Ristorante Bottaio

The Oliverii Family of Restaurants is well known on the North Shore, with restaurants in Northbrook (Trattoria Oliverii), Deerfield (Ristorante Abruzzo) and Oliverii North (Antioch). This time, our destination was Libertyville and Ristorante Bottaio, bustling on a recent Friday night.

Pet peeve alert: Our reservation was for 7:45 p.m., and we arrived promptly. Although they were very gracious, we waited 25 minutes for our table. I realized later that they were jammed up due to a rehearsal dinner booked in the upstairs area. No drinks or apps were offered for the inconvenience. My opinion? Make the customer happy. If they wait more than 15 minutes for a reservation, you buy a round of drinks.

OK, I’m over it. Moving on.

Finally seated, the server quickly took a drink order, including two very healthy glasses of Chianti Riserva ($12 each), and left us to settle in with the menu, which offered quite a bit of choice. We ordered an antipasto for the table ($12), having checked out the lovely platters of grilled veggies while waiting to be seated. (Oops! I’ve moved on, right?)

The platter arrived, ringed with thinly sliced Italian meats and heaped with chunks of Asiago cheese as well as marinated and grilled zucchini, eggplant, roasted red peppers and olives. With it came a bread plate (plain and herbed focaccia and a good, crusty Italian loaf) and a fruity, fragrant olive oil.

Off to a good start but where were some of the more interesting veggies I spied earlier (marinated fennel, slices of frittata, etc.)?

The house salad (mixed greens and a few veggies tossed with LOTS of a tart red wine vinaigrette) or Minestrone is included with your entreé. My daughter was able to change to a Caesar with no up charge. I was especially glad not to incur an extra charge when the Caesar arrived and it became clear that either they make an excessively watery dressing or the romaine wasn’t dried thoroughly before tossing.

The soups we tried were tasty enough, although on the salty side, especially the Tortellini in Brodo ($6). The Pasta e Fagioli ($6) was more successful, thick with ditalini pasta, diced veggies and beans. A little heavy for a summer meal, perhaps, but remember we haven’t seen much in the way of summer yet!

The entrees arrived, and the results were a mixed bag. The Margherita Pizza ($9), fresh from the wood-burning oven, was delicious with a thin but toothsome crust, charred slightly on the edges and bottom. It oozed with Mozzarella and a crushed tomato sauce and was strewn prettily with a chiffonade of fresh basil.

The evening’s special pasta, Garganelli Funghi Bosco ($16), combined a homemade egg pasta sauteed with mixed wild mushrooms and fresh grape tomatoes in a white wine sauce, topped with fresh arugula and shaved Parmesan, which seemed almost like an entire salad atop the pasta. Despite the earthiness of the mushrooms, the arugula and tiny tomatoes kept it reasonably light.

The Rigatoni Con Scampi ($18), billed as “Pasta with Shrimp in a Spicy Tomato Sauce,” got it partially right. The server was again accommodating, allowing us to substitute linguine. The shrimp were plump and plentiful, but the sauce was not even remotely spicy. Instead it was a tad sweet, which was odd.

The real disaster, though, was the not inexpensive fish special, Branzino in Crosta ($28). Supposedly a filet of Chilean Sea Bass with a potato crust served in a Prosecco and creamy herb sauce, it missed on every level. The fish was overcooked and some of the potato “crust”- really more of a pile of potato strings on top – was raw. The sauce was just wrong. The side dishes (a well-seasoned sauté of spinach and garlic and an overly cheesy and creamy risotto with peas) tried valiantly to rescue the fish but to no avail.

I gave last rites to the dish and waited for dessert.

Ah, dessert- the savior of many a meal- but sadly, not this time.

The Mille alle Mele ($7), many layers of thin, filolike pastry layered and baked with chunks of apple, was served with a vanilla gelato. The apple was not quite cooked through and would have been more successful if thinly sliced; the pastry should have been crispier. We were astounded by the Panna Cotta ($7), but not in a good way. As it was served, I asked why it was in two layers, and I was told that was what Panna Cotta looked like. Actually, it had separated, with the gelatin heading south in the mold and the cream and sugar hanging out on top.

It was kind of disturbing and not the way you’d want to end the meal.

Maybe if I lived nearby I’d give it another try; the pizza, pasta e fagioli, and the special pasta were tasty, but with the cost of gas and the value of my time, I’ll look a little closer to home.

– Julie Chernoff, Make It Better, North Shore