Bottega opened in the old Crepevine space on Valencia Street during the pandemic and started serving take-out, yet I never noticed them even though they’re less than two blocks from us (bad neighborhood food reporter, bad!), but I did espy them just before they started serving indoors/outdoors, a few weeks ago.
The scoop is, they’re all scrappy, youngish Italians, mostly from Southern Italy from what I could gather, who got together to open their own space. Despite their youth, Bottega is not hipster in the least; in fact, it’s rather cheesy, with an abundance of fake flowers and too-loud music (50s Italian pop, house, rap, bossa nova). A barely discernible video streams scenes of Italy on the back brick wall. The food skews Italian American, with a lot of red sauce cred. One of the many personality-plus servers that stopped by our table, upon my remarking on all the southern Italians working there, quipped “Well, si, food is in the south.” Bring it, ragazzo; make your nonna proud!
We started out with complimentary focaccia; delicious, perfectly herbed and garlicky, served warm. Next, burrata alla Caprese with balsamico, and even though we ain’t anywhere near summer tomatoes, they managed to make this dish quite flavorful, though both the tomatoes and burrata were ice-box cold (a pet peeve of mine); still, I’d get it again.
BF got the lasagna, I got the amatriciana (per the suggestion of one of our servers, a sweet young lass from Macedonia), and we split an order of meatballs al sugo.
The lasagna noodles were house-made, so I was frankly devastated that they were pretty much obliterated in the sauce. But, it was a delicious, caramelized mush of a dish, with great umami and sweetness and depth and oomph. Really wish we could have enjoyed the texture of the lasagna noodles, but it was so good we split it, and left most of my amatriciana to take home.
My amatriciana had huge chunks of guanciale, the biggest I’ve ever seen in a dish. While adding a lot of good, deep flavor, probably could have been less sloppily cut. The sauce was not quite as good as the bolognese in the lasagna, but still tasty, and the spaghetti was a beautiful al dente; too much so for the BF, but I loved its toothiness. It actually didn’t look like typical spaghetti; much denser and wider. I believe most of the pastas are made in-house.
The meatballs weren’t of the so-tender-they-melt-in-your-mouth type, but were hearty and meaty and in a lovely San Marzano tomato sauce. I’d get them again.
Very warm, friendly service, and their big schtick (pun intended) is they constantly come around asking to wave a four-foot pepper penis over your dish.
Just say yes.
For science, we ordered the tiramisu for dessert. It was fine, nothing to complain about nor write home about. I prefer it served on a dish, cake-like, than in a glass, but that’s neither here nor there.
I had two fabulous glasses of a Villa Balestra Barolo, super tannin-y and a delight. The bar looks like a friendly place to order some of their many varieties of Italian wine and have a bite.
Two nights later, we ordered the margherita and sausage pizzas for a 6 p.m. pick-up. They weren’t ready at the allotted time, and the place was kind of a madhouse, as the restaurant’s power kept going out. Although there were only 3-4 tables filled, they kept shooing the delivery pick-up people to wait outside.
It appeared they had not started our order until we got there. A surly waiter kind of snapped at me when I said no one had actually checked on my order since I arrived, but I understand they were under a lot of duress. I’m cutting them a little slack because of the hardship they were under. Finally, we got our pizzas and Caesar salad at 6:30 p.m. The woman taking care of to-go orders kindly offered me a free tiramisu for the inconvenience, but I declined.
The margherita had just been pulled from the coal-fired oven, but we were unimpressed with the sauce, which was bland and watery, and I found chunks of unmelted cheese in it. Also, I saw merely two specks of basil. The sausage, mushroom and onion pizza had been sitting for a while, waiting on the other, but had quite a nice flavor. I bet it would have been good right out of the oven. This one also had a better crustiness.
The pizza here is of the Roman kind, known as pinse: Oval-shaped and made with rice and soy flours for extra crisp and lightness. The Caesar salad was basic but tasty enough. No anchovies on top, but there was plenty in the dressing, although they did not provide enough of it. Also, the lettuce was literally drowned in grated parmesan cheese. We had to toss half the cheese out, as it was overpowering.
This isn’t haute cuisine, but it could be your go-to place for mom-and-pop style Italian in a casual setting. (No reservations; first come, first served.) And, lesson learned, better to eat at Bottega instead of taking your food to go. There’s a lot more of the menu I’d try: the whole branzino, fried artichoke hearts, veggie croquettes, calamari, and they have at least eight other pastas and six additional pizzas. Plus, the wines… Abondanza!
1132 Valencia Street