Over twenty years ago, I was completely entranced by the cooking of Michael Chiarello when he owned Tra Vigne. In 1985 he was named Food & Wine Magazine‘s Chef of the Year and I think that celebrity got to him because the quality at Tra Vigne went down hill, there were numerous rumors of Chiarello’s ego causing problems, and ultimately he sold the restaurant. For several years, Tra Vigne was sort of a laughing joke in the Napa Valley and the only business it saw was by tourists who didn’t know any better. He had a reputation in the valley as a bit of scamp.

And then Chiarello seemed to clean up his act. He put his name on a handful products through the brand, Napa Style. He started doing some television and getting a respectable mantle through television. But would he ever open another restaurant? Well, yes and hearkening back to those glory days of Tra Vigne, Bottega is packing them in and with good reason. I was going up to visit some old friends and suggested Bottega which is walking distance from their home. As it turned out, that evening was a special occasion with a related book signing by Lidia Bastianich and it was great fun watching Chiarello and Bastianich make the rounds around the room in between their own noshing.

It was quite an evening for me for a myriad of reasons; getting an opportunity to see old friends mostly, but also the menu gave me multiple opportunities for research. To start, there was a savory option of fried dough, which I wrote about here. I was having quite a time determining what to have as a main course and ultimately, it was easier to ask the waiter to just bring me his favorite fish course. I was not disappointed by the surprise; Adriatic Seafood Brodetto with monkfish, mussels, rock cod and fresh Monterey calamari, forno-confit tomato broth, olive oil-crouton, paprika-saffron rouille. Like a thicker and richer version of Cioppino, the selection of fish was fresh and the mussels were especially large and tender. I liked the rouille-topped crouton as a tangy counterbalance to the redolent sauce.

Being pretty full from a huge appetizer (half of which was packed for leftovers) and the entrée (also half of which was packed for leftovers), the table shared a selection of biscotti cookies. I tasted the dark chocolate square and a sugar cookie that had a hint of saffron to it. But then there came a follow-up dessert, a sweet version of fried dough, the full report of which is over on the Fried Dough Ho site!

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