Translating clothing store expertise into the restaurant business is a questionable endeavor, but Giuliana Maravelle, owner of Bottega Giuliana, was no longer content just to sell Diesel jeans and Dolce and Gabbana pants.
So now we have Caffe Bottega, opened Oct. 29, a heavily Italian bar and bistro that offers casual dining and live music in a relaxed atmosphere. While it might not be the best place to take Mom and Dad, the stylish dishes and pleasant ambience are a good recipe for a hot date.
Caffe Bottega’s glass corner facade gives the feeling of dining al fresco without the pesky inconvenience of snow in your food. While the Temple Street window provides an unfortunately close view of Subway patrons eating fresh, the one onto Chapel Street offers a beautiful panorama of the Green and the buildings across the way. The tables and chairs are a futuristic combination of metal, glass and acrylic that gives the place an odd, but not entirely unpleasant, futuristic feel. While there are no booths, a few lucky patrons can lounge on the couches and armchairs scattered at a few tables around the room.
With no band playing, the music ranges from the great to the unbearable and is piped in at that perfect volume that allows it to be savored or totally ignored as the patron sees fit. The servers are young, friendly and knowledgeable, and are happy to both answer questions about specific dishes and to make recommendations.
Cocktails range from $8 to $10 and sport such exciting names as Cosmogranate, John Travolta and French Connection (the last a combination of Courvassier V.S. and Grand Marnier). Wine is available by the glass or by the bottle, and a small range of bottled beers comes at $4 a pop.
The dinner food takes up only one page of the rather bulky menu, but while the number of options is small, the variety is impressive. Dishes range from a simple $8 chicken panino (that means a sandwich, folks) to the classic cheese and meat antipasto plates ($11 each), from the enticing lobster ravioli ($13) to the intriguing barbecued oysters ($15). Anyone who can’t find something they like here should stick to McDonald’s.
The soup of the day on my visit was butternut squash with ginger and brown sugar ($6). This delight is a sweet, hot, creamy puree that’s hard to stop eating. The bite of the ginger is the perfect complement to the creaminess of the squash, while the savory olive oil dribbled on top is just enough to counter the sweetness of the brown sugar. The mixed green salad with goat cheese, pears, toasted almonds and lemon olive oil ($9) almost lives up to the length of its name. These greens/fruit/cheese salads are the new Caesar, but while Bottega’s version is tasty, it adds nothing new to the genre. Nonetheless, the pear slices, splayed out like a hand of cards, are fresh and crisp, and the salty creaminess of the goat cheese matches them well.
The “pizzette” with roasted tomato, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil ($11) is well done all around. The thin crust is crisp but still chewy enough to be satisfying, and the roasted tomatoes and basil are as always an excellent combination. But these are just the opening acts for the star of the show, a creamy buffalo mozzarella that melts in the mouth the way so many cheap pizza cheeses don’t. The seared tuna with black bean salsa ($13) was competently prepared: The meat was perfectly cooked but rather flavorless, which the marinade did nothing to help. The black bean salsa did complement the tuna well, but it was not good enough on its own to justify the enormous amount of it that accompanied the dish.
The dessert offerings include the expected variants of chocolate cake, cheesecake and Italian pastries, but the first timer at Caffe Bottega should look right past these to the restaurant’s specialty, that creamy Italian favorite: gelato. The many available flavors of this alluring creature dwell in a brightly lit red display case, whose outstanding contents excuse it for standing out so much from the subdued dZ
While my experience at Caffe Bottega won’t have me running to tell Thom Brown to open a Kebab shop, the third and most recent Bottega venture seems to be a success. Caffe Bottega is a charming cabaret-style joint whose diverse menu and friendly servers should appeal to Yalies and young townies alike.