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[Radar]: Bottega Mozzarella Bar

Austin Hu has teamed up with the mozzarella lady for a little mozzarella bar and pizzeria in XTD. Blessed are the cheese makers...
2014-09-11 11:38:54
Area: Xintiandi. Not the place I would have expected these guys to set up shop, but there you have it. They're in the north block, right next to recently opened Estado Puro. Supposedly, restaurants like these mark the beginning of a Xintiandi renaissance. The property managers have realized that no one who actually lives in Shanghai goes there anymore. It's all coach tours and business travelers. I'm told that many of the older tenants aren't renewing leases, and this is opening up a lot of space for some much-needed new blood. The property managers are supposedly using this as an opportunity to fill the void with homegrown tenants. We'll see how that pans out, though. So far, the only upcoming tenant I've heard about is another branch of Greyhound.

What it is: A partnership by chef/restaurateur Austin Hu and Kyeong Joo Lee. You're probably already familiar with Hu. His brunch at Madison is arguably the most popular in town, and he's also recently opened a cocktail lounge in partnership with bar man Yao Lu.

Ms. Lee's name might be less familiar to you. Hers is the typical Shanghai story. Korean architect comes to Shanghai via Italy, starts to pine for the mozzarella she came to love while living in Italy, so does a mass Google search on how to make her own, learns the ropes, then starts her own boutique cheese company called Solo Latte. It became a known quantity around four years ago and has since grown into a popular supplier for many of Shanghai's finer Italian restaurants. You've probably tasted her product without realizing it. For instance, ever order a pizza at Mercato? That's her cheese.

She also supplies cheese to Austin Hu, which is how this partnership began.

They've combined their respective talents to create a mozzarella bar, which is some kind of new restaurant trend that I didn't even know about. It's a concept that is apparently flourishing in The States. The concept is pretty self-explanatory: a menu of simple Italian cuisine centered around cheese. They make mozzarella, bocconini, stracciatella and burratta fresh daily. And a good chunk of the menu is just plates of the stuff with various add-on options, like prosciutto, salami, and lardo, which is strips of fatback cured with herbs.

Leaving off from here, cheese finds its way into pretty much everything else on the menu. Think: caprese salad; bruschetta with mozzarella; gemelli pasta with broccolini, and straciatella. Then there are the pizzas. The oven is right by the door, so these are likely what will lure you in in the first place. They offer a manageable menu of six at them moment, and they range from a traditional "Margherita" to something a little more inventive, like the "Coreana" topped with homemade kimchi, pork neck, and stracciatella. The latter really captures the spirit of Bottega, by the way—a graceful merging of homemade Korean and Italian elements.

Atmosphere: Naturally, Kyeong Joo Lee has brought her architecture credentials to the table as well. She's created a space that's spare and angular yet bright comfortable. Think wooden tabletops, chairs with no upholstery, blown-up photos of the cheese making process. Easy, simple.

Damage: Cheese plates start at 48rmb for 100g of mozzarella and peak at 108 for burratta. Add-ons like prosciutto and coppa range from 42 to 52. Antipasti are anywhere between 28rmb for focaccia bread to 98 for poached tuna. Salads and pasta are 78 to 98. Pizzas are anywhere between 88 and 138. Considering the address, those are all pretty reasonable prices.

Who's going: Fortunately no herds of people shepherded by someone with a megaphone and a retractable flag just yet. All I saw on my visit were curious restaurateurs and food bloggers.