Sunday, March 1, 2009

Napa Valley Eating: Bottega

Greetings from St. Helena! We're up here in the Napa Valley for the weekend, both for enjoyment's sake and to cheer on the Suitor's sister, who did the Napa marathon this morning. The Suitor and I were going to do it, too, but through various complications our training became a lack of training, so we traded our running shoes for our heckling cheering voices. I'm disappointed that I wasn't toeing the starting line this morning, but the advantage to not running 26.2 is that I'm not as concerned about what I'm eating. Or drinking. Pass the burrata!

Our first stop this weekend was Bottega, in Yountville, on Friday evening. It was busy, and we waited quite a while for our table (even though we had a reservation). While at the bar Katie perused the wine list, and concluded that our money would be better spent on cocktails than on wine. Fair enough. Sister #1 ordered a drink that escapes me at the moment, save that it was lemonade-based, and I had a basil gimlet with Hangar One vodka. (Katie was driving.) I'm not usually a vodka person, but I've been curious about Hangar One, so in the spirit of "maybe I just haven't tasted the right one yet," I gave it a whirl. After all, it had basil in it, so how bad could it be?

Not bad at all, as it turned out. In fact, it was probably one of the best cocktails I've had in my short alcohol-drinking lifetime. I don't drink a lot of cocktails, so what do I know, but whatever. It tasted really, really good. So good that it's probably best that I nursed it over the course of a couple of hours, or else I might have become a little more giggly than is generally advisable in public.

Eventually we were seated. We had all packed our appetites, and said appetites had been fed, watered, and fertilized by the wait for a table, so we were quick out of the gate with the antipasti orders. There was no question about the first one: burrata with artichokes two ways (lemon-braised and crispy). Mt. Tam might be my new favorite cheese, but burrata is a very close second. Why anyone thought that fresh mozzarella needed even more cream I will never know, but I can't say I frown upon their decision to take an already luxurious food and take it to even loftier heights of gastronomic Nirvana.

Where was I? Yes, antipasti. Alongside the burrata with artichokes and grilled bread we had prosciutto with some sort of herbed dough that had been fried and rolled in cheese. Not quite sure what that was all about, but it was tasty, if unexpected. Rather salty, though--to the point where the saltiness of the prosciutto didn't really register. There was also a cup of indeterminate pinkish liquid that accompanied the prosciutto and pasta fritta. I don't have much to say about it because it added little or no flavor.

Onward to entrees. I was disappointed by the scarcity of hearty vegetable fare, and seriously considered ordering the ribolita off the antipasti menu as an entree. Fortunately I was able to find an entree with some sort of healthy vegetable goodness, but first the other two entrees. For Sister #1, a wood oven roasted whole fish with Meyer lemon and citrus & fennel salad, which she enjoyed very much if I remember correctly. For Katie, roasted Cornish game hen with what looked like smashed purple potatoes. Apparently the hen was quite good, but the potatoes undercooked and underseasoned.

My balsamic-glazed quail, on the other hand, was overseasoned for my tastes. I'm not only interested in the sauce--I ordered quail because I like quail, not because it won the "which sauce will shock & awe my taste buds most?" contest. I think I'm becoming crotchety at the ripe old age of 26: I have no patience anymore for chefs who don't respect their ingredients enough to let the flavors shine through. Anyway, the "sauteed vineyard greens" were bitter but fresh-from-the-field tasty. There were also stewed apples underneath the quail. I love stewed apples, and I suppose these were well done, but they seemed out of place, especially with the balsamic flavor. Ah well.

So, we've gone from a high point with the cocktail to a mixed bag of "mmm" and "zuh?" with the antipasti to a "meh" with the entree. I was starting to think that my expectations were higher than they should have been, but then it was time for dessert. Now, in a way, my affinity for almost all things sweet make me an easily satisfied customer in the dessert course. You could bring me an ugly-as-sin, slathered-with-canned-frosting cake made from a boxed mix and I would love you forever. But at the same time, I've been spoiled with enough good food to have high standards for what I consider an excellent dessert. Bottega wins.

The three of us split two desserts: the molten chocolate cake with caramelized hazelnuts and hazelnut creme anglaise, and the torta di riso (arborio rice tart) with Meyer lemon, huckleberry compote, and mascarpone cheese. Oh, they were good. So good. The creme anglaise had little bits of cacao nib in it, and the cake either was dusted with or had in it coarse grains of salt that offset the cake's chocolatey sweetness delightfully. And I would love to have that torta recipe. The huckleberries' tartness and brightness were perfect with the rich, subtly sweet tart.

The food, all things considered, was delicious; but what really made the evening was the great company. It's been too long since Sister #1 and Katie and I all had dinner together, and we had an uproariously good time. I haven't laughed so hard since I watched Ellen DeGeneres completely lose her composure on the phone with a woman named Gladys (YouTube video here).

All in all, I wouldn't put Bottega on a "must visit" list, at least not after this one meal, but I certainly wouldn't steer people away from it. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the meal was the awfully slow service, but I'm told that such sluggishness wasn't the norm for them. I'll be going back, and hopefully they'll be a bit quicker to facilitate my sampling of what they have to offer.

V Marketplace
6525 Washington Street, A9
Yountville, CA


Bee said...

What is the weather like in Napa?

I'm sorry that you were disappointed about not being able to run, but the eating and drinking bit just sounds like so much more fun.

A tiny technical point: What is the purpose of the link to "read more" of the post? Does it serve a function in terms of compressing things? I don't know why, but it really bugs my reading flow.

Anne said...

The weather was pleasant on Friday evening and Saturday. It rained nearly all of Sunday (which, frankly, was fine with me).

The eating and drinking definitely were fun! I still need to post on Sunday's dinner at Bistro Jeanty.

I'm sorry to hear that the expandable post format isn't to your liking. I added that function so that particularly long posts (often those with recipes) didn't dominate the front page quite so much, but if it's interfering with the flow, perhaps I could figure out a more suitable way of doing it. How about leaving the prose (such as it is) of the post fully expanded, and only putting additional details like recipe blocks and restaurant contact info "below the fold?"

Bee said...

Anne - I like that idea, but I'm also hesitant to suggest anything that would cause you to spend precious time tinkering around with the blog . . . just to please me! When Homesick Texan redesigned her blog a few months back, she added this function, too. I just don't like it -- but it is YOUR blog.

Anne said...

Thanks for your understanding, Bee. The tinkering isn't onerous by any means, and I won't go back to adjust all of the posts that have the expand/contract function (just as I didn't go back through the archives and add the function to all older posts in the first place). Let's give it a try with the regular text of the post "above the fold" and additional info below.