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