We dined here near Easter in 2014 and it was a disappointing experience. Everyone knows about the Michelin Star and that probably leads to the natural build up of what to expect. For our party of three this was all of our first times dining in a rated restaurant. You must always factor in cost to any critical evaluation and that is what I have done by giving a 3 star review out of 5 possible. Most of the reviews on this site describe gastronomic heaven and phrases such as 'best meal of my life' are littered all over the place. None of us felt this way at all. We did not encounter bad service or 'attitude' or any overt errors in cooking but certain dishes just did not taste very good. An asparagus starter was flat with mushy texture and a course of quail was just bland and completely lacking appeal.
The ravioli that people rave about was nicely executed and flavorful but includes quite a bit of oil that separates from the yolk. Anything that is covered in truffles is going to taste pretty good. This dish and the semifreddo dessert were the best tastes of the evening. The quail dish needs a complete re-design and seasoning upgrade. The old saying is that you eat with your eyes first and this restaurant delivers on the presentation and plating aspect--it is Michelin Star worthy in that regard in my opinion. I dine out all over as part of my job, mostly in California, but have eaten in hamlets and metropolis all over the globe. In California most people are familiar with the Zagat guide which rates up to 30pts for food and decor and I've been many times to 27-28pt rated places that are about half the cost of La Bottega and serve flavorful food in larger portions. Brandywine in Woodland Hills, Leila's in Oak Park, and Saddlepeak Lodge in Calabasas come to mind.
The main meat dish was a sort of pork medallion with crispy skin and I thought the skin was great and tasty but to get the skin so crispy I think the meat was overcooked a bit on the inside and dried out a bit and got tougher than I would like. At 110 euro per person I was expecting perfection and now I have found fault with 3 courses (mushy asparagus cake that was bland, flavorless quail, and overcooked pork).
Now, let's look at service. The two main servers were very friendly and that should be noted. To me, the real highlight of the evening was the very professional sommelier who was clearly talented and good at his craft. I enjoyed watching him 'prepare' the glasses for wine service by putting a small amount in the glass and swirling it around to bring out the aroma--this was all done before pouring. I ordered 1 and a half bottles of wine and complimentary prosecco is served when you are seated--a nice touch! Cost was 40 euros and that is factored into the 110 per person. What I didn't expect but what I realized must just be a Tuscan habit is that after the initial pour of water or wine the guest is expected to fill their own glass. This is just a difference with fine dining in America--if you are at a white table cloth establishment paying those prices it's like eyes are watching you from a distance and a server is pouring for you. I don't mind doing my own pouring and sort of prefer it actually; i'm just pointing out it surprised me. Pouring it yourself allows you to show kindness and attention to those around the table with you.
My wife noticed that the chef and owner came out and was handing out pillows to sit on to most of the women in the small dining area and when none was offered to her she felt passed over. We also noticed that other tables got a whole lot more menu instruction and chat from Helene and we were left wondering if the fact that we were speaking only English was the culprit. A table of 6-8 French speaking people were next to us and dominated the time a bit.
I've waited to write this review because I wanted to compare it to other dining experiences in the same general area. Il Celiere in Castignole was 1/3rd of the cost and the food tasted better and Max the host is just a pure charmer. The real comparison has to be to a restaurant located 100 metres from La Bottega, and that is called L'Asinello. They do not have a Michelin Star but they don't seem to know it, not the servers or the chef. We had a 3 hour degustation menu there the day after Easter that came out to be about 50 euro per person including wine. It was phenomenal! All in all, the three of us were just disappointed and felt let down and that this establishment may be resting on its laurels and reputation. If you suspect I am just a miserable person who can't be pleased by anything I would invite you to read most of my posts on this site and notice that the vast majority are very positive--I rated a pizza joint 5 stars just a few days ago. I'm leaving this critical review because this place is overpriced and I'd like to see the owners adjust what they are charging and re-evaluate certain dishes. I hope my views are constructive, even though they are blunt and forthright. I wish this place well and will try them again in a year or two.
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