curry, tomato-ginger jam and caper aioli, which, unfortunately, completely subdued any hint of crab flavor. (Give me Chesapeake crab cakes that taste like crab.)
A Mediterranean platter, listed as an appetizer, is truly a meal in itself - indeed, two meals, since half of this one was spirited home. Mixed into a sea of fresh greens were a trio of spreads - whipped feta, hummus and eggplant salad - with kalamata olives, cucumber slices, tomato and grilled pita. Otto's has three entrée salads: duck confit (new on the menu), coriander-crusted salmon and spinach, and Greek chicken salad with romaine, feta, pine nuts, kalamata olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, and an oregano vinaigrette.
Otto's offers four steaks, all certified Angus. Other entrees include grilled sea scallops, grilled lamb chops, sea bass, ricotta-stuffed chicken breast, grilled Maple Leaf Farms duck breast, and spinach-artichoke pasta. I chose a house specialty: grilled salmon in grape leaves, with pine nuts, lemon-currant vinaigrette, thinly sliced Yukon Gold roasted potatoes and sautéed spinach. This is a beautiful creation, the vinaigrette enlivening the dish, raising it to a new level.
Another companion was more than happy with an evening special, fresh grilled halibut with risotto, mushrooms and asparagus in a creamy sauce. The genius of this dish was the light touch, letting the halibut's delicate flavor shine through. As Julia Child would say, "This fish was allowed to speak for itself!"
The Turkish mixed grill was another winner. It should be, since Kamil's family reputation rides squarely upon it. It includes perfectly done lamb chops, yogurt-marinated chicken, kofte (grilled lamb and veal meatballs), cracked wheat pilaf (which had a delicious earthy taste), white bean salad, red onion relish and yogurt mint sauce.
We weren't going to have dessert, since not all of us were plate cleaners, but our server unfairly brought dessert menus. (Yes, the flesh is weak. And flabby.) The white chocolate-cherry bread pudding, served warm with vanilla ice cream, was marvelous, as was a pistachio cake with apricot cream. We finished the evening with a spirited 18 holes of miniature golf, which I am sure counteracted all the calories consumed at Otto's.
Jazz is offered 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays (West Side Andy and his partner/guitarist Glenn Davis), Wednesdays (the easy jazz vocals of Gerri DiMaggio) and Thursdays (Michael Hanson and friends), through Sept. 4. So, before summer becomes just another image in your digital camera, get on out to Otto's. Eat. Drink. Be happy.
(P.S. You may be wondering whether Chilean sea bass, on Otto's menu, is an endangered fish. The latest word is that, no, it is not. But the fisheries in the Antarctic are not being managed well, and there is a lot of illegal hauling of this species. I still will not order it. There is no reason to, when there is plenty of fresh halibut around.)