By Wendy Lemlin
It seems I’ve been craving Italian cuisine lately. There’s something about spring that has me jonesing for the rich green taste of pesto, fresh tomato sauces with their acid/sweet balance, silky homemade pastas, and local seafood and produce kissed by olive oil and wine. The redolence of garlic, the interplay of herbs like oregano, rosemary, and basil, and oh, the cheeses!
So, with my palate salivating at just the thought of all that deliciousness, I have sacrificed my waistline to embark on a tour of some of my favorite Italian restaurants, and share my experiences. This is the first in a series of articles; each one will showcase a different restaurant, or chef, or particular dish.
This is not your quaint, classic checkered-tablecloth Italian bistro. Step through the doors of this buzzing East Village restaurant/market/ and café, and the Thomas Schoos designed interior is modern and chic, but at the same time organically comforting. There are seating options for every type of diner. Want an intimate, tucked-away table?
Got it! Prefer to dine with a group in the middle of all the action? Got that, too. Love watching the activity in the open kitchen or talking to pizza chef Andrea Mancinelli as he prepares his creations for the unique, double sided brick oven? Well then, you have a choice of sitting at five different interactive food bars, and being thoroughly entertained as you dine. The crowd is comfortably chic, too, but there is nothing pretentious or off-putting about the atmosphere. Diners are seen sporting anything from jeans to dressed-up-for-an-evening-out attire. In fact, the convivial ambience and energy of Bottega Americano is one of its best features.
Like every good restaurant, the menu is seasonally influenced, especially so by the weekly Farmer’s Market CSA boxes the kitchen receives from purveyor Specialty Produce. In fact, Bottega Americano’s customers can join Specialty Produce’s CSA
program and pick up their own boxes at the restaurant, with recipes for using some of the ingredients posted weekly on Bottega Americano’s website. Combine that with the beautifully presented prepared foods and desserts in the Marketplace showcase at the restaurant’s entrance, and BA has you covered for dining out or dining in.
Many of the menu items are available as your choice of “small plate” or full size, so if, like me, you prefer small portions of a variety of dishes, rather than one large entrée, you’re in luck. At a recent dinner, a friend and I shared an assortment of dishes and very much enjoyed the diverse flavors and textures of our selections.
We started with a “teaser” of Eggplant Caponata, served with golden brown crostini.
Although I could see plenty of eggplant, golden raisins and pine nuts, most of what I tasted was tomato. Not that that was a bad thing—the tomato was very fresh and appetizing, but personally, I like the dominant ingredient in my caponata to be the eggplant, with the tomato playing the supporting role.
The yellowtail crudo was one of the best things I had all night—in fact it was one of the best I’ve had anywhere. Even my friend, who insisted she doesn’t like raw fish, helped to devour it. Most crudos are prepared with an Asian or Mexican nuance, using a lot of citrus and often soy sauce and Serrano or some other mild chile, but this crudo wasn’t. It had a pleasantly earthy component, with daubs of pale green celery root puree, paper thin slices of pickled apple, a smear of house made-green goddess dressing, and a deliciously surprising garnish of brown butter crumble. The sweet/acid balance was totally on point and the contrasting textures and flavors served to shine the spotlight on the fish itself, which was butter-tender and sweet in its freshness.
Bottega Americano is committed to supporting local farms and purveyors as much as possible, and the rainbow-hued Local Citrus Salad showed how delectable—and beautiful—that choice can be. The pleasant bitterness of arugula and frisee was balanced with the sweet/tart interplay of pieces of grapefruit and orange, pickled beets, crumbled goat cheese, medjool dates, and pistachio brittle.
Homemade pastas are a specialty at BA and the Ravioli was remarkably light and silky. Filled with goat cheese, the fluffy pillows were surrounded by chunks of butternut squash and crisped sage leaves, tossed in brown butter, and garnished with aged balsamic glaze and grated cheese.
The Saffron Tagliolini presented an Italian/Asian fusion, with the al dente saffron noodles
tossed with shrimp, pieces of caramelized fennel, basil and garlic, and then bathed in a Japanese-style shrimp dashi broth. The flavors were rich and satisfying, and if the shrimp weren’t slightly overcooked, this would have been one of my favorite dishes.
Under the Piatti section of the menu, my friend and I decided to split the Salmon, which would have been fine, except that I’m of the salmon-should-always-be-served-very-rare persuasion, and my friend likes her fish well-cooked. We compromised and ordered something in between, but, as tender as the Scottish salmon was, it was still too well done for my taste. Served on a bed of wilted spinach, caramelized fennel and blue lake beans, the fish was surrounded by a creamy tomato fonduta sauce, accompanied by several gnocchi that, to my thinking, were the best thing about the dish. Browned in butter, they were slightly crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and I wished I could just eat a bowl of them.
I had no intention of ordering dessert after all this food—though, we had shared everything, and when there was the option to do so, we choose the smaller portion, so it really wasn’t as much as it sounds like—but then we were enticed with several shot-glass sized versions of Bottega Americano’s most popular sweets. And…yes we did. We thoroughly enjoyed the small tastes we had of Tiramisu, Dark Chocolate Budino, Strawberry Cake with Lemon Curd, and Passionfruit Pannacotta.
Bottega Americano, located at 1195 Island Avenue, is open for lunch M-Sa, and dinner every day. Brunch, featuring $15 bottomless mimosas, is served 10 am-3 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Breakfast is now served in the Marketplace from 7:30-10:30 M-F mornings; Happy Hour is 3-6pm daily, and a late night menu is available Th-Sa from 10pm to close.