Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Michael Chiarello's Bottega Restaurant

After such a great wine tasting experience at Hope & Grace Cellars, I really felt an impulsive urge to stay in town and have Sarah drive the 10 minutes upvalley to meet me for dinner (after all, Yountville is chock full of top-notch restaurants, despite its tiny size.)

I wandered across the street to the sign for "Bottega", which is an Italian-inspired restaurant by celebrity chef Michael Chiarello. Being a Tuesday in the middle of the off-season, I figured I might not need a reservation... and I was right. When I stepped inside, the hostess said they could seat me and I made a reservation for about 20 minutes later, to allow Sarah time to arrive.

When she got there, we were ushered back through the warm, upscale-meets-rustic decor and sat at a cozy table for two with a nice view of the restaurant. The ambiance is not extremely unique, but is nice -- sort of "medieval Italian farmhouse" with spit and polish added. Lots of warm lighting, but not so much as to remove the antique, cavernous feel... pounded copper cups for water... lots of wood and leather and earth tones.

I had previously checked out their menu on the website and was intrigued my multiple dishes on it. I have lived and worked in Italy and can tell you there is nothing "traditional" about this "Italian" food ... it's more like Italian-inspired "California cuisine" (which is more traditionally French-inspired). But I can dig that.

We decided to order the grilled octopus appetizer (Wood Grilled Octopus olive oil braised potatoes, pickled red onion, salsa verde), and for main dishes I ordered the "Confit of Half Duck mostarda di frutta, panettone bread pudding, red wine duck jus" while Sarah opted for "Fall Squash & Amaretto Tortelli, apple braised pork cheeks & pork braising jus." We didn't order any wine; the wine menu seemed decent, although a little pricey and I had already had plenty during my tasting at Hope & Grace.

All of the food was pretty decent; the grilled octopus is different than I had expected (it was basically one skinny tentacle served with some potatoes and greens) and could have been fresher; the tortelli plate seemed somewhat small at first, but was delicious and fairly rich so it ended up being quite filling. The balanced sweetness of the tortelli was a nice change of pace from the over-salted indulgence of other local hot spots such as Bouchon Bistro and Bistro Don Giovanni. And the pork cheeks were tender and succulent. The duck was not as unique of an experience as the tortelli, but was cooked well and was a pretty hefty portion (being that it was half a duck), and the panettone bread pudding was a nice choice for a side -- again, the sweetness was welcome as it offset the savory flavors of the meat.

Though we didn't get any drinks or dessert, the experience was pleasant enough and I definitely plan to come back some time for its varied menu choices (something for everyone) and above-average food quality. For anyone craving Italian-style food, but with that unique Napa Valley twist, I will bring them here (although I would also like to try Tra Vigne at some point. The only other local Italian restaurants I have tried were Boskos Trattoria in Calistoga and Bistro Don Giovanni in Napa, which was awful).

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