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Bottega Bistro's trendy Mediterranean menu offers something to please most every diner. 

Club Med

For a restaurant in a strip mall, patio is surprisingly inviting. On the weeknight we visited, smartly dressed suburbanites were enjoying the warm spring weather, seemingly oblivious that their vista was a parking lot rather than, say, the Mediterranean Sea. But with the lure of an "open" kitchen inside, we opted to sit inside at a booth with a good view of Bottega's wood-burning pizza oven and its busy attendant. The restaurant's interior is artfully lit with blue sconces, decorated with vintage poster prints and arranged so that most of the seating has a good view of the exposed kitchen.

Bottega's menu features trendy Mediterranean-style cuisine with appetizers such as fried calamari with lemon rouille ($6.95); pastas such as pesto with shrimp, scallops and sun-dried tomatoes ($14.95); and entrees such as chicken saltimbocca ($14.95). But the menu is also fashionably eclectic with barbecued chicken appearing on wood-fired pizza ($8.95) and a filet of beef with bourbon-ginger sauce ($19.95). It's a large menu — the kind that probably has something to please most anyone.

[image-1](Stacy Warner / richmond.com)I liked everything about the smoked salmon "carpaccio" ($6.95) but its name. This three-part appetizer includes thinly sliced smoked salmon dressed with a mild horseradish cream, mixed greens with plenty of peppery arugula and a pickled apple fennel salad. The crunchy (almost squeaky) mouth-freshening fennel made a remarkably fine partner for smoked salmon. But why the name? Creative chefs have used the term "carpaccio," which properly identifies a thinly sliced raw beef dish, to described various thinly sliced raw tuna dishes — a clever analogy, for tuna is red and meaty and frequently served raw. But this fish was neither meaty nor raw, only thinly sliced — a characteristic that hardly distinguishes it from most smoked salmon. In my view, gratuitous use of trendy terminology detracts from a menu.

To sample the chef's more eclectic fare, we tried vegetable potstickers with a sweetened soy dipping sauce ($5.95) — a special that evening. These tasty little dumplings stuffed with cellophane noodles and finely chopped veggies arrived on a colorful bed of julienned vegetables and were appropriately garnished with pickled ginger. It was a dish I'd have been pleased to get at almost any Asian restaurant.

For main courses, we couldn't resist sampling the wood-fired pizza. Cooking in a wood-burning oven is an art that requires practice and very close attention. Thus, although wood-fired ovens have produced the best pizza I've ever had, they've also been responsible for some of the very worst. Our garden pizza ($7.95) with spinach, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, feta and mozzarella fell somewhere in the middle. It suffered two unfortunate symptoms, limp crust and slightly underdone toppings. My diagnosis was premature delivery — just a couple more minutes in that 600-degree oven would have made a big difference. Nevertheless, I applaud Bottega for taking on the challenges of the wood-fired oven.

[image-2](Stacy Warner / richmond.com)Also on the eclectic side was Caribbean spiced tuna ($18.95) — a creative arrangement featuring a huge pan-seared tuna steak placed atop golden fried plantain and served with a pineapple-orange chutney. The tuna, cut thickly and cooked to a near-perfect medium rare, could have used a few more shakes of whatever those Caribbean spices were (or maybe just a little more salt). The plantain was a delicious change of pace from the usual potato and rice starches, and the chutney seemed a good accompaniment for the tuna, although perhaps a little too sweet and syrupy. My only real gripe — and it is nitpicking — was with the garnishes. A sprinkle of parsley and two colorful splashes of sauce adorned the plate rim — one tasted of curry and complemented the flavors of the dish, but the other tasted of unseasoned beets and was clearly intended for visual rather than gastronomic aesthetics.

Desserts were better than average. A lemon poppy-seed cake ($5.95) would have been just mediocre were it not for the wonderful caramel glaze, and a chocolate terrine ($5.95) was predictably rich and indulgent.

Bottega's large menu ranges from run-of-the-mill trendy (in some cases gratuitously so) to the genuinely innovative. Notwithstanding a few glitches here and there, I'd say the kitchen executes the menu relatively well, resulting in quality fare served in a pleasant enough atmosphere. It's the kind of place I'd be happy to return to but don't envision
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