La Bottega: Fine dining and a pickup counter too 1

La Bottega on Cross Bay Boulevard.

For a gourmet Italian eatery that opened this past July, La Bottega has quickly made a home in Howard Beach.

Travel down Cross Bay Boulevard — there’s no doubt any Queens visitor or resident has a lot of dining choices. If you’re not just looking for fine food, but an overall gratifying experience, La Bottega is the place for you.

This attractive storefront eatery, which is “half lunch pickup counter” and “half villa-like restaurant,” is actually part of a chain, but not in the large corporate sense. There are 20 La Bottega locations, most of them on Long Island. There’s one other Queens location, in Bayside, but each is privately owned and different in unique ways.

La Bottega restaurants are most famous for their paninis and salads, so those are menu items that remain the same at every location. What makes the Howard Beach location stand out are its larger selections of entrees, a new dinner menu every week and fresh homemade gelato and sangria. In fact, just about everything on the menu at this location is made right in the kitchen.

The three brothers who own this location, Sal Jr., Gabriel and Sergio Casella, are very proud of the establishment. “I grew up in Howard Beach, and my parents live here,” Sal Jr. said. “A lot of the La Bottegas are known for lunch, but we wanted to bring in dinner and invite people in then.” Along with their mother, Antonella Casella, the brothers take turns running the restaurant and doing everything from restocking the gelato showcase to preparing savory and sweet crepes.

The first item to arrive at the table is a bread basket, but be sure not to eat it all at once. This basket of freshly baked and sliced Italian bread will serve as a major complement to any appetizer or entree that one orders. Whether it is the ultra-thin Mozzarella di Bufala e’ Prosciutto di Parma, which ages 600 days before serving, or the hot and cold Calamari Arabbiata, the bread soaks up all the fine juices and flavor left behind on the plate. These sorts of combinations only enhance one’s dining experience.

As for entrees, they all come with roasted potatoes and herbs and sauteed broccoli. Pollo Cleopatra is a chicken breast sauteed with wild mushrooms and served with a plentiful amount of white mushroom sauce. My friend sampled the Red Snapper Livornese, which is a filet served in white wine and marinara sauces. Snapper can be either too salty or not salty enough, but here we found the perfect harmony of sweet and salty taste.

Throughout our meal, my friend and I were enjoying our glasses of sangria, a sweet dessert wine commonly served in the summer. “Although it is a summer drink, people love it. So we make it in the back and serve it all the time,” Sal Jr. said.

As for dessert, we sampled two of the most well-known and desired items: the fresh gelato and a Nutella Sweet Crepe with chopped bananas. The gelato is of the perfect consistency: light, yet creamy, and packed with flavor. As for the Nutella crepe, it is the definitive dessert available at La Bottega in this critic’s opinion. Nutella is a hazelnut version of peanut butter. Putting it between two warm crepe layers with skinny banana slices, topped off with powdered sugar and homemade whipped cream makes one delectable treat that is big enough to share amongst a family of three to four. Another dessert item that’s very popular is the mini-cone. It’s a small frozen cone with gelato inside. What makes it a regular favorite is that it’s perfect for younger children to hold so there’s no mess.

Put all of the fine dining and drinking into a moderately sized “villa-like” space and that makes one fine restaurant. If one does choose to sit down for dinner, be sure to ask for Favio; he was our server. Not only does he know the menu by heart, but he’ll kindly add or subtract anything to a meal upon request.

It’s clear that La Bottega has quickly become a favorite of Queens residents. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. all other days. Drop in to pick up takeout lunch or call (718) 529-0100 for reservations and a warm, homey welcome.

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