In preparation for the start of our impending honeymoon in Florence and Venice, my fiance and I hit La Botte in Santa Monica for Valentine's Day last night.
The space is nice- an open corner just below street level, the interior surfaced with staves from old wine barrels, the walls lined by wine. By the entryway there is a little bar area at which to stand and wait, which we, and several other couples with the same reservation time had the opportunity to enjoy for 15 or 20 minutes while the parties before us vacatated. Annoying, but par for the course if you go out on Valentine's Day.
Eventually we were seated, and ordered a couple of glasses of nice proseco. Bread arrives- without oil or accompaniment- I later see a bottle being brought out to a table near us and doled out, appearantly at their request. Odd.
We peruse the wine list. It seems somehow appalling that in a wine-themed restaurant there were perhaps 4, maybe 5 wines available by the glass. Knowing less than nothing about Italian wine, I'ld have appreciated the chance to go through a few glasses and get an education. Instead, the wine list is like a highjacking- a few bottles at $30-40, then $70 to the moon. Not wanting to break the bank or risk an inferior wine, I decide to go with a half-bottle. Our waiter recommends something at $65, I suggest that's more than I want to spend, we wind up with a very nice 'super-tuscan' at $45. I can't help but think that part of good service is *not* making someone willing to drop $45 on a 1/2 bottle feel like they're being cheap, and, when someone asks for a recommendation- giving a few recommendations of what's good on the list within a price range.
On to the food-
Palpelltini (sp?) of chicken and duck with onion confit- juicy little patties of ground meat nicely offset by the sweetness of the onion confit. Good but nothing extraordinary. The chicken lightened out the richness of the duck and onion, I'd have preferred a more intense hit of the duck.
Linguini nero with dungness crab- big chunks of sweet crab and a nice kind funky character to the linguini nero, heavily buttered. My fiance loved this, I was less impressed.
Ravioli in a walnut pesto, filled with a chestnut-gorgonzola preparation. This was the highlight of the night for me- truely wonderful. The rough nutty character of the pesto, the chew of the pasta, and the silky forest sweetness of the chestnuts backed by the sharp hint of the gorgonzola was fantastic. Simple, subtle, well-paired flavors and textures playing against one another. Wonderful.
Veal chop with fontina- a lovely veal chop with a bit of fontina melted over top, some fried potatoes and a brocollini rabe on the side- perfectly done.
Braised oxtail with polenta- two pieces of meaty oxtail on a pool of loose polenta- deep, rich and beefy, marrying nicely with the sweet cornmeal mush- very nice.
Chocolate-hazelnut mousse- not too sweet with an excellent balance of hazelnut and chocolate.
Total tab with tip - $275
My verdict- a very nice meal, yet not sublime, and even after subtracting the cost of alcohol ($73), overpriced in a very pricey town. The cooking didn't leave me blown away, admitting that despite the steep tab, what was received was worth it. This is slightly less expensive a la carte than the tasting menus at Spago or Sona which, while murderously expensive, leave no doubt about value received. There are any number of places of similar nature where I've gotten a meal I've enjoyed as much or more for significantly less (AOC, Josie, Jar, Blair's, and Bistro K all spring to mind), and a number of other places of similar cost that are in a different league when it comes to the cooking.
Overall, a wonderful experience, but not worth the price tag attached, and the situation with the wine needs to be fixed. Unless this becomes either a place to be seen, or an expense-account standard, it's not going to survive.