246 Tenth Avenue, New York NY 10001 (at 24th Street; map); 212-206-6767; bottinonyc.com
Kids' Amenities: High chairs, stroller storage, garden seating
Best Dishes for Kids: Pastas
Cost: Appetizers $5-$16, Pastas $16-$18, Main courses $18-$30
Spring is, at least officially, upon us; despite the unpredictability of the weather, we just want to shed that winter coat and be outside. In Chelsea, a neighborhood not particularly known for its child-friendliness, the place to get that whiff of spring and let the children run a bit are the suspended gardens of the Highline. Some parents might even want to try checking out what's happening in the art scene in one of the area's many art galleries. And when hunger strikes, an early dinner at Bottino might be all you need to end the day.
Bottino has been around since 1997 serving Italian fare that doesn't strive for authenticity, and is a bit of a cafeteria for Chelsea's art and art-gallery types. For many years, it has been the place where I take out-of-towners to give them a taste of the "local". Bottino never failed to impress with its accessible menu and people-watching: men in jackets and scarves that don't come off, and women sporting outfits that speak of style and not fashion. Cool, chunky, colorful eyewear is worn proudly.
We arrived early for a 6:00pm reservation of a Saturday night, and sat at the bar area, which was was already full. The restaurant was not open yet, but the hostess said we would be the first party to be accommodated us as soon as they were ready. Right before 6 they sat us a center table, and brought a high chair for my daughter. Bottino's sparse and chic decor conforms with its location and clientele, but is made warm and romantic by lighting and candles. The dining room has four different sections that can be closed off for private events—and garden sitting that is actually delightful in good weather, and not a bad place for kids to roam a little.
We ordered the bruschetta al pomodoro ($5) and the tuna tartare ($14) as appetizers. The tomatoes in the bruschetta were better than you'd expect of winter tomatoes, resuscitated by a lively olive oil dressing, salt and a sprinkle of basil en chiffonade. My daughter, who was already wolfing down the bread basket, enjoyed the tomatoes. She also took some bits of the ginger and sesame oil tuna tartare, which came on a bed of watercress, cucumber and daikon sprouts. Despite the slightly meager portion of roughly chopped tuna, this Asian-scented tartare is one of the best appetizers at Bottino.
Our main courses were a bit of a mixed bag. We had the the penne speck ($16) and the orecchiette with broccoli rabe and boar sausage ($16) but neither was memorable. The boar sausage in the orecchiette had some character, and my daughter loved it; she was also very intrigued by the word "orecchiette" and even more by the fact that it means "little ears"! The overcooked penne, in turn, should have been a lot bolder in a sauce of tomato and speck.
The grilled Norwegian salmon ($22) was on the other hand very good—not only because the salmon was cooked à point and still retained much moisture, but also because it came with a very interesting salsa verde—a garlic-basil mound of deliciousness, and perfectly cooked haricots verts.
We ended the meal with a slightly tough pecan tart ($8) buried under a storm of powdered sugar. The shallow tart format did not allow for much of the molasses base of a pecan pie, and lacking moisture, both crust and pecans were hard to chew. No matter. Between the three of us it disappeared fairly quickly.
If the weather is nice and a picnic on the Highline is really what you want, Bottino to go, adjacent to the main restaurant, offers delicious sandwiches, salads, desserts, coffee, and a few hot dishes to take out.