Bottega has managed to reinvent itself — again. The Station North restaurant set up shop in June in the home of its former sister restaurant, Colette, without missing a beat.
We boldly strolled in on a busy Friday evening without reservations, not sure what would happen. But the staff could not have been more accommodating, offering us several seating choices before we chose the bar.
But that’s part of owner Adrien Aeschliman’s plan. He wants to make Bottega, located on the same block as the Charles Theatre, more accessible. Forty seats are set aside for reservations, 28 for walk-in diners.
At its old location, a couple of blocks away on Maryland Avenue, about 20 diners could squeeze into the narrow — though charming — space. Scoring a reservation there was tougher than finding a fast checkout line at the Giant.
Aeschliman closed Colette, which he opened in early 2016, because he thought it was “wandering a bit,” he said. “And Bottega needed more space.”
During the transition, he freshened up the interior with paint and rearranged the dining room. It looks brighter, though it still offers a cozy, bistro vibe with stacks of cookbooks and jars of preserved fruits and vegetables adding a homey touch.
The food hasn’t suffered in the transition. Aeschliman uses the combined talents of Frederick “Sandy” Smith, who was the opening chef at Bottega in 2013, and Tyler Faughnan, who headed the kitchen at Colette, to turn out the Tuscan-inspired dishes.
The opening acts hooked us immediately, from the house bread — lovely squares of focaccia dotted with briny green olives — to the addictive beignets, drizzled with honey, which we remembered from a previous visit to Colette.
We also savored a striped bass crudo. The appetizer was a beauty, with lush orbs of raw fish intermingling with red and yellow heirloom tomatoes, bright-green basil and silver shards of crispy fish skin.
And we still can’t stop thinking about the peach plate with the freshest fruit wedges we’ve seen this summer, packed with peak flavor. Their sweetness was pleasantly enhanced by salty slices of prosciutto, leafy basil and stracciatella, a creamy, mozzarella-like cheese.
Bottega is still BYOB, with a $5 “corkage/glassware” fee. Aeschliman said the restaurant will start serving a small selection of wines and beer in early fall but will still encourage its BYOB policy.
The menu changes frequently, and on our visit, six pastas and three entrees were offered. We enjoyed a perky penne puttanesca, dressed with olives, anchovies, capers, tomatoes and flat-leaf parsley.
The seared duck breast was rosy and tender and paired well with charred wedges of cabbage, sprigs of dill and inspiring fermented black cherries that pulled the dish together.
Side dishes included a kale Caesar salad, fried potatoes with salsa verde and eggplant Parmesan. We chose the grilled shishito peppers, which were irresistible and would also work as a starter.
The desserts were as solid as the rest of the meal. We were happy to see that the salted caramel chocolate pie, a Bottega staple, was available. It was as wonderfully decadent as always.
The goat’s milk panna cotta with blueberry compote was an elegant bowl of soothing, chilled custard topped with fat balls of ripe, purple-tinged fruit.
When it opened four years ago, Bottega immediately had a fan base. Its popularity hasn’t wavered — even after it closed temporarily for five months in 2015.
Now, in larger quarters, the restaurant is poised for even more kudos. Count us in.
Rating: 4 stars
Where: 1709 N. Charles St., Station North
Contact: 443-835-2945, bottega1729.com
Open: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Prices: Snacks and first courses, $4-$16; pastas, $15-$17; entrees, $25-$27
Food: Tuscan influenced
Noise/TVs: The acoustic guitar jazz on the sound system suits the atmosphere. The crowd got louder as the evening progressed, but it was the energetic tone of people having a good time; no TVs
Service: Our waitress was attentive until we finished our entrees. We were left with our unclean plates until we finally got her attention and asked about dessert.
Parking: Street parking
Special diets: Can accommodate
Reservation policy: Accepts reservations
Handicap accessible: Yes
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star.]