Driving downtown LA one could be conned into thinking this is a regular city, with the tall buildings, the grid, one way street traffic reminiscent of New York and people walking around, in and out of office buildings and cafes doing brisk business during the lunch hour. It’s somewhat of an illusion as, come evening, most of those people will have commuted somewhere else even though more and more buildings are being transformed into apartments and lofts. Pedestrians are replaced by an army of homeless people and most stores and cafes close at dusk.
Bottega Louie opened to much fanfare a couple of years ago and it is a gorgeous, cavernous space sitting on the corner of Grand and Seventh Avenue. The idea was to combine a takeout counter with a coffee bar with a proper restaurant and the design achieves just that, flawlessly. Despite being so big, the white bright walls, the minimalist furnishings, the geometrical arrangement of the food for sale make Bottega Louie very inviting and cheerful. The pastry counter is the first to catch MY eye with beautiful breakfast muffins, scones and Danish, adorable looking cupcakes and French macaroons (more on that later).
While waiting for my girlfriends I decide to buy some dinner, in the shape of a ham and cheese ficelle so tiny it would only satisfy one of the Olson twins – upon closer inspection at home, it contains barely a sliver of ham and cheese and, for the price, it is a bit of a rip off. The variety of cold salads is fairly limited and I opt for a pasta, fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil which turns out to be pretty good and the nice man behind the counter slips in the bag a taste of the grain mustard potato salad, also good.
I can’t leave without a couple of eclairs – all the cakes are beautifully presented and decorated in a slick and contemporary way. The eclairs, at $3.00 each, are a good deal as the cream inside is high quality and the glazes and decorations patiently executed. All in all, I found the sweet counter to be a better value than the savory. The array of breads, some from Bread Bar, is extensive and I am talked by the sweet man into buying a white chocolate baguette – it sounds weird enough to intrigue me and let’s just say it’s gone by the time my friends arrive.
We are not made to wait for a table by the side of the pizza counter – the rest of the kitchen is also open to the public and looks still gleaming new. The menu is somewhat boring, nothing particularly “out there”, which is not necessarily a bad thing. We settle on a Margherita pizza (big enough to feed a family of four), the fried calamari every other table has ordered, the portobello fries the busboy strongly recommended and a Modena salad. When the food comes, promptly, everything is good but all short of sensational. The pizza dough is pillowy but the sauce a bit too garlicky, the calamari are well fried but the marinara sauce which accompanies them is uninspiring, the portobello fries are ok but I would rather go for a real tempura any day. The salad of bibb lettuce, shallots, tomatoes, caramelized walnuts and goat cheese is excellent.
We end the meal with an order of the famous macaroons (which can be purchased individually or in a box of 9 for 22$!!) – the plate features a bright yellow one (lemon), a spring green (lime), a purple (Cassis) and a white (coconut). But what a disappointment to the taste – they are just too heavy, both the “meringue” and the cream, not at all reminiscent of the French concoction. But oh! do they look adorable! Without alcohol, our very large meal came to $23 each, tip included and a doggy bag of leftovers to take home.
With the lack of markets in the downtown area, I can see why many of the local dwellers are attracted to Louie for either take out or a quick dinner. Once the lights go out of the office buildings, it’s the most inviting place around.