La Botte opened in 2005, following the success of owner Stefano de Lorenzo’s first restaurant, Piccolo in Venice Beach. A more upscale version of de Lorenzo’s first popular Italian eatery, La Botte takes guests to another level of divine dining. Just two years after opening, the recent awarding of a Michelin Star to the young, two-year old restaurant confirms La Botte’s place among L.A.’s restaurant constellation.
A few steps from a bustling Santa Monica Boulevard, La Botte transports guests to a world of stylized elegance. The restaurant is infused with the spirit of la botte, or “the wine bottle,” through the liberal use of wine barrel woodwork. Richly hued wood floors are made of striated Pinot, Port, and Cabernet-stained oak, and oak-hued wainscoting wraps around the walls. A portion of La Botte’s vast wine collection is displayed within a natural wood wine rack at one end of the dining room. Low, earth-toned ceilings and claret and cream walls complete the scene.
La Botte’s décor is elegantly spare. Nothing frivolous distracts the eye. Cherry wood chairs are cleanly designed and tables are simply styled with ivory linen over burgundy red, Sports motif black-and-white photographs—enough to decorate, yet not enough to distract—are interspersed along the walls. Contemporary music, kept at a pleasant volume, is sufficient to hear while not loud enough to disrupt intimate conversation. An enthusiastic and informed, black-clad, native-Italian wait staff strives to please through attentive service and knowledgeable explanations of La Botte’s wines and menu.
We dined at La Botte early on a Friday evening so as to avoid the avalanche of weekend celebrants. I walked gingerly down the slightly steep two front steps to the restaurant, resting my hand on one of the handrails to support my steps. Entering the restaurant, we were immediately greeted by the manager, Emanuele Massimini, who escorted us to a well-placed table fairly near the front.
Gazing around the L-shaped dining room, I felt as if I were inside a wine room, if not a wine barrel itself! And, indeed, when I commented to Massimini about the sensation, he responded by explaining it was Owner de Lorenzo’s intention to immerse his diners in complete wine imagery.
Wine is celebrated at La Botte with an expansive listing of delightful Italian white, red, and sparkling wines, such as the quintessentially Italian Prosecco. Perhaps paying homage to his northern Italian roots, de Lorenzo’s wine selection seems to emphasize appellations from many of his homeland’s northern regions including Trentino, Piedemonte, and Lombardia. There are also wines from more southerly realms such as Puglia and Sicily, as well as a few French and Napa Valley selections.
We selected two wines: a light, citrusy and dry 2006 Stiftskellerei-Neustift Abbazia di Novacello Pinot Grigio from Trentino; anda medium-bodied, full-flavored 2003 Castello dei Rampolla Chianti from Tuscany. We sipped on these while deliberating over the menu. My guest chose the Cappello d’Alpino al Dolce Latte: grilled polenta, gorgonzola cheese, Portobello mushroom cap, and roasted garlic. I selected the Zuppa di Ceci e Scarola Saltata: chickpea soup with sautéed escarole.
While we waited for our dishes to arrive, our server brought biscotti-shaped, rosemary-studded foccacia and ciabatta slices, which came served on a small white plate. Our bread was accompanied by three delightfully diminutive bottles of regional olive oils. Each uniquely flavored, the oils are also used in the kitchen by Chef Fineo. Each oil’s unique flavor—mild Paradiso, subtly spicy Corona, and fruitier Minunat—was a tribute to its source rather than to a seasoning. Artisinally bottled with a tissued top, twine, and red seal, the olive oils also served as a unique gastronomic gift, adding a gracious touch to the table.
Our appetizers arrived in simple presentations on gleaming white porcelain. The polenta, a lightly grilled medallion, was layered with melted gorgonzola then mushroom, and capped off by a jaunty rosemary sprig. Our server, catching us tasting the dish in parts rather than as a whole, admonished us that the dish was “meant to be eaten all together.” Quickly following his direction, my guest and I each took a layered forkful and beamed at his guidance. The combined polenta, gorgonzola, and mushroom blended into a taste where the soft, creamy polenta was complemented by the pungent, salty cheese and earthy mushroom. There was a deep infusion of roasted garlic throughout, awarding classically Italian perfection to the dish.
