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Bottega is modeled on a place Adrien Aeschliman managed in the Mugello Valley in Tuscany that he describes as “a workman’s lunch trattoria.” Though “it was an ugly restaurant,” he says, people drove from Florence and Bologna to eat there. “I took the name and I’m trying to copy what they had.”
Aeschliman moved with his family to Europe when he was 7, and he’s lived in France, Italy, Switzerland and England, returning to the U.S. to attend college (“I went to six”), finishing up at Queens College in New York City. Along the way, he worked at plenty of restaurants, though none in the fine dining category.
Aeschliman’s rustic boutique BYOB in Station North manages to feel upscale but organic—the kind of place where you can linger with friends for a two-hour dinner without feeling rushed. (That’s saying something for a 16-seat hot spot.)
Describing the restaurant as Tuscan influenced “is a way to avoid saying we’re seasonal and farm-to-table,” explains Aeschliman. “Tuscany has four seasons and the food traditions follow them.”
A Day in the Life. Aeschliman recruited brother-in-law Sandy Smith, who interned at Woodberry Kitchen, as his chef, but he still does a lot of the cooking. “In the mornings, I’m in the back trying to figure out what the menu is,” he says. “We make ragus about once a week and we’re closed Monday and Tuesday so that’s when we do most of the sauces.”
Food Turn-ons. Pasta specials change every few days and have included ravioli with butternut squash and butter sage sauce, and pappardelle with boar ragu and juniper berries. There’s a smoked goose and scarlet frill appetizer on mustard greens dressed with preserved cherry mostarda. Another crowd-pleaser is malfatti —which means “badly made”—essentially ravioli filling without the pasta.
Adventurous Eats. “I’ve spent a lot of time deboning rabbits lately,” adds Aeschliman, who says most people who order rabbit at Bottega are eating it for the first time. “I stuffed them with sage and ham, tied them and roasted them off.”
Décor. Much of the interior materials come from a barn and cottage in Harpers Ferry. Aeschliman found the condemned property on Craigslist and got to it before the local fire department could incinerate it as a drill. The bentwood chairs are a mix of original turnof- the-century Thonet café chairs and reproductions rescued from a “cheesy old lounge in Detroit.”
Drinks & Dessert. “I’m not looking to get a liquor license,” says Aeschliman, who grew up drinking only water and wine. He’s in the process of courting a pastry chef, but has made a salted caramel chocolate pie borrowed from the Williamsburg, Brooklyn restaurant Marlow and Sons. “I used to live right above them,” he says. “We’d go down and get pie every night.” 1729 Maryland Ave., 443-708-5709, http://www.bottega1729.com
By Degrees Café
Before opening By Degrees Café, a decidedly not-too-schmancy 47-seat eatery in a renovated industrial space between Harbor East and Little Italy, Omar Semidey (who has been schooled by some of the country’s top chefs) did his homework. “We took a look at the market to see what other restaurants in the neighborhood were doing,” he says. “But then we changed it—only by a few degrees.” Get it? This subtle shift in the culinary landscape translates into a pared-down, reasonably priced menu of “simple foods with a twist,” according to the chef/owner, who has also worked at The Wine Market and Fleet Street Kitchen. For example, Semidey’s butternut squash soup has a touch of curry and his BLT is made with apple-wood smoked bacon, fresh greens, cherry tomatoes and tarragon aioli on a baguette. Naturally, the lunchbox specials have already become popular with the Legg Mason and Laureate set. For those sometimes-necessary “liquid lunches” (or dinners), there’s a small but well-edited beer and wine list, too. No dress code, no reservations—and free parking. (A welcome treat downtown.) 415 S. Central Ave, http://www.bydegreescafe.com
Tavern on the Hill
Unpretentious. That’s what the owners of Tavern on the Hill, who prefer to be known by their first names—Steve and Lee—had in mind when they opened their new bar/restaurant in Mount Vernon. “This neighborhood is kind of fancy and we wanted a place that was more laid back. Everyone feels comfortable here,” says Steve.
Chef Tim Engle’s menu includes basic tavern fare like the Three’s Company—an overstuffed sandwich with corned beef, turkey and roast beef—along with eight kinds of hot dogs, beautiful burgers and entrees ranging from barbecued brisket with veggies and roasted potatoes to N.Y. strip steak with blue cheese cream sauce. Bonus: they also serve breakfast all day.
Looking exclusively to imbibe? Ask award-winning bartender Jeff Levy for your Whiskey Loyalty Program punch card to keep tabs on your consumption. The 11th whiskey is on the house! 900 Cathedral St., 410-230-5400, http://www.tavernonthehillmtvernon.com
World of Beer
WOB is with us. Opening its doors in mid-October, McHenry Row’s new World of Beer offers barstoolexplorers 50 rotating taps, one cask and more than 500 bottle choices, backed up by solid pub fare and a compact wine list for the hopless among us.
Settling in at the long, L-shaped dark wood bar or a nearby hightop, you’ll find a Red Bull-infused staff happy to pour you samples—and almost as knowledgeable about the extensive offerings as they think they are. With a large sheltered patio, a pocket stage for live music and plentiful but silent flat-screens, WOB draws an eclectic crowd on weeknights before shifting into “broverdrive” for the weekend.
Being WOB and not NOB (Nation, natch), the draft options run more toward international standard bearers than exotic domestics, but the draft lineup changes daily and will undoubtedly evolve over time. For now, though, there’s no Boh in WOB. It’s a new world in Locust Point. 1724 Whetstone Way, 410-752-2337, http://www.wobusa.com
Convinced that Little Italy is the perfect place to spark a cultural and culinary renaissance, Cyd Wolf, her (authentically Tuscan!) husband/executive chef Germano Fabiani and their new artistic director Donald Kennedy are setting the neighborhood aflame with their “new” restaurant in the space formerly known as Germano’s Trattoria.
Now dubbed Germano’s Piattini (small plates) the contemporary Italian kitchen and bar is serving up little dishes with big flavor. Think Tartufo (truffle) Pizza, Carciofi Fritti (long stem artichokes fried in prosecco batter) and Polpo in Tre Modi (octopus three ways). Wolf notes that the menu includes many gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian offerings—and the facility is entirely nut-free. Well, except for some of the entertainers—ranging from jazz, opera and bluegrass musicians to Broadway and theater performers—who bring their creative talents to the adjoining cabaret. Also entertaining: the pasta-making demonstrations, where students of all ages can eat what they make for lunch. 300 S. High St, 410-752-4515, http://www.germanospiattini.com