I did takeout at La Bottega, so I didn't get the full restaurant experience. You can usually tell a decent amount about a restaurant without actually eating your meal there--after all, you can still see what the place looks like, time how fast they can put a meal together, interact with at least one staff member, get a feel for the pricing, and taste the food.
From my brief time on the inside, the restaurant seems to be a friendly neighborhood corner joint, an unpretentious combination of hole-in-the-wall, market, and nice restaurant. The woman who rang up our meal had the professional demeanor of a career waitress, or someone with an admirable amount of composure and self-respect. Take-out menus are everywhere, so the restaurant must do a fair amount of business this way, and an array of desserts beckon from a display case next to the register. La Bottega describes itself as “the kind of deli-cafe you’d find only in Italy.” I'm fairly amused by this statement, since it’s located at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Purdue (two blocks east of Federal), which is decidedly not Italy. The menu insists on using the proper Italian names for all its dishes--polpette al sugo, tagliata di manzo, burrata e carciofi grigliati. This is a nice, authentic touch, though it may be a bit daunting for those who don't know Italian. Descriptions follow each name, though, so you will know what you're ordering, even if you can't pronounce it.
Since I've been trying to eat more fruits and veggies, I ordered a $10 salad to start my meal. I couldn't resist the promise of shaved fennel, arugula, mushrooms, parmesan, and tomatoes. The tomatoes were bland, but the button mushrooms were surprisingly tasty. The fennel was not well-distributed throughout the salad, and there wasn't quite enough of it, and the cheese suffered the same fate, but both were very good. It was rather bold of them to dress my to-go salad: most places give you a side of dressing so that your salad isn't soggy by the time you get home. Of course, using as little dressing as possible seems to have the same effect. I'm not the kind of person who likes my salad swimming--I understand that in a properly made salad, each leaf of lettuce should be only lightly dressed. The dressing here was really too minimalist.
I also ordered a 16” medium six slice pizza (as described on the menu). I focused on the 6 slices, not the 16 inches, and ended up with a pizza that will continue feeding me for the next three days--a good thing too, for $15. Any normal restaurant would call this a 12 slice pizza. But the important thing, of course, is how the pizza tasted.
The vegetarian pizza I ordered had mozarella, tomato sauce (they do have a couple of sauceless pizzas), fresh tomato, mushrooms, onion, eggplant, olives, bell peppers, and tomato sauce. Yes, that’s right, the menu lists tomato sauce twice! In case you couldn’t tell, I’m one of those people who just can’t stand to see something in print that wasn’t proofread carefully (this explains the probable number of typos on my own site, of course). Not only did my pizza not have double tomato sauce, it also didn’t have any eggplant (but I think they tried to make up for it with double onions--everyone’s least favorite topping). Ranting aside though, it was a good pizza, and worth the extra money over a fast-food pizza chain to enjoy fresh toppings and real crust. The crust was pretty thin, which I like because it means I can eat more cheese and toppings before I get full, but as a result, the crust got soggy pretty quickly, which seems to be a common ailment of veggie pizzas. I also don't think it is necessary to call a pizza "vegetarian" just because it doesn't have meat. I think it would have sufficed to call it a vegetable pizza.
Overall, I enjoyed my meal, but I wouldn't order a $10 salad from them again, and I'd probably prefer to look for a pizza whose crust wasn't going soggy. I might return to try their pasta dishes and desserts, though.
Total cost: $27, including tax
11363 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Also located in Larchmont Village