The chickpea soup was more subtly flavored, with a consistency and presentation reminiscent of country style cuisine. The zuppa, served in a glistening bowl on a matching white dish draped with an ivory napkin, was a full-flavored, stew-like creation of pureed and whole chickpeas, with the sautéed escarole lending a slight pepperiness. Diced tomatoes atop the dish added color. Made with vegetarian stock, the soup possessed a mellow richness and savory snap.
We made our pasta and entrée selections while enjoying the appetizers. La Botte’s menu focuses on fresh and seasonal ingredients, ensuring quality and lush flavor in all of its dishes. While some of the dishes listed were representative of Northern Italian cuisine, La Botte Manager Emanuele Massimini stressed that La Botte’s emphasis on fresh fare dictates what Chef Fineo prepares. My dining companion and I ended up in agreement over our choices of Cassunzieli all’Ampezzana, red-beet-stuffed pasta with brown butter, parmesan cheese, and poppy seeds; and Risotto Mantecato con Fichi, Erba Cipollina e Balsamico Invecchiato, Carnaroli rice with figs, chives, and aged balsamic. With two pasta dishes, we lightened up on the entrée by selecting Il Pesce del Mercato, fish of the day, which on the day of our visit was Branzino.
We also segued into another wine, since our first couple of glasses had been drained dry over our starters. Our server nodded enthusiastically over our next selection, a Sicilian red, Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2005 Planeta. We thought a fuller red would pair well with the pasta and rice yet not overpower the fish. With a medium body, slightly dry with a fruity yet clean finish, the Cerasuolo was excellent.
The pasta dish was a specialty of Cortina, an exclusive Alpine resort town nestled in the Italian Dolomites, and was exquisite. Prepared with a purity of flavors and spareness of hand, the Cassunzieli’s flavors melded together in a delicacy of taste and texture. The dish was presented on a white gleaming plate with the pasta arrayed in its deep center. Lightly dressed in brown butter, the elegant beet pasta was crowned in parmesan with a smattering of poppy seeds throughout. The cheese lent a slight salty bite that played off the subliminal sweetness of poppy seed, with the brown butter lending a smooth finish to the dish.
Another subtly sweet dish, the risotto, delivered a smooth, wine-like flavor from the fig and aged balsamic. Al dente, the firm Carnaroli rice was studded with chewy fig and a little crackle from its small seeds. There was a luscious, smooth consistency to the dish, without any mushy or stodgy thickness that lesser quality risotto may have demonstrated.
Finally it was time for Friday’s featured fish: Branzino. Prepared with the head on, it was brought to the side of our table and deboned. We were each served a delicate, ivory-colored filet with a classic caper-lemon-butter sauce spooned over the top, accompanied by cubed rosti potatoes and broccoli. The Branzino was superbly moist and delicate, with the flesh easily sheared off by a light touch of the fork. The potatoes, roasted to a golden hue, were moist inside with a crispy exterior crunch and its plate partner, sautéed broccoli, a glistening forest green lightly dressed with olive oil. Traditional touches and tastes, expertly executed.
La Botte eschews a dessert menu in favor of daily offerings prepared by Chef Fineo. We were pleasantly surprised with the day’s selection: Barretta de Cioccolata and Semifreddo Amaretti. The Baretta presented as two perfect cocoa colored cubes of dense mousse, their bottoms of hazelnut praline. The dense chocolate was capped off with a dusting of cocoa powder, with contrasting pools of white and milk chocolate sauce swirled around the set. Rich and elegant, the dessert delight melted in my mouth.
The Semifreddo was a color contrast of milky white. It was presented as three circular shaped disks of semifreddo unevenly stacked on the plate with pistachio and white chocolate ganache as accents. The semifreddo, studded with diced pale pistachio, was a smoothly subtle creamy confection with the nuts adding a crunchy texture.
We ordered a couple of espressos to accompany our desserts. La Botte doesn’t serve plain coffee, preferring more Continental caffeinated classics such as espressos, lattes, and cappuccinos. Perhaps a smart choice, as the sharp pungency of these drinks seemed a fitting finish to the La Botte experience, where all things Italia are celebrated, not just the wine bottle!