Opening the Gates
Bottega Cafe is now serving lunch and dinner in the courtyard!
By Jan Walsh
For many years, Frank and Pardis Stitt’s Bottega Café has been a favorite, Saturday lunch spot for Kev and me. We have toasted many of life’s good times with Champagne here, at our corner table. And during the bad times, we were comforted and nourished by Frank Stitt’s cuisine. But for the past six months, as we drove past, seeing its proud, tall, iron gates closed saddened me…
We have surely missed this place and this setting of our lives. Sure, their curbside meals helped. But there is nothing like being here again greeted by familiar, smiling eyes. The weather is perfect, sunny and in the low 80s. Bottega Café and Bottega Restaurant courtyards are each covered in a white, cabana type tent, with little white lights and fans lining the ceilings. There is also a smaller tent in between at the open gates. Many friendly hands are on deck today, on this first Saturday of the reopening. And all seem delighted to play a role in Bottega Cafe’s pursuit of reopening perfection. The host recognizes and welcomes us as we enter the iron gates and leads us to our corner table, on this famous pebbled patio. One of our favorite bartenders from Highlands Bar and Grill drops by to say hello. Our attentive server ensures all is perfect throughout the meal. Frank oversees the back of the house but makes time for brief appearances on the patio. And while busy watching over the front of the house, Pardis catches up with us. She shares the planned, strategic sequence of the Stitt Restaurant Group openings: Chez Fonfon is next in a few weeks, Bottega Restaurant will open third in line, and Highlands Bar and Grill will reopen last. Wow, what we have to look forward to!
Kev and I toast the reopening with two flutes of Sparkling Limoncello. These lively, pulpy, yellow, citrus cocktails fit our joyful, high spirited mood of having this part of our lives back. We pair them with a flavorsome Fig Bruschetta. The toasted bread is slathered with ricotta and bountifully topped with in season figs, and bites of prosciutto and fresh mint. Oh, my! Good things do come in small packages. Kev generously gives me the third piece, thinking ahead that we will share dessert, of which I typically only have a taste. A mistaken assumption on his part, as I have no plans to skip dessert. Pastry Chef, Dolester Miles is literally the best in the country, and I have missed enough bites of Kev’s desserts here. So, I have thoughts of my own. But for now, I just smile and indulge in this comforting, warm, earthy finger food.
Neither of us can decide between the risotto and the simple fresh fish of the day. So, we decide to each order one and share both. Kev pairs with a Blackberry Farm beer on tap Saison, and I opt for a Paloma. These two seafood plates are polar opposites, but we were right not to pick just one. The lovely Lobster and Shrimp Risotto is a hearty, creamy, and filling al dente dish. Seafood gems of succulent Gulf shrimp and rich, melt in the mouth lobster claw transform the simple rustic risotto into an opulent entrée. And the Simple Fresh Fish of the day, halibut and virgin sauce, is light, bright, and fulfilling. Both of us agree that we have never had a halibut of the same quality as this fish. It is snow white, lean and pristine. Halibut is a dense fish, making it more difficult to cook. But Stitt’s kitchen not only catches the best, they know how to best prepare each variety of fish. And it shows in this halibut. It is firm in texture, yet tender, with large flakes that flaunt its freshness and mild sweet flavor. And the sauce’s olive oil, lemon, and tomatoes add color and acidity. Each bite of the fish glistens with golden oiliness of the virgin sauce and is crowned with peeled, slightly blanched, diced heirloom tomatoes. The tomatoes are juicy in texture and are bursting with flavors of peak freshness. I would order the dish just for the tomatoes. Highly recommended!
As Kev orders the Blueberry Semifreddo for dessert, I surprise him with my own order of Tiramisu and a glass of Sancerre. Both desserts are masterpieces. The semifreddo is a fluffy tower of heaven where blueberry flavors shine. A dusting of crushed pistachio adds texture and nutty notes. The tiramisu is a serious dessert that cures all chocolate cravings. No cocoa powder topping here. Lavish shavings of deep dark chocolate are layered inside and adorn the top of, this creamy and moist, classic Italian dessert.
As we leave through the gates, the host hurries over to say thank us and say goodbye and express hopes of seeing us again soon. Until next time…
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