A bottega was established by a master artist or maestro dell’arte who accepted and trained young apprentices or garzoni for periods of several months to many years. The garzoni performed menial tasks until they proved themselves talented enough to learn the art of their master by copying and collaborating on his works. This system increased a master’s productivity and also resulted in the preservation and transfer of skills to the next generation of artists.
This tradition was clearly in the mind of Luca Appino, a chef and entrepreneur from the Piemonte region of Italy, when he established La Bottega di Luca, an upscale Italian grocer that later morphed into his well-loved casual fine dining venue. Over its 14-year history, La Bottega has seen hundreds of recipes created and products transformed by various chefs. Marco Avesani, who is from Verona, recently became the latest Head Chef entrusted with building on this tradition of excellence.
After everyone had arrived, we moved into the private dining ‘wine’ room to enjoy our first starter, Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Crispy Guanciale, Walnuts, and Chives. Food Spokesman Daniel Arn enjoyed both the soup and the selection of fine fresh breads that were served with it – a sentiment shared by all. Along with the soup we enjoyed a Marco Felluga’s Mongris Collio Pinot Grigio 2019. Alan thought it was more flowery than usual (for a Pinot Grigio) but said it paired very well with the soup.
Our second course was a traditional Tuscan Pici with Braised Duck Ragout, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Fresh Rosemary. It was a generous portion, and packed full of rich flavors that Danny really appreciated. He declared it to be “very good”, but also said the thick-string Pici pasta (like a fat spaghetti) was a bit too al dente for his liking. Others seemed to enjoy its slightly chewy texture. The pasta was paired with a Tuscan red blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot, Tenuta Sette Ponti’s Cognolo Toscana 2015. Alan declared this to be the best wine of the day, saying “it tasted just like it looks” with an intense ruby red color and thick long legs on the glass. No wonder James Suckling gave this vintage 94 points.
The main course, Grilled Wagyu Flank Steak served with Sautéed Turnip Top and Demi Glaze, was served with Zenato Amarone Della Valapolicella Classico 2015. Some of us were dubious about the choice of a flank steak, but all were pleasantly surprised. Danny said the steak was perfectly cooked – tender, juicy and full of flavor. The Amarone also did its job. Made from a blend of grapes (60% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, 10% Oseleta and 10% Croatina), this was a heady and spicy wine, full-bodied and well balanced, that stood up to the richness of the meat. Alan noted its dark red, almost black color, as well as its strength (16.5% ABV), and said that for him it also went well the subsequent dessert and cheese courses.
Dessert was a beautiful Sicilian Cannolo served with Almond Ice Cream. It tasted every bit as delicate and delicious as it looked, and Daniel declared it to be an “excellent” connolo. This was followed by Stilton Cheese, donated by absent Club President Tom Whitcraft, and two bottles of Noval Tawny Reserve Port provided by birthday boy Alan Rankin. For his efforts, Alan was chosen to express our appreciation to Luca, Chef Marco, and their excellent staff who served us so ably.
But this was not the end of our lunch. Most of us retired to the al fresco dining area, to relax and enjoy more fine wines amidst the beautiful artwork and architecture that makes La Bottega di Luca such a special venue. Time will tell if it can rightly be compared to the Renaissance workshops of Domenico Ghirlandaio (whose apprentices included Michelangelo) and Andrea del Verrocchio (who welcomed such rising talents as Leonardo da Vinci and Pietro Perugino, who later taught Raphael), but the evidence so far is looking good – just as we look forward to another visit.