La Bottega in Howard Beach

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THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan
THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

La Bottega may be considered a newcomer to the rivalrous row of restaurants on Cross Bay Boulevard, but it’s no rookie.

Since it opened up on the Howard Beach strip in June, La Bottega has become the neighborhood go-to spot for Italian gourmet. In fact, on a Friday evening, the restaurant is packed way before the dinner rush comes in by 5:30 p.m. — and for good reason.

La Bottega boasts an impressively large menu, with close to 70 different types of paninis and 26 salads — including avocado, roasted salmon and cajun shrimp.

Although La Bottega is a franchise, each restaurant is individually owned, giving customers the best of both worlds — a diverse and changing menu with a name they can trust.

Unique from other restaurants, this La Bottega offers a delicious selection of homemade, mouth-watering, rich and creamy gelato — made fresh every day — and irresistible sangria, courtesy of head server Fabio Urrutia. Comparable to the sangria served in Spain, Urrutia’s recipe keeps customers coming back. In fact, at least half of the tables in the packed restaurant were topped off with the delicious blend of Brandy, Merlot wine, sugar, oranges and grape pears.

As for an appetizer, to rejuvenate your taste buds, try the calamari arabiata. A dish for two, the arabiata is served with onions and hot cherry peppers over a delicious bed of fried calamari. It’s perfect for those who like spice, and for those — including this eater — who usually stay away from fiery foods.

If you’re having an understandably tough time choosing an entrée, try the restaurant’s newest dish, the tonno alla griglia — sushi-quality tuna grilled and served with a vegetable ratatouille, with a basil and homemade pesto sauce. The dish is only a little over a week old, but it has quickly become a best-selling contender.

Other crowd favorite entrees worth checking out include the ravioli d’astic con gamberoni — lobster ravioli sautéed with shrimp and crabmeat in a vodka cream sauce — and the veal gorgonzola, which comes with veal scallopini in a gorgonzola cheese sauce.

The Casella brothers — Salvatore, Jr., Gabriele and Sergio — owners of La Bottega in Howard Beach, said they stay on top of competition by putting in their own flair to the menu. Come for the sangria, for the gelato, the fine food or the friendly and attentive wait staff. The flair at La Bottega is molto bene!

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