The kitchen is the great equalizer. Food doesn’t care about the colour of your skin…
“Honey, I’m HOME!” – Gypsy
“Italian” is synonyms for “joy” in my life. There is little else that can comfort, soothe and completely quiet; mind, body and soul quite like Italian food. Elegant in its simplicity and selective in its ingredients, Italian is (by far) my favourite food and the reason I dream in full Mario Batali technicolour and the reason I drag my Gypsy self to Italy as often as I can.
As I settled in Ottawa this fall, before starting classes at Le Cordon Bleu, I busied myself getting to know the city… scouring malls… walking streets, in search of all those things that one must have – such as premium olive oil, giant wheels of Parmesan (free of plastic wrap) and oil cured olives.
Every time I asked there was only one answer: “Have you been to La Bottega yet?!”
Cue La Bottega Nicastro. The tiny store front in the Byward Market is completely deceiving; it could pass for any deli, anywhere… until you walk through the door to aisles jammed to the rafters with every fine imported (Italian) food you ever imagined.
On a busy Saturday, customers line dozens deep for deli and cheese. The cafe bustles and overflows as customers dine on gourmet sandwiches, homemade soups, salads, Panini and… pizza. The olive bar entices. The appliances gleam and I am completely overwhelmed by choice and authenticity.
Italian owned, La Bottega began in Ottawa in 1973 when the Nicastro Brothers, Joe, Rocco & Frank opened their first store in Little Italy. Times change, the business expands, and in 1995 the Byward Market location opened in Ottawa’s downtown core.
Still a family business, the second generation now pursues the mark of excellence that is their legacy. The very best of everything.
Hard cheeses; Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, and Provolone. Soft cheeses; Asiago, Gorgonzola, Mozzarella di Bufala, and Taleggio. French cheeses; Brie, Camembert, Chevre, Comté and Roquefort. International cheeses, Canadian cheeses.
They sell a tonne of cheese a week. Literally.
Charcuterie that drops me to my knees. Salami; Genoa, Sopressa, Calabrese, Al prosciutto. Cured meats; Prosciutto di Parma, Bresaola, Pancetta. Hams & specialty meats, plus other familiar deli items like turkey breast and FRESH… Italian… sausage.
Amazing the difference between imported European salami (for instance) made with choice cuts and with the very best, buttery fat marbled in. Products made in a cultural cuisine; slow food, slow wine.
There is an entire isle dedicated to olive oil and its flip side… balsamic vinegar (balsamic fetish… don’t get me started). Pastas. Rice. Bread. COFFEE (espresso) and the sparkling (sexy) Italian appliances to make the perfect cappuccino.
“It’s easy to cook well if you start with great ingredients… and we’ve got great ingredients.” Rocco Nicastro Jr.
I’ll second that.
While the selection is outstanding, the service and depth of knowledge of the staff is second to none. Down to the last, they are equally passionate and capable of in-depth explanations and recommendations on the most complex of questions…
“Which Prosciutto would be best to stuff a turkey breast?”
It truly is this level of service that sets La Bottega apart from many a deli. Without it, it is just a bunch of stuff on shelves. You can go to Costco for that. You go to La Bottega for expertise as well as stellar ingredients.
Unfortunately, my current schedule does not allow me time to frequent La Bottega as often as I would like… maybe I could just sleep there.
As I’m going “all-out-Italian” this Christmas it is fair to say that they’ll be seeing a great deal of me in the next few weeks. Currently ‘researching’ said extravaganza. It’s a tough job.
Gypsy confession:the last three times I’ve arrived to La Bottega, I’ve left empty handed. (I think I have a brain injury!) To be honest I am so overwhelmed that I am completely incapable of making a decision.
Obviously I require someone capable of making tough choices to accompany me as my guide “OK Gypsy… now… let’s start simple with a piece of cheese…” or just hand me a bag and direct me to the nearest check out… “Here you go. Buon Appetito!”
Gourmet Italian grab bags – this is a concept that could catch on!
La Bottega Nicastro, Byward Market
64 George Street
1558 Merivale Rd.