Sweet Home, Bottega

We have yet another reason to pop into Bottega Café.

By Jan Walsh

Today at Bottega, we are welcomed by two old friends. This vintage pair of concrete pillars are new to Bottega’s courtyard. But they are old friends to us. Just as they proudly flank the courtyard here, they formerly escorted guests into our dining room, for two decades. Recently, as we began to downsize our oversized antique collection, my friend, Bottega’s artistically gifted, Chad Miller adopted them for the restaurant’s courtyard. And his artichokes atop are the classic, finishing touch, and spot on. What a talent!

Standing in front of Bottega’s Palladian style facade, beneath its pair of towering, limestone columns, I am struck by similarity of elements in the big columns and the baby ones. Both are adorned with scrolling volutes and have leaves of an acanthus plant peeling back on their capitals. With a poignant sense of déjà vu, I touch and talk to the pillars... And they proudly whisper back, “This is where we belong,” in a Mediterranean accent.

After settling in at our favorite window table, we order cocktails. Kev has a Royal Italian. And I order the Bottega Mai Tai. Kev’s thirst quencher is a lovely blend of gin, pineapple, lime, and limoncello. And my mai tai beats the heat with aged rums, pecan orgeat, lime, and dry curaçao on the crushed rocks. We also start with Focaccia and Bottega Infused olive oil along with Marinated Olives because you will never find better bread. Chef Frank Stitt makes magic with herbs. I often find a hint or a boldness in a dish that sets it apart from others. And when I ask him what I am tasting, he will often mention a particular herb that he used. In the olives it is the fennel seed that lends a licorice like layer, mixed with cumin and lemon peel in this marvelous marinade. Herbs are also highly nutritious, bringing health benefits to Stitt’s fare.

We also share the Oven-roasted Gulf Shrimp. The shrimp arrive curled together, heads on, overlapping their cast iron pot. Those who freak out when seeing a shrimp’s head, please chill. The heads were detached (in the kitchen) and fall off before you can look them in the eye. And the additional depth of flavors brought forth by baking heads on are phenomenal. We spoon their buttery pool (a synthesis of Aleppo chili, Castelvetrano Olives, and garlic) over the shellfish. Each shrimp is large in size, tender in texture, sweet in flavor, and pristine in succulence. And not one toasted focaccia point remains after dipping in the remaining gorgeous “jus.”

For entrees, Kev is craving the Roast Joyce Farms Pork Loin and Sausages and adds a side of Crispy Potatoes just because he loves these potatoes. Today is Wednesday, and Farmers Market Vegetable Plate is a special. So, I came not only to see the pillars in place but also for this plate. Looking around the dining room, I think many other women who love veggie plates but do not have time to make one are also here. Yet suddenly and unexpectedly, hearing about the fish of the day from our server, the Red Snapper caught me.

Kev’s pork plate is a colorful array of red peppers, red cabbage, and onions, on a bed of creamy, yellow polenta, garnished with fresh, green sage. Yet Joyce Farms Heritage pasture raised pork loin reigns supreme. I order Joyce Farms and have it delivered. And a selection of Heritage Pork is available to the public, but you will not find this special loin in their retail. No industrialized factory farmed pork here. This loin is an English breed, The Gloucestershire Old Spot dating back to 1790. The steak knife cuts through this perfectly cooked, glistening loin like butter. Moist and tender throughout, the pork’s pure, Old-World flavors please his palate. The sausage, Kev describes as excellent, not too hot but takes him back to county fairs as a boy in Pennsylvania. “What you grew up with and what Italian sausage should taste like,” he reminisces. “Add these peppers and onions and all you need is the bun.” He tempts me into a bite. But my fair, food memories are corn on the cob, caramel apples, and cotton candy. In this sausage I taste Tuscany, in its Italian parsley, roasted garlic, fennel, and black pepper in natural hog casing. This pork plate is highly recommended!

My fish is the perfect dish for this hot day. It arrives rose gold in color on a bed of orzo, corn, bulb onion, red and yellow peppers, cucumber, and is crowned with a generous dollop of lemon caper aïoli and fresh herbs and punctuated with fresh dill. On first cut the firm, whiteness of the fish peeks through. On first bite its delicate, mild sweetness adds an exclamation mark to “fresh from the Gulf!” The mix of pasta dotted with crisp, diced veggies is light, lovely, and fulfilling. And the lemon caper aioli adds a touch of creaminess and light acidity that enhances the fish. Thus, I can’t regret passing on the veggie plate because while summer is here, there is always next Wednesday.

For dessert we pass on some of our favorites to try the Lemon Cheesecake with local berries paired with Champagne by the glass. Did you know that cheesecake is technically a tart? And it arrives as an individual tart in a dainty pastry shell. Topped with a glossy blueberry glace, yet the tangy sweetness of cake’s filling is not outshined. The cheesecake has it all: creaminess, fruitiness, and texture. As we depart, we say goodbye to Bottega’s pillars, promising to visit them again soon.









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