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Rabbit Pasta Is a Thing, and It's Wonderful

At Oakland's Belotti Bottega, maybe the best pasta in town.

 

For the pasta addict, there’s no craving quite as desperate as the craving for a good spaghetti Bolognese—or a lasagna, or a handmade tagliatelle. When you’re hit with an especially bad case, you don’t want to deal with waiters or reservations; you might not even want to change out of your sweatpants. Such is the beauty, then, of the takeout pasta shop, a beloved institution in places like Rome, New York, and North Beach.

Not so much in Oakland, though. Which is why Piedmont Avenue carbivores rejoiced when Belotti Bottega—a takeout-oriented off shoot of the original Belotti Ristorante, which many believe to be the East Bay’s finest pastacentric Italian restaurant—opened in October. Michele Belotti conceived of the bottega (“shop” in Italian) as a hybrid of sorts: It’s a place where you can buy an assortment of fresh gnocchi or tagliatelle (both $9 per single-person portion), along with a tub of one of Belotti’s housemade sauces ($7/$10.50), to throw together an easy home-cooked meal. And it’s also a restaurant where you can pick up a to-go order of one of Belotti’s signature pasta dishes, along with a salad or a plate of vitello tonnato. Or you can sit down for a quick bite.

The shop doesn’t look like much. There’s just a handful of counter stools, and, at least for now, no vast selection of imported Italian goods like you’d find at a typical Italian market. But the pasta itself is enough of a selling point. The key, Belotti says, is the extravagant number of egg yolks that he uses in his dough—as many as 20 to make a single pound of pasta. (Compare that, Belotti says, with the “poorest,” and most basic, recipes for fresh pasta, which might include only one egg.) It’s why all of Belotti’s pastas are so delicate and toothsome and rich in flavor. His stuffed pastas, in particular are a revelation: the postage-stamp-shaped agnolotti, served in a heady beef reduction, and the meat-stuffed casoncelli— the chef’s mother’s recipe—which melds perfectly with a smoky sage-and-brown-butter sauce.

What Belotti didn’t want to open was the kind of pasta restaurant that’s popular elsewhere in the Bay Area—the kind of mix-and-match place where you pick your noodle, your sauce, and however many toppings to create your own pasta dish, like building your own sundae at the ice cream parlor. Better to keep things traditional. Pasta is, after all, the ultimate comfort food. “When I’m eating a good Bolognese, to me it’s almost like a better experience than eating at a good Michelin-starred restaurant,” he says. “I don’t really want to invent anything.”

Well, maybe one thing. The one pasta the bottega serves that is Belotti’s own invention might be the best dish on the menu: The tortelli di polenta ($16.75, pictured above) was inspired by the classic Italian combination of rabbit and polenta—a dish that’s ubiquitous in the chef’s home region of Bergamo, where people eat so much polenta that they’re known as polentoni. But here in the United States, rabbit is awfully expensive to serve as an entrée, so Belotti reconceived the dish in pasta form. The tortelli, each one shaped like a dainty Paul Revere hat, are stuffed with oozy, featherlight polenta and served in a ragù made with the rabbit’s tender flesh as well as its earthy liver, kidneys, and heart. It’s a dish you eat with great thanksgiving, whether you’re perched on a stool in the bottega or, miracle of miracles, sprawled out on your own damn couch. 
4001B Piedmont Ave. (At 40th st.), Oakland, 510-350-7619

 

Originally published in the December issue of San Francisco 

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