Friday, March 27, 2009

New dining in Yountville: Bottega

Days later, my friend JoAnn is still raving about our recent lunch at Bottega, the hot new Yountville restaurant by Food Network star and Napa Valley local, chef Michael Chiarello. "What a treat!" says JoAnn. "It was really awesome to be able to try the food at Bottega—everything was fabulous." Now JoAnn, a magazine stylist and taste-maven, is not unaccustomed to fine food, so her raves mean something. Here's how our day unfolded:

We're here for the Taste of Yountville, and annual food-and-wine tasting event that takes over the streets of this tiny town. But we're early, so first we stop for "a bite" at Bottega, where we're greeted at the table by general manager Joel Hoachuck, who is a pretty distinctive guy--I mean, you can't miss the curly moustache and twinkling dark eyes as he roams through the restaurant. He looks a bit like the Agatha Cristie detective, Hercule Poirot. And, like Poirot, he unravels a few mysteries (in this case, about the house specialties).

To describe the food as Italian cuisine is to leave out so much. The menu is divided into Stuzzichini (bites to share), Antipasti, Pasta, Secondi (main course) and Contorni (vegetable side dishes). Turns out, what Bottega really specializes in is giving diners a slice of Italy: house-cured meats, housemade pasta, olives, cheeses and so on. The menu is a kind of "greatest hits" of micro-regional Italian cuisine; Chef Chiarello includes his picks of the best dishes from across Italy and anchors them with artisanal, heritage, or house-made ingredients. And our intended "bite" becomes a four-course meal!

Our faves: Organic Prosciutto “house cured” and light and flavor-packed, accompanied by a cup of Lambrusco ($11). "The Lambrusco is a wine that's not well known here, but used right, it's a light and refreshing accent," Joel tells us.

By now, Joel really has our attention, so when he insists we try the Ricotta Gnocchi ($14) topped by salsa pomodoro alla nonna and pecorino, we're all ears. "There's no potato in it and its light as fried air," he says. He's right--they practically float. And for our entree, we agree to split the garlic roasted Dungeness Crab crab (with saffron aïoli and bruschetta) for $29 was big enough that we split it between us.

For dessert, we enjoyed the warm chocolate cake (with its fun presentation), but the lemon tart with huckleberries was our fave by far.

"I don't eat this way every day," says JoAnn, "but I could get the hang of it really
quickly! And Joel also added so much fun to the tasting." So when you go, be sure to look for Joel and take note of his enthusiastic recommendations--he knows his stuff.

Details: Bottega, 6525 Washington St. (at V Marketplace), Yountville; 707/945-1050 or Reservations advised. For more lodging and dining ideas, visit the Yountville Chamber of Commerce.

Next week: our Taste of Yountville adventure...

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