I'm slowly discovering (yes, slowly, I'm old) that it really isn't the taste of the food that I really love but it's the kind of memory it evokes. What? Huh? All three of you that have read this are probably saying, "what is that bullsh*t? Not the taste?". Well, I'm not so good with the words but I'll try to explain. Food and restaurants, to me, are whole events. It's the people, the food, the time in my life, whatever you want to remember from dining at a certain place. I'll always remember a certain dinner at Maple Ave because of the joy & happiness that evening. I will forever tout Bad Saint (post soon!) because I was there when two generations of my family experienced Filipino food in a new way that made us proud that it was part of our culture. As for Italian food, dell'anima was probably my first ever eye-opening restaurant experience.
My buddy, B, and I discovered dell'anima late one night (um...early morning) looking for another place to eat since there was a line around the block at Corner Bistro. Across the street was a newly opened Italian joint that, when we walked in, told us they served pasta until 2 a.m. That first night, we had their bolognese and we were hooked. dell'anima, I'm told, translates to "of the soul" in Italian which seemed perfect. There are some restaurants that you go to which are absolutely amazing but you couldn't go back to regularly for some reason or another (cost, location, etc...) and there are some places that you can't help going back to over and over again. That was dell'anima. We took everyone there, we sometimes ordered two of the same dish one after another because it was so good (bolognese!), my friends & I went there once just for dessert and ended up having a full meal, special occasions natch, and even after I moved away from NYC, I always went back. Unfortunately, leaving NYC meant that I couldn't keep going back so I've been on the lookout for the same kind of experience ever since.
I never quite found it in DC (any recommendations would be great) but Baltimore sure has promise. Gnocco (this post coming soon too!), in Brewer's HIll, has some of the best pasta in Baltimore but wasn't quite the right fit for my memory. I mean, don't sleep on how great Gnocco is but the only difference is that it's not quite the same vibe as dell'anima. But, Bottega, man. The first thing you realize about Bottega is that it's BYOB which I didn't mind since it's sister restaurant, Colette, is just a short walk away and serves fantastic drinks (see PART II for Colette). Even so, it takes a lot not to be disappointed that a resto doesn't serve alcohol (and yes, it's BYOB so our fault for not doing prior research) with it's meal and Bottega definitely has enough so it doesn't matter.
The menu is only written on two chalkboards in the restaurant (even the website just has a picture of one of the chalkboards on a daily basis). It's a charming feature and efficient for a menu that changes daily. On this night, we started with the Chicken Liver Mousse with Pickled Quail Eggs and Crostini. Perfect little creamy starter artfully made with little of the liver aftertaste. Also love the color of the quail eggs pickled in beet juice. Next, we ordered all three pastas for the night: Pappardelle Pomodoro, Spinach & Ricotta Malfatti and the Shrimp Agnolotti with a Tomato, Creme, & Habanero sauce.
The Malfatti seemed to be densely packed balls of pasta, spinach & ricotta. It had the same consistency of cookie dough with a good savory sweet taste. The highlight of the dish, to me, was the deep friend sage that came along with it. Get a piece covered with freshly saved parmesan to give you a nice seetness to contrast the crispy ever so bitter sage. The Pomodoro sauce was just the right amount to give you a taste of tomato and wisely made the fresh past the star of the dish. On the other hand, they floored it with agnolotti sauce. The pasta filled with shrimp was creamy, sweet and really fresh but give me that tomato cream sauce with the habanero kick all day. In fact, let me dip that fried sage into it all day and I'd be a happy man. Nothing beats house made pasta in my mind and nothing beats fresh made pasta that comes with sauces made withe a skillful hand. This pasta was the closest I've come to experiencing the thrill of dell'anima again (yes, I wanted to keep ordering the pasta dishes) and I'm thankful that Bottega is just down the street, close enough to visit all the time.
Unfortunately, I may be writing this post just in the nick of time. We were told that the space Bottega is in now will be becoming something else and that Bottega was moving/merging with Colette. All the fabulous pasta dishes will be added to Colette's menu and some sort of name change will occur. I hope that the cozy vibe stays the same and I'm glad that you can get a great glass of wine with your meal soon. I'm a big fan of both restaurants so maybe this is a good thing. But, it seems that both their identities are different so I hope they don't lose their distinctiveness. Regardless, I'm excited to see how it goes down.
Bottega, 1729 Maryland Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21201, 443.708.5709