Downtown Los Angeles is usually good for weekday after-work dining but recently, more and more Angelenos are making the drive over the weekends. This is fueled by the increase in top quality restaurants in the area such as Church and State, Drago Central, Rivera and newbie Bottega Louie. A few of us decided to venture out to Downtown over the weekend for dinner and then drinks at the Edison. I instinctively recommended Church and State because it was one of my favorite meals this year, however I eventually decided that we should try something new. Bottega Louie is pretty much a fancy non-stop shop. It is a takeout, gourmet market, bakery, bar, cafe and restaurant all rolled into one. The restaurant does not accept reservations so hey starlets, you'll be treated like a commoner for one night. The place is spacious with its high ceilings, marble floor, stark white walls but with intricate crown moldings if you looked a little closer. It's grand but yet seemingly casual. This is the type of place that you would expect to see in Manhattan but rarely in Los Angeles.
Even before you walk through the doors, you'd be drawn to the pretty pastel boxes in the window.
Next up, displays of pastries and dessert as well as larder/take out items, some of which are on the dinner menu and some not.
There is a little gourmet section that sells anything from wine, pasta to Nutella.
If you are strong-willed enough to walk away from these distractions, you'll come across yet many additional sections of the restaurant. There is a bar area which was filled to the brim and a cafe section where you can grab a bite without the formalities of a dining room.
The place was packed at 7pm on Saturday night. I'm not joking, I haven't seen that many people crammed into a spot that wasn't a concert venue. There was a massive line queueing up to the hostess stand. Once you actually make it to the front of the line, you'd either be seated right away or you'd have to make a beeline for the bar. Apparently it's easier to get a seat if you were in a larger group. We were seated immediately for a table of 7 (even though only two of us had arrived at the time), while a two-top would require a wait of about 45 minutes.
There are two open kitchens; the main one and the pizza kitchen complete with a furnace. The menu comprises of pizzas, pasta, entrees and side dishes. The side dishes are probably the most fun because of the wide variety that range from bruschetta, asparagus with fried egg, calamari to white polenta with chanterelles.
We started with a bottle of red wine and ordered some side dishes while waiting for the rest of our party. The wine was well priced. In fact there were many bottles of wine in the $30s and less.
Corn, Swiss chard and bacon
The corn was fresh and sweet, and the bacon was smoked. A great start to the meal.
This could have come out a bit hotter. The meatball was fine but the sauce was a bit too sweet.
Fennel Sausage pizza
What a huge portion; we each had a slice and it was starting to fill me up. Yes, I had pizza! I HAD to try it since our waiter and reviewers had raved about it. At first I thought, greaaat, sausage pizza. Generic and greasy. I was about to scrap off the cheese but noticed that the cheese looked very fresh and a little taste test did not induce the gag reflex. My issue with cheese on pizzas is that they are usually congealed and greasy, and that combination makes me ill. But the cheese on this pizza was fresh mozzarella and was absolutely delicious! The crust was thin Neapolitan-styled and the sausage was spicy. Surprisingly (to me), a good pizza.
The starters came out pretty quickly up to this point but the entrees seemed to lag a bit, although that's expected when trying to coordinate seven diners. Our waiter was great however and he came over to tell us that the food would come in a couple minutes even without us asking.
A bottle of Barbera with dinner.
Crab salad with tomatoes and butter lettuce
Shaved fennel and sweet onions
The fennel was fresh, crispy and not wilted.
This came highly recommended by our waiter; apparently this is someones grandma's authentic recipe. The lasagna was densely layered, hearty and very delicious. In fact, it was my favorite of the night and once again, Bottega Louie helped me overcome my cheese issue. This is the type of dish that you should probably share with someone because it's rich and heavy.
Trenne Pasta with braised rib eye steak and Tuscan black kale
I liked everything on the plate. The beef was tender and cooked with mire poix that added crunch and color to the dish. The pasta was actually fried and crunchy. It kind of reminded me of the penne on the top of a pasta casserole that is browned and crispy, and arguably the best part of a pasta casserole. The shaved Parmesan was slowly melting in the thin broth. It was a very surprising dish and not at all what I had expected. I thought the meat would be shredded and mixed into the pasta (like a short rib or oxtail tagliatelle) but instead, the dish was a little soupy. Very delicious and flavorful dish.
Ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese, in a light cream sauce with pancetta, sage and peas
Not overly rich and also very delicious.
You just can never go wrong with fresh pasta and thick, hearty meat sauce.
Mussels and clams
This was a very generous serving of clams and mussels. It was supposed to be cooked in a white wine sauce but instead was tomato broth. I thought that the shellfish were good but I didn't care for the broth. It was a bit too smokey and apparently was made with brandy, consomme and herbs. The smokiness really overpowered the whole dish and I didn't even want to finish the dish.
We had to order separately as they were not served with the mussels and clams. The fries weren't very good, in fact they weren't hot and were a bit soggy.
Sausage and pepper sandwich
The sausage was moist and not dry at all. The bread was fresh, soft and crunchy.
It was still bustling when we left at 9.30pm. I can see why. Bottega Louie reminds you of the lively Manhattan scene, the food is good and prices are affordable. Our waiter gave us some good wine recommendations and he was very attentive despite having to manage a bunch of other tables. He also wasn't pushy and annoyed when part of our party was late. Despite the busyness of the restaurant, I never felt rushed. The bill came up to $37 each including tax and tip. Are you kidding me?!?!?! With starters, entrees, a couple beers and 2 bottles of wine? After factoring in everything from ambiance, to food, to price and to service, Bottega Louie is definitely a place that I would recommend to friends, if not for a formal dinner, then for breakfast pastries in the morning or a light lunch at the Cafe.
Hits: corn, lasagna, beef pasta, price
Misses: mussel and clam broth, fries