Michael Chiarello’s Bottega Ristorante in Yountville, California represents one of the most delicious experiences in American cuisine.After 30 years in the food and lifestyle business, critically-acclaimed chef, Emmy-winning television personality, noted author, winemaker and sustainable farmer Michael Chiarello, is poised to succeed in almost any place his passion might take him.
If Bottega Ristorante is any indication, Chiarello’s passion has led him right back to his culinary roots — though perhaps he has never strayed too far from them. The cuisine at Bottega is heavily influenced by the tastes of Southern Italy, particularly Calabria, the Italian region where Chiarello’s mother was born.[/jumbotron]
The Calabrian Influence
The son of immigrant parents, Chiarello’s love for food and farming began in childhood. He helped his mother and father grow vegetables, cure olives and salami, preserve sardines and craft homemade wine. Chiarello’s childhood was not particularly prosperous; in fact, in an interview with SFGate writer Jane Ganahl, Chiarello describes his family as poor. However, sharing the pleasures and responsibilities of the production of good food provided an upbringing rich with appreciation for the Calabrian family traditions his mother maintained.
Nestled at the toe of Italy’s boot with just a crescent of Mediterranean-blue water separating it from Sicily, the region of Calabria is well known for its love of food. Local food festivals celebrate simple ingredients like red onions, Sajuca beans and peperoncini. With limited farmland available on their rugged terrain, Calabrians appreciate quality over quantity. Each ingredient, no matter how humble, is grown to be worthy of praise. This type of food philosophy seems to be what drives the award-winning menu at Bottega.
The Jewel of Yountville
The rustic but refined ambiance of Bottega Ristorante accomplishes for the eyes what an aperitif does for the appetite. Rich tones of red, olive green and deep brown are deftly peppered with design elements made from stone, glass, plaster, leather and yes — salt. The striking pink box that serves as an artful hostess station is actually a large block of Himalayan salt. The overall look is warm, natural and comfortable, with staff greeting guests like old friends.
Bottega means workshop...a place where we can showcase signature bold Italian flavors with a refined twist. “Michael Chirarello”
Once seated inside one of the indoor or outdoor dining rooms, diners are faced with the difficult task of deciding which enticing dish to order. Both lunch and dinner menus include a selection of “antipasti”, “paste” and “secondi”. Dinner also offers a choice of “contorni”, such as spinach with preserved Meyer lemons, or ancient grain polenta.
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First-time guests cannot go wrong with an order of one or many of Bottega’s signature dishes. Green Eggs and Ham is the perfect starter for lunch or dinner. The dish features a crispy but soft-cooked egg, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and a flavor-packed green garlic sauce that is as bright on the palate as it is on the plate. Polenta Under Glass is another antipasti selection that is frequently praised by customers. Creamy, rich polenta is layered with tenderly caramelized mushrooms and topped with a slightly sweet, slightly acidic balsamic sauce.
Pasta lovers should not deprive themselves of the Potato Dough Ravioli flavored with black truffles and sage brown butter, or Black Garlic Spaghetti Grande seasoned with Calabrian chili and served with succulent head-on prawns.
Neither hunger nor taste buds stand a chance against Bottega’s Smoked and Braised Short Ribs. Served with a polenta-speck polpette, the tender meat is finished with a slightly sweet espresso glaze and served with smoky au jus.
When creating Bottega’s menu, Chiarello certainly did not forget about his customers’ sweet tooth. The dessert menu includes a traditional tiramisu topped with crunchy chocolate meringue for an extra dimension of flavor and texture. For something lighter, the Honey Rosemary Gelato is a perfect end-of-the-meal treat. The wine selection is, of course, superb, and includes vintages from Chiarello Family Vineyards as well as an impressive array of Italian Prosecco.
Bottega Ristorante in Napa Valley is deserving of its reputation as a destination restaurant. From the moment of arrival, guests can sense the attention and love for quality that permeates every aspect of Michael Chiarello’s newest success. Bottega’s menu is completely approachable and undeniably delicious; Chiarello gives his guests, and perhaps himself, a taste of home.