When we decided that our West Coast vacation was going to include two days in Napa, I knew right away that I wanted to eat at a Michael Chiarello restaurant. At first, I was thinking Tra Vigne, but then decided on Bottega. About two months out, we made a reservation for Thursday night for two, and started counting down until dinner time (yes, I get a little excited).
Michael Chiarello hit my foodie radar when he was the third finalist in the star-studded finale of the first season of Top Chef Masters with Rick Bayless and Hubert Keller. I remember his food looking amazingly delicious and hearing the story of him turning toward winemaking, while incorporating that with his food. And, I had eaten at both a Rick Bayless and Hubert Keller restaurant, both phenomenal and completely exceeded expectations. That meant, Chef Chiarello’s was the last on my list.
After a full day of biking and wine tasting, we were a little tired and a lot hungry. We couldn’t wait to sit down and relax with nice glass of wine and a delicious dinner. The outdoor patio offered a decor that was a cross between Napa and Tuscany. With the low light, candles flickering softly on the table and a delicious Chiarello Vineyard Zin the mood was set for a perfect evening.
Dinner started with Antipasto of polenta under glass and fresh Italian bread. The bread was accompanied by a simple mixture of olive oil, garlic and parmesan cheese that was noting short of addictive. After getting through half of our bread, we had to convince ourselves to stop and turn our attention to the polenta.
The polenta was presented in a sealed jar and accompanied by a balsamic jus. Opening the jar let the lovely smoky aroma waft out. The polenta was incredibly creamy and paired perfectly with the caramelized mushrooms. And if that wasn’t enough, the jus added a sweetness that rounded everything out. Two bites in I knew this was going to be one of the best meals that I’ve had in a long time.
With the tastes of polenta and garlic dancing on my tongue, a beautiful plate of five beet ravioli was placed on the table. Where the first course was smoky and savory, this course was sweet, almost light and like nothing I’ve had. The hazelnuts added a textural crunch and a nutty flavor that perfectly balanced a cheese filling so creamy it resembled sour cream. And everything was rounded out with the sweetness of the figs.
Feeling full of pasta, polenta and our second round of bread, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to eat much of my main course…until the first bite. Absolutely perfectly cooked lamb chops accompanied by a sweet cherry sauce and a pistachio pesto made me forget about any potential feelings of fullness.
While I was oohing and aahing over my incredible chops, Ashley was doing the same over her seafood Brodetto…a tomato based stew with some of the most succulent seafood I’ve ever tasted. Mussels sobbing they looked like clams, yet so tender she could cut through them with a spoon. the shrimp were incredibly tender and the calamari just perfect.
At this point, all that was left was the dessert, something we couldn’t possibly skip given our mutual love of tiramisu (and Ashley’ love of molten chocolate cake). The non-traditional, deconstructed tiramisu was served in a mason jar and it took a little work. The first couple of bites were almost disappointing, a bit of a let down compared to the intricate flavors of each bite of the meal. But as we dug deeper in the jar, getting more and more levels, the flavors started coming together, leaving the last bite as the best.
As for the cake, it was covered with a light vanilla cream frosting and topped with candied hazelnuts. Ashley found it to be a little lacking in the chocolate area, but for me it was just right. Not overwhelms, warm, moist, and that crunch from the hazelnut with each bite. I don’t eat a lot of chocolate cake, but for me, that was perfect.
In my mind, I had hyped Bottega to an almost unrealistic level of expectations. And yet, bite after bite, it absolutely delivered. The food was beautiful and flavorful, and expertly crafted. Often when Ashley and I go out to eat we think about ways that we can go back and recreate some of the things we enjoyed. But as we walked out of Bottega we knew that the only thing we had any chance of recreating was the simple dip that accompanied our bread. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day in the Napa Valley.