today i want to tell you a bit about bottega, chef michael chiarello's restaurant in yountville here in the napa valley of california. bottega opened last winter but, for unknown reasons, i did not go until a couple of months ago...not sure why except i seem to be spending much more time entertaining at home where i can cook...instead of going out to restaurants. maybe it is because i spent so many years traveling for business. let me tell you something...traveling gets old...especially travelling on business... even very cool hotels and fantastic restaurants can't make up for the fact that you are not home...at least that became my experience. anyway, bottega opened to terrific reviews. i loved michael's first restaurant, tra vigne, when he was chef/owner there....and i am a big fan of his style of italian cooking...so i just had to try his newest restaurant...
first of all, the experience was perfect and the food was amazing. i am not a restaurant critic and rarely write about restaurants...but this was such a perfect evening that i almost decided to write this entire post about bottega. notice i said "almost". here's the deal.... we went to dinner with a couple of good friends. one of them used to work for chef chiarello years ago. he is also a life long napan...knows everyone...so going out with him is always an experience. our friend knew everyone at bottega...the entire wait staff...all the busboys...the cooks...bartenders...you name it...he knew them. so, of course, the service was fantastic... people stopped by our table all night...constantly checking in to ensure we had everything we needed. the food was flawless. now...maybe this is true for everyone...and the restaurant is just that good. but before i actually recommend it to all of you, i think the fair thing to do is go back...with just my husband...and compare the two experiences....if the second time measures up to the first, we really have a winner here...
but...until then....there was one dish that was so amazingly good, i had to try and recreate it at home. it is listed as an appetizer at the restaurant and called "polenta under glass, caramelized wild mushrooms, balsamic game sauce". we ordered a number of dishes to share...this was one of them...and it was love at first sight. dramatic i know, but the dish comes served in a mason jar...and, if you know anything about my company, mason jars are one of my favorite things....i package many of my products in mason jars, so i loved the whole presentation...it was really unexpected. then, the taste....creamy polenta, mushrooms, balsamic....this stuff won rave reviews from all of us....definitely on my list of dishes to recreate...
a couple of weeks later i saw dried porcini mushrooms at a produce stand...and polenta style cornmeal. i always have many types of best quality extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar on hand...so...here goes!
the dish at bottega was really rich...i wanted to lighten it up just a touch....and eliminating the "game" in game sauce seemed like a good place to start. i love mushroom ragu...so i thought ragu with balsamic...and creamy polenta with e.v.o.o. and parmesan...could be really good. you know what? i made it and it was delicious!...made a big platter of my version...which i named balsamic wild mushroom ragu with polenta...served it with grilled steak and a big salad....invited some friends over and they proclaimed it...bloggable!! (the highest compliment you can pay me these days.) so, here it is....please let me know what you think...
balsamic wild mushroom ragu with polenta
8 oz fresh baby bella mushrooms, sliced
3/4 oz pack dried porcini mushrooms
best quality extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar di modena
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp dried lavender flowers
freshly cracked black pepper
best quality extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
best quality aged (min 19 yrs) balsamic vinegar di modena for drizzling (if you can't splurge on this type of balsamic vinegar, no worries...use our recipe for balsamic reduction)
2 small sprigs fresh rosemary
parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
soft polenta (recipe follows)
place dried mushrooms in a small bowl. cover with 1 cup very hot water and allow to soak for 10 minutes. pour softened mushrooms through cheesecloth lined fine mesh strainer placed over a small bowl, reserving mushroom liquid. rinse mushrooms and rough chop. set aside mushroom liquid for use later in recipe.
add 2 tbsp olive oil to large skillet over med high heat. add the fresh and dried mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are very tender and begin to caramelize...15-20 minutes. add onion and carrot, cook an additional 5 minutes. add garlic, stir well, cook another 5 minutes....mushrooms should be very caramelized..do not let garlic burn. add wine and cook until skillet is almost dry. add balsamic vinegar, reserved mushroom liquid, rosemary and lavender. cook until liquid is thick and reduced by half. taste and add salt and pepper to taste.
to serve: place prepared soft polenta in rimmed serving dish. top with mushroom ragu. generously drizzle with the aged balsamic (or balsamic reduction)...about 1/2 cup total. drizzle with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with a handful of the parmigiano-reggiano. top with the sprigs of rosemary and serve immediately.
6 cups water
1 1/2 cups polenta type cornmeal
2 tbsp best quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
bring water to a soft boil in medium saucepan. add 1 tsp. salt. reduce heat to medium and gradually add polenta to pot, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until totally incorporated into the water. continue stirring until mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. stir in olive oil and parmigiano reggiano. taste and add additional salt if needed... serve immediately
do you recreate dishes? tell me about your successes...and non-successes in the comments section of this post....and please tell us about any of your new favorite restaurants....
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