Bottega (Yountville, CA)

6525 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- approximately $31-50 for one dinner including drink and tip
Ambiance- casually elegant with rustic, Old World charm
Cuisine- Italian
Hits- local ingredients capture the flavors of Napa Valley and the surrounding area
Misses- menu seems to keep the same basic skeleton with minor seasonal tweaks, which makes it seem like a one-shot deal rather than a repeat dining experience
Bottega was our last culinary stop on a long, gorgeous, harvest season weekend in Napa.  We were traveling with our friends Tommy and Sarah, and our dinner at Bottega was also a reunion with our friends Dominique and Briano, newlyweds from the Oakland area whom we met on our honeymoon in Thailand.  Our lunch at French Laundry was a tough act to follow, but we had high expectations and were looking forward to what Chef Michael Chiarello had to offer.  Inside, we were greeted at a back-lit, tiled hostess station that glowed like a flaming mosaic.  This photo isn’t great, but it gives you some sense of the visual aesthetic:
We had a drink at the copper-topped bar and drank in the Old World ambiance: dark, wooden farmhouse tables; terra cotta tile; exposed brick; rounded windows and archways; warm, earthy Tuscan oranges and yellows; metallic wall sconces; and large, circular, black metal chandeliers.
We were hesitant to leave behind the cloudless autumnal blue sky but equally glad to be seated on the awning-shaded, screened patio (think lanai if you’re a Floridian), which allowed us to enjoy the outdoors.  We first had a crusty bread with an herbed, garlicky olive oil spread.
Our first appetizer was tuna tartare with pomegranate seeds and arugula served on a thick, pink Himalayan salt block.  The flavor progression was well-timed: sweet, then salty, then nutty.  We have the same salt block at home, a gift from Portland from my brother, and it’s a great serving piece for fish, cheeses, carpaccios, and vegetables.
Our next appetizer for the table was calamari with squid ink mayo and chili paste, served with a char-edged lemon wheel.
We also had a burrata, a magnificently soft cheese made from mozzarella and cream, with black mission figs (gotta LOVE harvest season!) and crisp rosemary.  Other people may be sick of the fried herb thing, but I still dig it.  This appetizer was probably my favorite for its simplicity alone.

Our last appetizer was “house cured” organic prosciutto with doughy lumps of pasta fritta (fried pasta) and zuppa di melone (“melon soup”), which was an innovative play on the more traditional prosciutto wrapped around slices of melon.  This dish was a bit more of what I had been hoping for: something I knew with a clever twist.
Both Rich and Tommy followed their appetizers with a pasta course; each tried the the ricotta gnocchi al forno with roasted pomodorini (tomato) sauce, basil oil, and pecorino cheese.
My husband Rich had smoked and braised short ribs in a smoky jus with preserved Meyer lemon spinach.
Dominique and I had the crispy potato gnocchi with baby summer vegetables, a zucchini passato (thick sauce), and crisp prosciutto.  To be honest, it was mostly cheese and oil, and I was disappointed.  What promised to be clean, fresh vegetables felt heavy and overburdened, although the gnocchi were light, airy, and a great textural mixture of crisp on one surface and otherwise soft throughout.  In fairness, I don’t love cheese, so a bigger cheese lover might have enjoyed this dish more.  I found myself wishing that I’d asked our server to hold the cheese, which would have made the dish a totally different one.
Sarah had an Adriatic seafood brodetto (a rather thick, hearty seafood stew that ironically translates to “little broth”).  It was made with monkfish, mussels, rock cod, fresh Monterey calamari, tomato broth, and a rouille (French for “rust,” it’s a seafood-garnish sauce made of olive oil, paprika, saffron, and croutons).
Both Tommy and Briano had the grilled “angry” Gulf prawns with heirloom tomato “steaks,” crispy garlic, basil, Calabrian chili dressing, and a lemon aioli.
Bizarrely, after all of this food, we still had room for dessert.  I had the zeppoles, soft doughy pillows, served with Conserva lemon curd and also with a blackberry-blueberry-Earl Grey tea sauce.  The zeppoles were good, as far as zeppoles go, and the accompaniments were original and enjoyable.
We also tried a berry bowl from Sebastapol Farms in Sonoma.  It was served with heavy cream, strawberry syrup, and sweet crostini (toasts).  The berries were nice since they were soooo out of season back at our home on the East Coast.
Another dessert we shared was a Marcona almond sbrisolona (a very crumbly tart, almost like a cookie) affogato– topped with vanilla bean gelato, an espresso granita (a semi-frozen, icy, shaved dessert made from sugar, water, and flavoring) with honey-almond milk espuma (foam).  This dessert seemed to show off the most work and bona fide technique…
Our last dessert was a chocolate bourbon tortino (“pie”) with banana brulee, roasted banana gelato, and a milk chocolate peanut butter bar.
Sarah ordered the Bottego cookie and biscotti plate.
So those of you who are loyal readers are probably thinking, “Great, Jen.  I now know everything you guys ate.  But what did you think of it?!?”
Frankly, I think my lack of detail and description speaks for itself.  The meal was ho-hum. It was good. It was technically proficient, but it was pretty much what one might expect of a celebrity chef with too many pots on the fire.  Chiarello is no longer in the kitchen and is likely busy balancing his many endeavors: the family winery, a restaurant, a few cooking shows, and Napa Style, a California-centric retail store a la Williams Sonoma.  While Chef Chiarello is busy building his empire, his restaurant suffers the unfortunate effects of a talented chef spread too thin.   In the heart of sunny, beautiful Napa, it’s not enough to be talented.  It’s not enough to use fresh, natural ingredients.  I wished I had seen more that surprised me, more that jumped off the plate.  While the prices were reasonable and the food was good, it wasn’t something I’d run back for… even if I did live on the West Coast.

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