Some businesses open their first location while planning their tenth. They are thinking about franchising and expending before they bother to make sure the concept goes over with the public. The South Bay has a rare counter –example. The Bottle Inn waited decades to open their first offshoot.
The Bottle Inn’s new Riviera Village location has a different ambiance from the original’s old-fashioned charm. The decor is stylish and contemporary, with recycled wood attached to the white walls to suggest a rustic cabin. Large windows make it bright by day, but at night there’s a clubby, bistro feel. The menu is slightly smaller than the Hermosa Beach original’s, so the kitchen staff can master every item before innovating on their own. And if there’s any doubt that the food here matches the original, it can be dispelled by the fact that the chef from Hermosa spends alternate weeks here. Co-owner Silvio Petoletti also devotes time to Redondo. He was strolling from table to table the evening we visited.
We started our meal with a poached pear and arugula salad and a “Torre di Melanzane” – layers of breaded and fried eggplant, interspersed with braised spinach and topped with gorgonzola sauce and a scattering of chopped roasted peppers. The salad also had gorgonzola, so this was a chance to see how that cheese compared raw and cooked.
It was creamy and buttery with a hint of smokiness in the sauce. It was more assertive in the salad with poached pears and greens. As our server delivered the salad she offered pepper, which I refused because I want to taste things before seasoning them. After I tried the salad I added some, and added a dash on the fruity cooked pears completed the flavors. As for the eggplant tower, it was flawless as served. This dish is a vegetarian showstopper. In several visits here I have tried most of the appetizers, and though I’m partial to their risotto crab cakes and fried artichoke hearts, this is the best.
Since Silvio was present and is a wine pairing expert, we asked him to suggest glasses to complement our starters. The items we ordered made this difficult. Salads with fruit have a combination of sweetness and acid that is notoriously hard to pair with. He responded with a Roero Arneis and an “Il Burchino” Vermentino blend. The Vermentino was a bit dry and acid as a sipping wine but came into its own with food, while the Arneis was pleasant on its own or with either dish.
We continued with a very old-school dish called scalone, abalone and scallops pounded together, and an order of chicken polenta lasagna. Scalone was popular in the 1950s. It may have begun as a way to use the trimmings from abalone, but developed a following for its delightful light texture and shellfish flavor. Abalone became unavailable due to overfishing in the 1990s, but farmed abalone that are as tasty as wild ones have recently come into the market, and it is back on menus. Abalone meat can be tough and chewy, but when made into scalone that’s not a problem.
I get scalone rarely enough that I would have savored a taste by itself. It was served covered with a lemon caper sauce that I would have preferred on the side. It came with carrots that had been roasted so they were caramelized, roasted red potatoes, and chopped spinach, and was altogether a delightful meal.
The lasagna was quite different from the traditional noodle variety. It had crepe-like polenta slices layered with housemade chicken sausage, ricotta cheese, and mozzarella, served over pink marinara with a dusting of parmesan. The sausage was fragrantly spiced with herbs but not hot, and added to the character of the dish. It was delicately flavored and delightful, a Northern Italian variant that is distinctively separate from the robust Sicilian and New York styles that are typically found in California restaurants.
We had asked Silvio to suggest wines again, and to our surprise both were Californian – a Carmel Road pinot noir and Halter Ranch “Cotes de Paso.” Silvio has an excellent cellar of Italian wines and I had expected to see at least one among his choices, but as usual his choices were excellent, and both French-style California Coast wines went very well with our food.
We had enjoyed excellent cannoli and tiramisu at Bottle Inn Riviera before, but decided to try something else this time – a limoncello cake. This silky sponge cake had a nice lemon flavor but was a bit sweet for my tastes, so my wife happily demolished it.
Our food bill was just under $80. The wine ran another $45, a very reasonable price for a luxurious night out. The Bottle Inn Riviera has done something unlikely – preserved all the charms of a classic neighborhood favorite, but in a new location with modern style.
The Bottle Inn Riviera is at 1700 S. Catalina Avenue in Redondo Beach. Entrance on Avenue I. Open daily at 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and ‘til midnight Friday and Saturday. Beer and wine served, street parking, wheelchair access okay, patio dining, vegetarian dishes. Menu at bottleinnriviera.com. 310-543-6800. B