Botto Bistro is a restaurant of contradictions. The interior is of the Italian restaurant has a chic, contemporary decór with Italian classics flowing through the speakers, but a gigantic flat-screen TV showing American football is the focal point of the room. Botto is arguably the most upscale place in the area, but they demand negative reviews from all of their customers. And while the restaurant's demeanor ranges from antagonistic to hostile, the owners are sincere almost to the point of being nice. One meal at Botto will leave you scratching your head about what the owners are thinking -- and you'll be wondering why you hadn't gone sooner.
Before you read any further, check out the website for the restaurant here. Only after reading through their FAQ section will you fully understand the brilliance that is Botto Bistro. To the question, "I'm a very picky eater and I always ask for special orders or substitutions in the menu, should I go to Botto?" Botto answers: "We don't think so. We also charge for extras and substitutions to discourage any creative request you may have."
Inside the restaurant, there is a chalkboard dedicated to everything Botto doesn't have. It reads, "OMG! We have no butter, no ice, no lemon, no ranch. We charge for bread. We charge for everything. We don't change TV channel. We should be out of business. What can you do? Hate us on Yelp and get 25% off any pizza for your one star review."
While their website and restaurant are full of such snark, the owners approach their food with a determined seriousness. In addition to a full menu of Italian staples like pasta, pizza, and bread -- in addition to a wide variety of local and Italian wines (don't even try to bring your own bottle) -- Botto has an extensive and ever-growing specials menu that brush $20 per dish. This menu is where Botto really shines, and the Pappardelle al Cervo e Bacche di Ginepro may be the best item listed here. Featuring homemade Tuscan pappardelle with a braised venison meat sauce, juniper berries, garlic, rosemary, and red wine reduction, this dish makes the senses work hard to determine the source of each flavor and texture of the meal, all of which work together to culminate in a nearly exhausting flavor-packed meal.
A dish of such craftsmanship and immense creativity makes one wonder: why would such a restaurant work to sabotage themselves? Perhaps they don't care to play into the Yelp race of getting the best reviews, or maybe they know their food is so good that people are going to come anyway.
Talking with the owners, partners Davide Cerretini and Michele Massimo, the mystery only thickens. These two large, Tuscan chefs are nearly shy at first, but it doesn't take long before they warm up and start joking around. "At Botto, we work to make the best, and then make more," says Massimo. Of the negative campaign against his own restaurant, Massimo didn't say much and directed me to their Yelp page, which is full of atrocious (and untrue) reviews. The couple founded Botto five years ago after closing their restaurant in San Francisco, and they didn't really have any specific reason to open their bistro where they did. "We just found it, and..." Massimo gesticulates around, expressing how him and Cerretini just kind of came across the location and set up shop.
In the half-decade that Botto Bistro has served Richmond, the restaurant has developed a loyal and hateful group of regulars who are well-known to the Cerretini and Massimo. "Staci!" "Michael!" they call out as their customers come in. They are all soon chatting away at the counter before the orders are taken and the customers are shooed off to a nearby table. The food is as good as the service is mean at Botto Bistro, and it doesn't look like there are any plans to change the recipe.
2171 Meeker Ave, Richmond
Tel. (510) 232-3100
Mon - Fri: 11 am. to 8 pm.
Sat- Sun: 4 pm. to 8 pm.
View their website here, and their Yelp page here.
Update: Sepember 18th, 2014: A week after this story was initially published, it looks like story has deepened. Richmond Standard picked up our piece, and the San Francisco Chronicle's Inside Scoop picked up their's, leading to a series of meta-stories based on this original piece, and each story got a little deeper on the story of Botto Bistro's self-sabotage. Check out the stories for more.