Friday, February 20, 2009

La Botte, Santa Monica CA

Flying from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the early morning hours of February 20th, my family and I decided to take advantage of the fact that Santa Monica’s Michelin Starred La Botte was open for full service lunch on Friday. Having already tasted some of LA’s other fine Italian Houses as well as those in other cities like New York, Chicago, and Vegas I was quite intrigued by chef Fineo’s unique menu of Northern Italian recipes. Arriving around 11:50 for our noon reservations the restaurant was not yet even open which allowed us time to wander the Third Street Promenade and swing by La Botte’s sister deli just down the street. Returning at noon, we were the first in the restaurant and were greeted by our incredibly thick accented Italian server, Antonio.

Entering the room it was beautiful to see the finely crafted interior – beautifully formed from the staves of old wine bottles, and per our request we seated immediately adjacent to the beautiful wine room, yet at a table with some sunlight. During the course of our meal, a little over an hour, two other couples also joined La Botte for lunch and we were all spaced appropriately so that noise level was perfect. In mere moments our server returned with a basket of fresh Italian bread and menus while another young man filled our glasses. Explaining the specials I was a bit taken back by the sheer number of “Italaianisms” used by Antonio – to the extent that I even wondered if it was contrived – perfecto!

Returning after a few moments (all of our bread was gone and instantly replaced with another hot basket) our orders were taken and with yet another “magnifico,” Antonio went to enter orders into the computer. Wanting to wash up, I made my way to the restroom – a restroom desperately in need of cleaning and sporting a clogged toilet – poor form. Returning to the table I suddenly noted the oddly out of place music (Spanish? French? A little Italian and some Jazz) that actually seemed more out of place to me than Batalli’s odd choices at Babbo and Mozza.

After another few moments, our first dishes arrived from the kitchen, again with more delicious bread. For the table, an order of the PROSCIUTTO DI PARMA E BURRATA was first served and was actually quite good. Featuring thinly sliced Parma prosciutto and fresh burrata cheese with just a touch of olive oil the starter was certainly more than adequate for the three of us to get a good taste of what La Botte had to offer (only to realize later how much better the ham at Bazaar and Osteria Mozza were.) While decent, I found the flavors rather bland and would avoid this dish in the future.

Our second starter, INSALATA POLPO ALLA GRIGLIA CON PATATE E SEDANO, vastly outshined the Prosciutto – much to my delight. Starring Grilled Octopus Salad with Potato and Celery in a delicate tomato vinaigrette, the Octopus was perfectly grilled and as fresh as if it were just picked from the sea – a strong contender for the best grilled octopus I’ve ever tasted and complemented excellently with crispy celery, textural potatoes, and sweet tomatoes – vastly more substantial than All Angelo’s Octopus Carpaccio and just as good.

Appetizers cleared we sat and chatted until, with yet another flurry of Italianisms, Antonio returned with our mains – three beautiful dishes to say the least.

My dish, CASSUNZIEI ALL’AMPEZZANA – Fineo’s famous Cortinese red beet stuffed pasta with brown butter, parmesan and poppy seeds was excellent with incredibly thin handmade ravioli containing a buttery beet puree and topped with sweet brown butter, cheese, and powdered poppy. Inspired, beautiful, delicious – on par with a similar squash based dish at Spiaggia and the Pumpkin Lune at Babbo, yet slightly more earthy – I could have eaten a whole pot – which was unfortunate given the relatively small size of the serving.

My Aunt, a fan of all things ‘safe,’ and especially simplistic presentations of spaghetti opted for the well described SPAGHETTI ALA JOUR - Spaghetti with fresh oven roasted tomatoes, olive oil, and basil. While I personally did not find this dish “wowing” at all, my aunt was quite pleased with it and the hand rolled noodles were certainly well done al dente with a sauce that provided a great deal of taste without being overwhelming in any single component.

My mother’s option, RISOTTO MANTECATO CON GAMBERO E BURRATA was the star of the afternoon – described as Italian Carnaroli rice with prawns and Burrata cheese, the flavors, textures, and presentation of the dish simply shined in every way. Creamy Burrata with hints of garlic and onion to balance the sweetness of the wonderfully fresh prawns was perfectly blended with the well cooked rice and absolutely floored me with its complex compared to the vast majority of previously tasted Risottos.

Dishes cleaned the dessert options were presented by our server and consisted of only three as the flan had not yet had time to set. Considering the options my aunt and I decided to opt for the same dessert, The Apple Studel with golden raisins, pine nuts, and vanilla icecream. Standard in preparation with no real bells or whistles, I must say I was underwhelmed by the small portion and $10 price tag despite the attractive presentation.

My mother, again the best order of the group, opted for the Amaretto Cookies Semifredo. Described as Iced Milk Amaretto 'cookies' served with fresh fruit, the only way I can describe this dish is as two small clouds of amaretto liquor and vanilla that were likely flash frozen and served on a warm plate to melt over the wonderfully fresh fruits. While I was quite impressed by the dish, my mother was underwhelmed and spent more time focusing on the grape-sized blueberries – something you just don’t see in February in Ohio.

After tip our meals came out to $50pp and I probably could’ve eaten quite a bit more without being full. While service was cordial and pleasant, I did find aspects over the top and wish more attention had been paid to aspects such as the bathroom or music than the refined Italian mannerisms. Finally, while some dishes truly shined, others were quite pale compared to the average “haute-Italian” while the prices were significant enough to expect better. While not “bad” by any justification, I’d much sooner head back to Osteria Mozza or All Angelo, or give Valentino or Drago a try before going back.

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