After being invited to dine there recently for the first time, I can understand why it’s won so many foodie fans so fast.
The large restaurant is done up in dark reds, browns and greens. Venetian plaster, Murano glass chandeliers, leather chairs and deep hued wood accents give it a most inviting warmth.
Little touches give the place even more distinctiveness from the hammered copper water tumblers to the parade of plateware that arrives throughout the dinner — from homey, floral china to rustic earthenware to modern square and rectangular dishes.
Prices range from $6 to $14 for appetizers, $15 or so for pasta, and $16 to $29 for entrees.
Chiarello came by to say hello, as he often does to patrons as he makes his way through the dining room, which is always bustling. The charming chef offered to let his kitchen just cook for us. And an array of dishes began to arrive.
From his early days as the opening chef of Tra Vigne in St. Helena to his years as the star of the “NapaStyle” cooking shows, Chiarello’s always been known for bold, brash flavors that excite and satisfy. Bottega is no different.
Up first was a silky duck liver pate with soft, sweet sauteed apples and a hillock of parsley and frisee, a nice counterpoint to the fantastically fatty nature of the dish.
Next, a special that night of bigeye tuna done crudo-style — sashimi-like with a topping of pine nuts and pear — and served dramatically on a slab of pink salt.
It was bracing, with the toastiness of the pine nuts announcing themselves in every lovely bite.
That was followed by a dish featuring one of my all-time favorite cheeses — burrata. Knobs of the mozzarella with the cream center were tossed with chunks of roasted butternut squash, caramelized mushrooms and brown-butter vinaigrette. With the magic of molecular gastronomy, 20-year-aged balsamic was turned into beads of “caviar” that crowned the dish. It was a lusty dish for the cold, autumn night.
Next, coins of octopus that had been wood-fired till they were smoky sat atop creamy, olive-oil braised potatoes. Pickled red onions and salsa verde lightened the dish with freshness and subtle tang.
Then, the showstopping tempura-like egg with the voluptuous, custardy yolk that accompanied a warm, spoonable Pecorino cheese pudding. To say this was a rich dish would be an understatement. But it was sure worth the calories.
A duet of gnocchi was outstanding. In one corner, ricotta gnocchi so tender you could barely pick them up with a fork, and covered with a simple tomato sauce based on one by Chiarello’s grandmother. In the other corner, gnocchi seared with crispy exteriors then topped with a duck-chestnut ragu with an unforgettable powerhouse of flavor.
Our entree was that night’s special — fork-tender porchetta with the creamiest polenta. It’s pig and more pig. A suckling pig gets massaged with a fennel-parsley-garlic paste, then stuffed with pork shoulder. It all goes into the oven at midnight and doesn’t get removed until 1 p.m. the next day. The skin was surprisingly a little tough to chew, but the meat itself was pure porky bliss.
Of course, we still had room for dessert. So out came vanilla gelato and an array of nougat, caramels, biscotti and other little treats. Finally, a server set down a warm chocolate cake, then poured warm hazelnut creme anglaise and candied hazelnuts over the top, which did indeed send us over the top, as well.
Bottega wraps you up in one delicious, comfy cocoon that you definitely don’t want to tear away from anytime soon.