Bottega | Napa

Food Network celeb Michael Chiarello's Italian trattoria packs in celebs, locals, tourists for great food

If the era of flashy chef-lebrity restaurants are over, no one told Michael Chiarello. The Food Network personality who’s made his name hawking Napa’s faux-country lifestyle on television, in books and his Napa Style stores, continues to pack in visitors, celebs and locals at his sprawling Italian trattoria, Bottega, in Yountville.

And though myriad failed restaurants have made it easy to dismiss concepts like Bottega as overly-ambitious, personality-driven eateries, Chiarello has created a comfortable space with a reasonable (considering the location, please) price point — capturing in real-life the Wine Country joie de vivre he portrays on television.
Here’s the fork-11: Chiarello isn’t new to these parts, having cut his teeth as the driving force behind Tra Vigne’s ascendancy to greatness in the late 1980’s, helping to define Cal-Italian food. Since 2000 he’s focused on his television and retail career, along with producing wines near his St. Helena home. And while Chiarello’s presence is a bonus, don’t expect to seem him behind the burners much.
The kitchen has interpreted Chiarello classics with a menu of “micro-regional Italian cuisine”. Stuzzichini (appetizers) include house cured olives ($5), a pumpkin frittata ($7), house-cured salumi, and Veal Tartare ($11). A number of these can be ordered off the bar menu.
Save yourself, however, for the traditional first course, the Antipasta. Angry Hopper Shrimp ($13) with white bean puree, a spicy orange-chili oil and fried basil are a firecracker of a starter. Polenta Under Glass ($12) is the most fun item on the menu: A small jar filled with buttery polenta, caramelized mushrooms, a crispy Parmesan wafer and warm balsamic sauce poured tableside.
On opening weekend, the kitchen punted with fresh mozzarella after the Burratta ran out, topping sliced artichokes, ($12).
Note: Ridiculously-rich does little justice to Bottega’s dishes, so if you’re watching your pennies you’ll be fine sharing an appetizer or first course. Portion sizes are fairly small all the way around, but BiteClub ended up with several to-go boxes (a rarity) for Monday-morning indulgences.
Hearty pasta dishes are a Chiarello signature, especially welcome as the weather turns cool. Best bet is the Garganelli with Balsamic Rabbit Sugo (sauce) and chanterelle mushrooms ($19). The portion size is small, but filling. Other pastas include veal tortelli in browned butter, pumpkin and fontina risotto with “game bird” ragu ($18) and ricotta gnocchi with salsa pomodoro.
Secondi are meatier entrees ranging from a two-person grilled porterhouse steak ($36 per person), seared day-boat scallops, grilled swordfish with ancient grain polenta ($24) and goats milk braised lamb shank with garlic, fennel, onions and mushrooms ($24). The only disappointment of the night was the Arrosto of Duroc Pork that was bone dry ($23).

Both dessert and wine are done with pomp and flourish that make them well worth the extra investment. Best bet is the Chocolate-Almond Molten Chocolate Cake ($9) cooked to order and unwrapped from its parchment table side. Though its one of the most overdone desserts in modern history, the addition of hazelnut creme anglaise over the top redeems.
Feeling a bit bloated after three courses of butter and goodness? Bottega’s Whole Citrus Napoleon is a refreshing dip of lemon and blood orange curds atop a buttery crust with a perfectly sectioned citrus salad ($8)
The wine list is what really surprises, especially in tony Yountville where $400+ bottles grace most lists and anything under $40 is as rare as a natural blonde. Bottega’s lengthy list includes a pretty beefy selection of approachable sips, though you can be hard pressed to find diners in Napa who don’t bring their own trophy bottles. In fact, a chef-coat-clad Chiarello stopped to stick his nose into a decanter of Chateauneuf du Pape opened at the table next to mine. Which was next to a bottle of Caymus on the other side. Um, yeah.
However, the wine steward opened our $30 wine with exactly the same respect he opened the Chateauneuf du Pape with (though BiteClub was secretly cringing).
Here’s the long-and-short of it. While Mr. and Mrs. Cheateauneuf du Pape were trying desperately to find a dish that would match the majesty of their wine, McNibs and I were just enjoying the food. Every single bite, all over the map without regard to calories, perfect pairings or even dribbling a little pomodoro on our shirts. We sopped up our sauces with bread and shared bites with abandon. We gulped down our wine without philosophizing about it.
That’s what makes Bottega work. It’s the kind of spot where Papes and cheap pinots, celebrities and nobodies can rub elbows as equals. And where the food is the real star.
Bottega, 6525 Washington St., Yountville, 707.945.1050. Reservations strongly recommended. Dress is upscale casual.
Final bill: $145 (before tip) including a bottle of wine, a glass of Prosecco, three appetizers, two entrees and two desserts.


