Mom’s Day Eve
I treat my guys to Bottega Café for Saturday lunch.
By Jan Walsh

I am blessed to have both sons home for Mother’s Day week. Jordan brought Gulf seafood up from Gulf Breeze to cook for us on Mother’s Day. And I take my guys to lunch on Saturday at Bottega Café. And joining us is Ross’ childhood friend Banks Nelson, who is like family too. I had told them all we must be there before 11:00 a.m. because Bottega Café is not taking reservations any longer. So, we arrive 15 minutes before the doors open, and there is already a short line at the gate, which quickly grows down the sidewalk by 11:00. Fortunately, being near the front of the line pays off as we are seated at the round window table, which can accommodate five or six people. And within ten minutes, just as I predicted, the entire restaurant, bar, and patio are packed.

We order an array of cocktails including the in-season Strawberry Fields of strawberry vodka and house made lemonade, Bloody Mary, and yes someone orders a Screwdriver! We pair with a feast of appetizers… Always a must is Bottega’s warm Focaccia with Bottega Infused Olive Oil and the Marinated Olives. The guys order Chips and Charred Onion Dip, Baked Feta, Deviled Eggs, and Fried Oysters. I find my all-time favorite Bottega salad, Tortellini, back on the menu. So, I excitedly order it to share with everyone, prompting Kev to remind me once again that it is “Mother’s Day,” not “Sons’ Day.” We laugh, as I instruct, “Pass to the right,” as our free for all sharing begins. The chips are thin, crisp and stand up to the thick, creamy, and dreamy onion dip. Once the dip disappears, I snag the bittersweet onion for myself, which I consider this app’s keystone. We slather spoonsful of toasty feta crumbles and marinara onto thick toast points of focaccia. The tangy cheese pops on the palate, enhanced by the spicy, tomato glazed bread. The divine deviled farm eggs, complete with tapenade, are exemplary of Frank Stitt’s melding of Italian and Southern at Bottega. Oysters arrive golden and crisp on the outside, soft and succulent on the inside¾with sensational salty, briny, and sweet flavors, enhanced by caper aïoli. One taste of my tortellini salad reminds me why I love this dish so much. Asparagus, green peas, gem bibb, mozzarella, bulb onion, aïoli, and lemon vinaigrette synthesize with the perfect pasta for this unforgettable spring salad.

Surprisingly for entrees, we each select a different dish: Pesce del Giorno, Osso Buco, Chicken Scaloppine, Pork Chop, and Shrimp and Crawfish Risotto. The fish of the day is trigger fish. Its white, pristine meat is fresh and sweet, similar in flavor to crab meat. It is perfectly paired with a light set of basmati rice and a spring puree bursting with flavors of sweet peas and sugar snaps. Never tasted a better osso buco than this fall off the bone, tender and richly flavored Elysian Fields lamb. Roasted carrots, sugar snap peas, green peas, and onion encircles and embraces the lovely lamb atop creamy polenta, rounding out the dish with crisp farm fresh veggie flavors. Highly recommended! Bottega Café’s Chicken Scaloppine is a famous dish. Pardis once told me if they were to take it off the menu, the regulars would revolt! No doubt. The thick, golden, moist chicken breast is served sliced on a bed of polenta and drizzled with capers, aside a leafy salad. Bottega’s pork chop has also become wildly popular with the patrons, especially Kev. This difficult to resist 
thick cut, tried and true, bone in chop arrives cooked to order, and evenly cooked throughout, enhanced by tomato chutney aïoli. Its accompanying silky venetian spinach with sultanas and pine nuts and flavorful roasted potatoes as special as the chop itself. Both are on the “Sides” section of the menu. I find the lineup of sides perfectly designed, as an ala carte for vegetarians. I will order the spinach as a side next time or perhaps make a vegetarian meal of the sides section, which also includes Grilled Jumbo Asparagus, but hurry. Shrimp and crawfish marry well for this seafood lover in their creamy risotto, also made green with sugar snaps, sweet peas.

Who has room for dessert? No one but Kev and Jordan. But I assure all that Strawberry Semifreddo is like eating a cloud. Thus, we get two orders and five spoons. Although I have had the pleasure of filming in the kitchen, with the pastry staff when they make desserts on early mornings, this dessert was not one I have been privy too. Yet having no back of the house knowledge of how they dream this up, just makes the semifreddo even more special. I look forward to it each strawberry season. A tower of cream rises from a cookie foundation and is drizzled with fresh berries in a glistening strawberry sauce, dusted with pistachio powder. If heaven has a flavor this must be it!

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