1195 Island Avenue, East Village
Huh. Door's open, a bit. Squeeze through.
Oh man. This is spacious, but busy. Bars everywhere, huge white pizza oven dome, communal tables kinda winging out from it, sit-up seafood bar beyond, schools of cute ceramic fish swimming across the wall above, square columns made of cross-stacked split logs holding the whole place up, lots of copper-shaded lamps hanging from way high in the ceiling. Also an en-tire deli counter. Also an outside terrazza with chairs, tables, and a kumquat tree in the middle.
I mean this is some project. And that's before you even start eating.
Talking Bottega Americano, which means ""American Shop" in Italian, right? Whatever, this is being called one of the year's "most anticipated" restaurant openings.
For starters, it's big, 8,000 square feet. And new: it's in the half-subterranean level of the newish Thomas Jefferson Law School building at Park and Island, in this corner of East Village that suddenly is popping. Chad Deal's Común is just around the corner. So is The Parlour, Stone Brewing, Rare Form. As long as actual customers turn up, this corner of town is set to become hip, hot and happening.
I see they have a menu up behind the deli. Pasta, pizza, salami and cheese plates, oysters, fish, lamb osso bucco... Most prices look around the twelve- to fifteen-dollar range.
"You should be able to get out for under twenty dollars," says this guy Chad Ruyle. He basically came up to see what da heck I was doing in his place before it was even open. He's one of the main men behind this venture. He and the chef, David Warner, and the designer, Thomas Schoos, are buzzing round checking last-minute details, because Schoos is about to jump on a plane headed for Berlin.
"I will be designing Stone's first brewery in Europe," he says.
Boy. Are things, uh, hopping or what? Now San Diego is taking the beer battle to the very heart of beerdom. Germany. Guess you can throw those 1487 Bavarian purity laws that say you can only use water, barley, hops to make beer, right out into the Strasse.
Schoos (he also designed Puesto in The Headquarters downtown, and Searsucker in the Gaslamp, as well as, like homes for half of Hollywood — Will Smith, Courteney Cox, Ellen DeGeneres — and hotels from LA to China) looks at me when I ask him to describe his whole thing here. He thinks, looks around, and then says "Well, I guess I'd say elegant but whimsical."
Ruyle says he and his buddies traveled to LA, New York, Paris, London, and, for sure, La Bella Italia and did a thorough investigation of 28 restaurants before they settled on this deli-meets-tasting counters layout. You see that it does have a sort of marketplace feel, with plenty of space for people to meet and mill about. I like that. No sign of one of those pesky "Please wait to be seated" signs anywhere.
"What it came down to was people had to be able to have three experiences here," Ruyle says. "Dining, communal — that's why the long tables — and you should be able to talk with the chef. Learn, also tell him how you like it. Specially with the seafood."
But will they succeed? This is quite a space to fill. One big boost for business: They have a meal deal going with the law school, where this will basically be the students' dining hall. So that is a heckuva cushion for your business.
Plus, hey, for the rest of us, at least the conversation around you is gonna be guaranteed interesting, if you're into arguing the rights of the pig, say, not to be on your plate.
P.S. Check out the floor tile. It's an artful combo of different foods, knives, fruits and veggies. Takes a moment to see them.
P.P.S. Part I like best? They open at 7:00 a.m., so you can just drop in for a coffee and croissant, whatever, take time to wake up before you launch into You Vs. Life, out there in the unforgiving city.