Thursday, November 4, 2010

Food Field Trip Napa: Michael Chiarello's Bottega

Bottega is Michael Chiarello's nearly two year-old restaurant in an old winery building smack in the center of Yountville.  It has great energy, fantastic ambience, wonderfully attentive service, and a vibrant sense of fun--Michael himself is there most nights, personally greeting diners (as well as barking out orders to the kitchen staff)--but the food, regrettably, is not up to par with the stiff competition along these few blocks of culinary Mecca.  Of course, this particular strip in Napa Valley does include the best of the best: Ad Hoc (review to come), Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty, and Redd.  And this doesn't even count some of the other fantastic places the next town just north a few miles up the main drag through the Valley.  If only Bottega's kitchen could match the execution of the food with the service and space, then this restaurant would fit right just needs some sort of spice!

Bottega boasts Yountville's largest dining room, which is beautifully conceived with its restored brick, high ceilings, and larger than life brass chandeliers.  In addition to the two main dining rooms, there is huge bar, and even bigger enclosed and heated porch (with its own fireplace).

Our service was flawless. The wine director was fantastic, allowing us to taste three of the Chiarello family wines, available in individual two-glass carafes.  The Chiarello wines were excellent, priced the same at the table as they are retail at the chef's store, Napa Style, next door.  The Petit Syrah had the robustness and fruit-forward flavor that the area is known for; I enjoyed the wine so much, that I went back the next day to to purchase a bottle ($52).

Presentation on all the food was top-notch.  It was the coming together of the ingredients in the overall flavor and taste of most dishes that somehow missed the mark.

Bottega: Burrata with roasted mushrooms, butternut squash, and caviar
The burrata appetizer began the meal on a high note, and I wished the rest of the plates were as well executed.  The sweetness of the cheese coupled with the salty caviar and woodsy vegetables was a treat.

Bottega: Artichoke two ways: with bitter greens and shave Parmesan
The artichokes were very good and I could have eaten a bucket full just of these paper thin fried wisps.  But the greens were far too bitter and overpowered both ways of the artichokes.

Bottega: House-made egg pappardelle veal, pork & porcini mushroom Bolognese, rosemary, parmigiano
The way the pappardelle stuck together gave it quite the gloppy texture; the bolognese needed something: maybe more heat? more richness?  Not sure, but more something!  Maybe another original Food Network alum can help out, lending some of the Babbo pasta secrets.

Bottega: Housemade pasta, rabbit ragu, and mascarpone cheese (I think...)
This pasta held up better, but again, the hearty meat sauce was calling out for more seasonings, and even that generous dollop of mascarpone could not save this dish.

For me though, the highlight of the evening turned out to be not the food, but a one-on-one with the chef.  And I freely admit I probably was not the most articulate--bordering on gushing--when B and I got to meet Michael Chiarello, and discuss his wines, the food, and his former Food Network show.  Michael clearly thrives off the energy of this venture.  He was so gracious with table after table of diners, including the throngs of cougars that troll the dining room and gawk at this "cutie patootie" (their words, not mine).  And according to our waiter, the presence of Michael at his restaurant is par for the course -- certainly a nice treat for diners and fans like us of the (original, not the current) Food Network.

Cheese: Meeting  Michael Chiarello
I really wanted to love this restaurant. Despite the pluses on atmosphere, passion, elaborate choreography of service, wines, and local ingredients, the food just does not click.  But I  should also note the prices are some of the most reasonable (take this for what it is worth, Napa is not inexpensive) in the area -- two appetizers, two pastas, dessert, wine, tax, and tip came to $155.

Bottega on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. Maybe you were there on an off night. The meal I had there in 2009 was quite good. Maybe the pastas were the issue with your meal. We didn't get pasta dishes there so I can't speak to them. We got to meet Michael as well. Very nice guy.