I went there twice, and what do you know? I had one good experience and one bad experience. Inconsistency is the hobgoblin of high-volume restaurants. Bottega is a smart-looking restaurant. Once you're inside, you forget all about the shopping center within which it is located. The dark wood, low lighting and tasteful decor make the expansive room feel cozy. The booths are intimate, if a little narrow. The open kitchen in the back of the room draws the focal point away from the bustling shopperdom out front. When it fills up, as it often does, there is a nice community atmosphere about the place. On the other side of the coin, after we were seated, the hostess placed two roll-ups (silverware wrapped in napkin) on the table. Upon unrolling them, my guest and I both noticed that the napkins were wet. Not in a couple spots, but evenly moist throughout as if they'd been sitting in a humidor. We opened our menus. Mine was like a show-and-tell version, encrusted on three pages with all manner of crumbs and sauces. These two small slip-ups combined to temper the good first impression that the room had made on us.
Our service was a little shaky on the first night. The team approach didn't seem to be clicking. We waited too long for water, bread and appetizers, and then were rushed when our entrées came a few bites into the appetizers. On the second night, however, everything seemed to be in sync, and our primary waitress was extremely cheerful and efficient. On the first visit, our waiter chatted us up in a friendly manner. On the second, we were all but ignored by the bartender, though we were two of only four customers at the bar after dinner.
The menu at Bottega is pretty long and well-executed for the most part. Pizzas from the wood-fired oven are popular. Running from about $8 to $10, they are exotic affairs with crab, asparagus, andouille sausage, red beans and goat cheese adorning various selections. Appetizers range in price from $4.95 to $9.95. We sampled the arancini ($4.95), saffron risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella, deep fried and served with marinara. I liked the idea, but I couldn't detect much saffron flavor after the frying. The resultant effect was that of big, round cheese sticks. The calamari ($6.95) were tender, a little briny and full of tentacles (my favorite part). The use of polenta in the breading, though, gave them an unpleasant grittiness. Entrees include several pastas in the teens and about 10 fish and meat dishes. I was very pleased with the seafood gumbo ($17.95). Though it was served more as a sauce than a soup, the base was rich and nutty with a little bite. The shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels and andouille were tender, and their flavors were not lost in the mix. The veal scaloppine ($19.95), on the other hand, was a bit too chewy for my taste and looked lonely and pale in the middle of a broad white plate with no garnish to brighten it up.
Bottega is a good restaurant. It can be better than that if you hit it at the right time. Inconsistency in service and the quality of food preparation make this hard to predict, as is evidenced by the feedback from local diners. I would suggest visiting in the middle of the week and focusing on the seafood or pizzas. S
Randall Stamper worked in restaurants in Boston, New Orleans and Indiana for seven years in every job from dishwasher to general manager. All his visits are anonymous and paid for by Style.
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