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Bottega Louie a Hip Hit

January 10, 2012

For many years, downtown Los Angeles became a ghost town after 6PM for the most part. Once the commuters all left work, there was no reason to hang around – not many restaurants or night life to be had. But recently a revitalization effort began for the downtown area, and with the addition of the L.A. Live center, people can actually be seen milling about during the dinner hours. On the MHK’s recent California trip, we decided to check out what downtown L.A. had to offer in the way of restaurants, and found ourselves at Bottega Louie, a bakery/market/restaurant located on the first floor of an older building. It had a hip vibe, fun atmosphere, and most importantly, good food.

A large bakery area is the first thing you see upon entering the building – colorful pastries, breads, chocolates and candies all catch your eye and make you consider abandoning dinner and just chowing down on fresh baked desserts. But we managed to move into the center of the place, amid a large crowd of people even at 6:00 on a Monday evening, and were seated quickly. We read some reviews about the high noise level at Bottega Louie, and while it was far from quiet, the ambient noise certainly was not intrusive or disruptive. Everyone was in good spirits and seemed to be having fun, including our waiter, whose mood improved even more after we made it evident we’d be ordering several drinks and lots of food.

Bottega Louie offers several signature cocktails, featuring exotic ingredients (which seems to be the trend for hip places these days) like the “Japanese Sour” made with rye whiskey, port, lemon, simple syrup & egg white, and the “Stella by Starlight” featuring Encanto Pisco, pineapple juice, lemon, crème de cacao, agave nectar & cinnamon. All of the cocktails we ordered were quite good, and they did not skimp on the alcohol. Their wine list is quite extensive as well.

Bottega Louie’s menu is substantial but not too lengthy, mainly Italian but with many other influences, featuring salads, pizzas, pastas, small plates, and several meat and seafood entrees. We managed to avoid any of the entrees and stuck with the small plates, as we wanted to sample as much as possible without emptying our bank accounts.

We started with the Modena salad, containing butter lettuce, candied walnuts, crumbled goat cheese, shallots, garden herbs & creamy balsamic vinaigrette. It was nothing overly exceptional, but tasted very good. The pizza offerings are fairly traditional – you can get pepperoni, sausage, mushroom, etc. We opted for a combination of two pizzas (they let you do a half-and-half), the burrata and the bianco. Burrata cheese, for those unfamiliar, is like a creamy mozzarella but is very light in texture, almost like an egg white. It was blended with other cheeses and garlic, and topped with prosciutto. The bianco was pretty basic and similar to the burrata, but was topped with arugula. Both pizzas were fantastic – our table offered a view of the pizza oven, so we could see the cooks making each pizza from scratch, tossing the dough in the air and piling on the fresh ingredients.

We then went with five of the small plates: sautéed broccolini, arancini, portobello fries, lamb porterhouse, and the grilled octopus. The broccolini was adequate, cooked nicely with roasted garlic. The arancini – fried balls of rice, ground beef and cheese – was enjoyed by the others in our group but tasted a bit off to me, and I’m not sure why. There was some kind of aftertaste that I couldn’t identify, and for me it threw off the whole dish. The portobello fries were cooked in a tempura batter, so even for an anti-mushroom guy like me, they were quite palatable. The lamb porterhouse, which was a relatively small cut (it was on the small plates menu), was fantastic. The meat was coated in a sweet and spicy glaze, and the meat was very tender and juicy. The best dish of the night was the grilled octopus, a very common dish in southern Italy and Greece. Served on leeks and garnished with salmon roe, the three chunks of octopus resembled sausage – the firm outer layer gave way to a moist and savory bite of octopus meat. It was very tasty – I could see snacking on this while watching soccer at a Grecian resort.

Other items that looked interesting but we did not try include braised beef short ribs served with lardon ragù, white polenta, sage & ricotta; free range roasted half chicken, pancetta, garden herbs, roasted garlic & au jus; and roasted organic salmon in a parchment paper papillote with sweet peppers, red potatoes, yellow squash, basil & watercress.

During our dinner we noticed another table being served a chocolate soufflé, and we decided we should look at a dessert menu before half our dinner was even served. Apart from the various pastries at the bakery section, desserts include panna cotta, butterscotch budino, crème brulee, and assorted gelato and sorbets. We did put in a request for the soufflé, and we also ordered the beignets. The soufflé was quite large, bursting out of its ramekin. Our server broke it open and poured vanilla sauce into the hot center. Once it was cool enough to eat, it was delicious – warm and chocolaty. The beignets were good, but poorly named. These were large sugar donuts sans the hole – beignets are light and airy; these had much more density to them. But they tasted good.

Prices at Bottega Louie are not cheap, but the value is pretty good. Soups and salads range from $8-$12, pizzas are $18, pastas range from $14-$16, small plates go from $8-$12, and entrees range from $20-$35. It’s a fun, vibrant place with good food and drinks – who knew downtown L.A. would be so hip?

The Mouse House Kitchen gives Bottega Louie 3.5 out of 5 stars!

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