Staying in the box: a recipe that works for Bottega 104
'The familiar food approach will do well in this prime location,' says food critic Twyla Campbell
The Crudo family, best known as the force behind Edmonton's long-standing Café Amore, has expanded their culinary kingdom with the opening of Bottega 104 in the city's hot ICE District.
It is their second restaurant on the street, with Black Pearl anchoring the south end of what has become a very popular thoroughfare.
Bottega 104 goes back to the roots of what made the Crudo family successful — approachable Italian food that transcends generations of eaters.
There is comfort and safety in familiarity: bruschetta, crostini, caprese salad, panini, pizza, and recognizable pasta dishes like spaghetti carbonara and chicken alfredo.
Creativity appears here and there: honey is drizzled on a beef tenderloin and goat cheese-topped crostini. The cheese spread manages to temper the sweetness of the honey, but only by a degree.
The tenderloin is cut in odd-sized cubes and bits. Managing the item is a bothersome, sticky exercise as meat topples off the bread with each bite. This is a curious combination of ingredients, and not one I'm convinced works.
The bubbly, broiled, crispy crust of the B104 Cheese Mac is the best part of this comfort food dish.
Beneath the topping, the pasta — listed as baby shells on the menu but more akin to orecchiette on this night — is liberally doused in a sauce delightfully cheesy but grainy in texture. Flavour-wise, it's a winner. Texture, not so much.
The pesto prawn rigatoni fares better. The pasta is coated in garlic pesto cream sauce and grated parmesan cheese. It is not an adventurous dish by any means, but filling and satisfying all the same. The prawns arrive sweet and plump, and thankfully, not overcooked.
For those opting to forego pasta in an Italian restaurant (it happens), the poached pear and arugula salad is a good choice.
There is an abundance of pear and goat cheese, which means almost each forkful results in a balance of sweet and savoury; the arugula's peppery notes further softened by pieces of candied pecans.
The pesci fritti (deep fried seafood) was not "amazing," as touted, but over-salted and soggy from being heaped too high in a basket too deep. Annoyingly, every piece lost its coating the moment it was lowered into the red pepper dip.
A simple change of plating, a lighter touch of seasoning, and the proper pronunciation from the staff would do wonders, although that night, the dish certainly did deserve being called "pesky."
Most surprisingly, it was the pizza that lacked the most pizzazz.
Watching flames lick out of the gaping maw of a massive wood-fired oven had us anticipating a rustic, charred crust smothered with tangy sauce, stringy cheese and robust cured meats.
We were not disappointed with the presentation, but despite the toppings the flavours were wanting and in desperate need of the chili oil thoughtfully recommended by the server.
The familiar food approach will do well in this prime location. The space is comfortable, the beer is cold, the servers are attractive.
What you'll want to do, though, before meeting the gang for deep fried seafood, pasta, and beer, is to make sure you're going to the right place. Bodega, a Portuguese/Spanish restaurant, is one block over.
As was the case with MRKT on Jasper, and MKT on Gateway Boulevard, I expect many "where are you?" texts to fly back and forth between confused and hungry parties.
Bottega 104 is located at 10181 104th St.