If you're a fan of Top Chef, you probably already know the name Michael Chiarello. The chef and owner of Bottega in Napa competed in the first season of Top Chef Masters with other celebrity chefs including Hubert Keller and Rick Bayless. At the invitation of Sherry Page of Culinary Getaway, a woman who is very much in the know of wine country and all things tasty, I went along for a lunch that demonstrated the merit of Chiarello's status among Top Chef Masters.
Bottega is located in the rustic and picturesque town of Yountville, which has become popularized in the last two decades by many of Thomas Keller's ventures, mainly French Laundry, Bouchon and most recently, Ad Hoc.
Sherry's the woman sitting at the table, she's my soul food sister. I'm looking forward to traveling on one of her Culinary Getaways, perhaps the truffle getaway or the Provence getaway. One day ...*sigh* ... hopefully sooner rather than later.
We arrived early at Bottega roughly an hour before the lunch crowd, when all seats in the house are occupied. Cavernous isn't it? But in a wonderful rustic and elegant way. Sherry started with the shaved brussels sprout salad ($9), marcona almonds, sieved egg, pecorino, whole citrus vinaigrette. It's a light, airy, fresh and well-composed salad. This is one of Sherry's favorite dishes at Bottega.
Roasted golden and chiogga beets salad ($12) with Point Reyes blue cheese and pistachio vinaigrette is an excellent example of Bottega's emphasis on fresh and high quality ingredients. The salad is a warm combination of sweet, earthy, tangy and savory flavors, which are on the bolder side with a generous foundation of pungent blue cheese to complement the sugar sweet beets and refreshing pistachio dressing.
Monterey calamari ($10), crisped with Arborio rice flour, aioli nero accompanied by a roasted meyer lemon half. I can't imagine anyone not enjoying a plate of lightly battered and well-crisped fried calamari. The plate arrived with a squid ink sauce that both sounded and looked intriguing. While quite good, the commonality of fried calamari makes it easy to be overshadowed by other spectacular offerings at Bottega.
Wood-grilled octopus ($14) olive oil braised potatoes, pickled onion, salsa verde. Tender and supple octopus flesh, smoky with a sprinkle of hot spice. I thought it was going to be tough to outdo the refreshing and colorful chiogga beet salad, but a bite of the smoky, paprika seasoned octopus made me pause. I think this was the best dish of everything we ate.
I know octopus is going to be a challenging ingredient for some, but the phenomenal texture, lightly charred on the exterior and tender and almost briny meat, makes this a dish worth at least a try, even for the non-adventurous eaters. After finishing with the satisfying octopus tentacle, tender green leaves, I was surprised to find a large slice of yukon potato at the base of the salad, and thought twice about eating it. Potato, it's such an ordinary ingredient and could be skipped, but I took a small bite, and again, was corrected on my assumption. I don't have any memories of being impressed to such extent by a simple potato. It was full-flavored, rich, nutty, and seasoned perfectly, so much so, that I hope one day to learn how to cook this potato just like Mike.
Each one of these dishes are on the appetizer menu, Sherry and I had two each, and it was sufficient for us to leave full and happy with no extra room for dessert, unless we tried, but we didn't. I'm certainly looking forward to revisiting Bottega again and trying some of the spectacular entrees. Carolyn of Food Gal picked one of the dishes at Bottega, the gnocchi topped with a duck chestnut ragu as one of the top 10 dishes she ate in 2009. I'll definitely return for that and perhaps it will be on a warmer day so that I can enjoy the meal on their stylish outdoor patio.
6525 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599-1300