Our friends Martin and Barbara (she of the excellent recipe blog Barbara Cooks) recently had their first baby, so it had been awhile since we'd been able to hang out with them. However, they lucked into a miraculously quiet little angel baby, and they're able to bring him out to restaurants without any sort of disruption. Since we all appreciate fine, delectable cuisine, we decided to meet up with them to try out Bottega Americano, the new downtown food emporium/cafe/restaurant/Eataly clone (damn you Batali).
My first impression is that the place is massive. It really does do all it advertises.
You enter through the cafe portion, where they have grab-and-go items as well as a variety of salads and sandwiches to-order.
We opted to eat in the dining room portion, which is ringed by stations/bars where you can watch the food being prepared. Due to this, and the hard surfaces all around, it's quite noisy inside. You can tell that they're going for a bustling "things are happening here" effect, and it's really quite successful in achieving that. It's not too loud to hear your dining companions and you don't have to yell at each other, though it can be a bit harder to hear the waiter for those who are seated further away.
The menu is a petite little folded paper...
But when you open it up, there are a massive number of options inside: salumi, cheeses, salads, crudo, pasta, main dishes, and pizza. It took us quite awhile to make our decisions.
Aperol Spritz / Bollini, Pinot Grigio, 2013, Alta Adige
Barbara ordered this (I am not a fan of Aperol or Campari and should see myself out of food blogging because everybody else loves dat bitterness) and I was amazed at how huge it was! Here it is for scale next to my regular-sized Pinot Grigio.
I appreciated it's heft, if not its flavors. My Pinot Grigio was crisp, refreshing, and a nice change from the Pinot Grigios I usually drink at home, fresh from the shelves of our corner store at under $10 per bottle! Martin and Jason seemed to enjoy their beverages (a Roman Holiday rum cocktail and a dark Italian beer, respectively) as well.
Beef Carpaccio: reggiano / arugula / horseradish crema / lemon oil
This, our first shared appetizer, was absolutely fantastic. It was sliced very thin and sauced with just the right amount of horseradish so as not to overpower the beef flavor. The crisps, cheese, and arugula added a nice contrast of texture to the creaminess of the beef as well.
Di stefano Ricotta: honeycomb / olive crostini
After the Carpaccio blew us away, this was somewhat less successful. That is absolutely not to say that it was bad, it just didn't fully compare. It really needed to include more bread since the textural element is so key with this dish. I thought the Ricotta was perhaps a bit on the watery side and could stand to have been drained a bit. On the other hand, the figs were very fresh and the honeycomb was a good complement to the cheese.
Ravioli: corn / goat cheese / brown butter / sage / braised cavolo nero
I had this for my main dish. The brown butter + sage combo lures me in every time. This was a novel take on it with the addition of the corn and the "cavolo nero", which the internet tells me is a form of Italian kale (I am going to store this information and show off the knowledge when someone is least expecting it and I will seem very cultured indeed!) Everything was fresh and delightful.
Pappardelle: braised lamb sugo / pecorino
Barbara ordered this and I think it was the winner of all the main dishes. The one bite I had was incredibly delicious. Somehow, with all that lamb and such thick noodles, it managed to still be light. It was packed with flavor.
Risotto del giorno:
Martin ordered this. The risotto of the day featured heirloom tomatoes and shrimp. It had a perfect consistency (not too dry or too soupy, as risottos often can be) and he quite enjoyed it.
Gnocchi: smoked tomato / burrata / herb bread crumbs
This was Jason's choice, which was very atypical for him since it doesn't contain any meat! That meant it had an uphill battle for him to like it, but he did! The gnocchi were very soft, like puffy clouds, and it contrasted nicely with the zingy little crunch of the breadcrumbs.
We all shared this, despite the fact that our waiter basically tried to talk us out of both the desserts we were deciding between (this one: "I mean, it's pudding", the tiramisu: "we use banana and a lot of people don't like banana"). He was wrong; it's not just pudding. That makes it sound like it comes in a little plastic cup. Come on, man! It's more like a mousse than a Snack Pack.
There are still some kinks to work out with the rhythm of the service and the staff could be a bit more polished and knowledgeable about the menu. I would expect as much from a young restaurant of this size and scope, so none of these infractions were enough to talk me out of my opinion of...
Verdict: Ooooooh, I like you!
1195 Island Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101