Bottega Louie

My friends and I headed to Bottega Louie one Saturday night in search of a fun dining experience.  Bistros, gastropubs and restaurants have been popping up all over downtown LA this past year, and so far all of the places I’ve been to have been fabulous.  I was surprised to find out that Bottega Louie didn’t take reservations, but we decided to wing it.  How bad can the wait be for a party of 4 at 8:30pm, even on a Saturday night?  Well…pretty bad.  This place was packed like the opening day of the Barney’s Warehouse Sale.

What’s impressive  is that the space could actually comfortably accommodate the waiting masses.  The brightly lit restaurant, on the otherwise dark and desolate corner of Grand and 7th in the heart of downtown LA, is beautiful.  As we approached the restaurant on foot, it made me feel like I was back in New York City, walking along the sidewalks of Chelsea as taxis whizzed by and steam rose up through the manholes. Our excitement rose as we walked through the doors and instantly felt the high level of energy in the room.

IMG_1367The space is massive.  With a deli/bakery to the right, an open kitchen in the middle, a bar with tables to the left, and the dining room in the rear, it’s a Dean and Deluca-meets-Pastis type arena.  Immensely tall ceilings with beautiful and intricate moldings reminiscent of a classical Parisian apartment are awe-inspiring.  Beautiful marbled floors, long black banquets lining the multiple sections of the dining room, a wood-fire oven in the rear, and bustling kitchen activity add to the fascination of this bistro-like atmosphere.  What an irony to be in this grand contemporary  space surrounded by beautiful people sipping on martinis while looking out through the large windows onto the homeless roaming the deserted streets.

Waiting an hour for our table didn’t seem so bad as we took in all of the  action from the swank bar, toasting to the night with champagne and mojitos.  It was an exciting place to be in, and I could feel the energy in the room charging our conversation and fueling our laughter.  Or was it just the deafening noise level that we had to shout over?

The menu is very simple and straight forward.  Salads, soups, pizzas, sandwiches, pastas, entrees and side dishes inspired by American and Italian cuisine.  Most are classic dishes like penne pomodoro, eggplant parmigiana, roasted chicken and meatball sandwiches, and nothing is too fancy or creative.  There’s an impressive list of small dishes, 30 in total, ranging from $7-9, ideal for sharing with a large party.  We started with a simple wild arugula salad with red onions and parmesan shavings that was refreshing and crisp.

The white anchovies on tomato with micro greens were just okay, as the anchovies were a bit on the fishy side.  This isn’t something that I would recommend here.

One of the most popular dishes at Bottega Louie that our server almost required us to order was the portabello mushroom fries.  The concept of deep fried portabello mushroom wedges did indeed sound immensely appetizing, and we were quite excited for this.  However, they were soggy, limp, tasteless and lifeless.  The delicious herb aioli made us wish that the fries were more worthy.

The fennel sausage pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella was pretty good.  We definitely wanted to get something cooked in their wood fire oven, and this was probably our best choice.  The thin crust had a nice balance of doughy and crunchy, and the amount of cheese was perfect to complement the delicious fennel sausage.  It wasn’t a bad pizza for a downtown LA restaurant, although of course it didn’t compare with the other famous pizzerias in LA (the best fennel sausage pizza is hands down at Mozza).

The shrimp scampi with mariniére sauce was a disappointment.  The large jumbo shrimp were succulent and meaty, though not the best quality I’ve ever had.  What really put a damper on the dish was that the mashed potatoes under the shrimp were cold and dry.  I mean, really cold, as if it had just come out of the fridge 15 minutes ago.  At the end of the evening our server asked us why we didn’t inform her about this.  We would have, if we could have flagged her down at the time but she was nowhere to be found.  It was so busy in the restaurant that we hardly ever saw her.  Besides, even if we were able to get a re-do on the dish, it would’ve taken another 30 minutes to get it.

The grilled rib eye steak was perfectly cooked and quite tasty, although again this item was cold.  Cold!  For a grilled steak to be served cold is not only inexcusable, but unfathomable.  The restaurant was packed and the service was really slow, but was it so busy that our steak was sitting there on the counter for that long?  It came with 2 sauces- a Gorgonzola sauce and an onion steak sauce.  The gorgonzola sauce was too much like regular gravy sauce, and it was also dark brown.  Isn’t gorgonzola white?  The other sauce made with sweet onions and worcestershire sauce was too sweet.  What a pity for this fine cut of steak to meet such an ill fate.

The side of corn, swiss chard and bacon was really nice.  Our server was telling us that some farmer somewhere had a whole corn field just for Bottega Louie.  The corn was really sweet and succulent, and I could tell that it was really fresh.  I wish there was more bacon presence though- there was a lack of bacon fattiness to add more savoriness to the dish.

We ended with the meatball sliders.  Another dish that our server highly recommended to us that completely flopped.  Each adorable mini burger had 1 large meatball, tomato sauce, and a gigantic heap of melted provolone cheese like there was no tomorrow.  The tomato sauce was plain, the meatballs were tasteless and dry, and the amount of cheese made me think the impossible…”enough cheese already!”  It’s a tell-tale sign that something’s off when a basket of fries is left half full.

Although the restaurant space is strikingly beautiful and dynamic, the confidence and poise that the atmosphere exudes is disappointingly absent in its food.  I would hope that all of these other people, so willing and eager to wait for hours for a table at this restaurant that doesn’t take reservations, would be fairly rewarded with astonishing food.  Given that this place is open every day from breakfast to dinner, and offers deli selections as well as cocktails, it’s a good place for people to congregrate in downtown LA.  The location makes it ideal for business lunches and after-work happy hour.  However, it may not be worth planning an evening around, at least not yet.

Bottega Louie Restaurant & Gourmet Market

700 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 802-1470

Random trivia:  The world record for corn eating is held by Cookie Jarvis.  Despite flying in from California to Florida on a red-eye flight the morning of the contest, he snagged the title in 2004 by eating 33 1/2 ears of corn in 12 minutes.

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