13 thoughts on “Bottega | Napa

  1. We were thinking about eating here for my 40th birthday. We have 14 people and they do not have a private room to accomodate our size. We saw that Bardessono has a table for 14. Anyone know anything about this restaurant or could recommend another in Younteville for our size (already going to Ad Hoc the night before). Thanks!

  2. stopped by for dinner. watched the young chef richie running the kitchen and putting out some great food. gnocchi and canneloni were great. know anything about this chef?

  3. I went to Bottega for lunch last week and was astounded! Chefs Chiarello and Ritchie have put together a well balanced menu that beautifully celebrates Napa and Italy in each bite.
    We had polenta under glass and the Burrata with artichokes two ways for apps. My wife had pesto risotto with a generous helping of Dungeness crab on top while I had spinach and chicken cannelloni. Both were fantastic. We have a 3 year old daughter and the wait staff and Chef Chiarello bent over backwards to make sure she was happy and well fed. They offered, without asking, off the menu items like pizza dough fritters with marinara that were an amazing finger food for her (and us). The service was wonderful; the staff is extremely friendly, helpful, and professional.
    Recommended, without hesitation. Well worth the very reasonable price!

  4. That is exactly why you shouldn’t repeat something you “heard”. Time has a way of making people confused. And, at times, people that couldn’t hack it at a job tend to try to shift the blame onto their bosses. I think you should apologize.

  5. i find it more than interesting that johng doesn’t want a full byline. Such an expose surely deserves the proper recognition

  6. Having spent 4 years in the kitchen I have to pipe in and disagree. Passionate…absoulutly. Excitable…very much. Caring…fair…hard working…talented…mentor…all the above. I didnt see any sex on the prep tables….or banned substances. I have been in restaurants like that and you are just off the mark.
    BTW..I hear 4 of his old servers are back and more on the way. You make the call. I say try Bottega and leave the waiter gossip alone.

  7. Dang, I wish some of the old-timers I used to work with during my Napa Valley server days commented here. I knew half a dozen people who worked at Tra Vigne with Chef Chiarello. Boy, they despised that guy, but, wow – the stories they used to tell! Flying sautee pans! Sex on the prep kitchen counter during service! Massive consumption of banned substances! Too bad none of those guys wrote a book about it.

  8. Hey Woj. Yeah, McNibs said it was the best meal I’ve dragged him to in a long time. Ad Hoc rocks. Corkage is $20, but they’ll wave it if you buy a bottle.
    Funny story about corkage with a twist-off. I actually had that happen. I brought a “nice” bottle with a twist off cap and the sommelier didn’t realize it was twist off at first and started to use his bottle opener. He quickly realized the mistake and twisted it off with a flourish, making a “pop” sound with his mouth. I’ve found staff generally find the whole thing rather amusing. And yes, we still had to pay corkage.

  9. Wow! Sounds like a great find and very reasonable pricing. Next time I haul my butt over to Yountville for dinner, Ad Hoc is first on my list- but this will be second. Any idea what the corkage is? I plan on bringing my trophy bottle of Carlo Rossi. Does “corkage” apply if it’s a twist-off?

Comments are closed.