La Bottega offers delightful taste of Italy

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter

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Why: Chef Peter Dougherty, who owns La Bottega and the downtown Vancouver restaurant Charlies Bistro with his wife, Lisa, serves up flavorful, fresh Italian dishes in Vancouver’s quaint Uptown Village area. Portion options for many menu items allow people to make choices based on their appetite. Desserts, pickles, chips and spreads are all homemade.

Atmosphere: La Bottega is part Italian market, part casual fine-dining establishment. No paper napkins here. It’s cloth all the way.

Inside, there are tables and chairs for patrons to enjoy meals, as well as plenty of items available for purchase to take home. La Bottega sells bottles of wine, jars of pickled vegetables, sauces and spreads, and packages of pastas and various grains. I was impressed to see farro, an Italian whole grain used in soups and salads. Farro can be difficult to find in conventional grocery stores.

There also are deli cases filled with olives, meats, cheeses and other items that, combined with the loaves of Grand Central bread La Bottega sells, would make for a tasty picnic. When you first enter the restaurant, there’s a tempting dessert display case filled with such treats as homemade truffles, cannoli, cobbler and cheesecake.

Additionally, there is an outdoor seating area in front that’s great for people-watching along Main Street on a summer day.

What I tried: I’ve been to La Bottega several times for lunch, and always love their sandwiches. On my most recent visit, I had the Smoked Chicken & Bacon sandwich.

It comes between slices of light, soft Grand Central focaccia bread and combines Boar’s Head smoked chicken deli meat, thick slices of perfectly crisp bacon (limp bacon is a pet peeve of mine), dark and leafy lettuce, tomato, onion and Muenster cheese. A light smear of housemade pesto mayonnaise adds moisture and flavor without being too greasy or overwhelming.

Sandwiches are served with a mixture of homemade sweet potato and regular chips that were cooked to perfection and are just the right amount of salty. La Bottega also throws in a crunchy, tangy homemade pickle.

My dining companion opted for the Seared Tuna Salad. Field greens, grilled focaccia, fennel, green olives, pickled onions and, of course, slices of seared ahi tuna comprised this dish. It was served with a light vinaigrette. My friend enjoyed her salad very much, and especially liked that the tuna was served warm rather than chilled. It had a nice crust on the edges, but was pink in the middle.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: The lunch menu featured several appetizers that sounded delicious, including the Gorgonzola Cheese Cake with polenta crust and marina sauce and the Sweet Potato Ravioli. La Bottega also offered several pasta dishes. I was intrigued by the Pancetta and Rapini, which includes pecorino cheese and orecchiette (the pasta that looks like little ears). There also are several options for vegetarians, such as the Smoked Mushroom Ravioli and the Grilled Portabella sandwich.

In addition to specialty sandwiches on the menu, people can opt to make their own from a large list of meats, cheeses, vegetables, breads and spreads. I’ve done this before, and highly recommend trying the roasted garlic spread and Italian vinaigrette in lieu of traditional condiments such as mustard and mayonnaise.

If I hadn’t been so full, I would have ordered either the Black and White Chocolate Torta or the Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp for dessert. The crisp is served with vanilla gelato. My husband had La Bottega’s pistachio-crusted Cannoli on a previous visit, and heartily enjoyed it.

La Bottega offers wine, beer, cider, port, juices, teas, Caffé Umbria coffee and a wide range of sodas.

Other observations: Though the restaurant was fairly busy, our food arrived within 10 minutes. Our server was extremely friendly and enjoyable to interact with.

Cost: For lunch, most salads are $7 for a small, and $11 for a large. Pastas and other entrees are $7 or $8 for a smaller portion, and $11-$13 for a larger portion. Sandwiches are $4.50-$5 for a half or $9-$10 for a whole. Most desserts are $6, though cannoli are $3 each, homemade gelato is $5, and truffles, cookies and biscotti are $2 each.

For dinner, most pasta dishes are $8-$10 for a smaller portion or $13-$16 for a larger serving. Entrees are $19-$26.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed on Sundays.

Where: 1905 Main St., Vancouver.

Information: http://www.labottegafoods.com, 360-571-5010.

Health score: La Bottega received a health score of 10 on April 30. Zero is a perfect score. Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For more information, call 360-397-8428.