What is Bottarga and why do you want some

La Ciccia's Spaghittus cun Bottarga (Spaghetti with Bottarga)

Two Foodists flying to a new city ready to eat is a little like dangling a raw side of beef in front of a hungry tiger…

Last week fellow Foodist founder Mark Busse and I headed to a conference in San Francisco. A quick tweet or two and we had a list of places we had to hit to eat, drink and otherwise destroy our svelte figures with. On short notice we were having some trouble getting into Delfina, a fave, but in the mood for something Italian and delicious we forced the lovely co-contributor to Foodists, Pailin Chongchitnan to pick a place and meet us there. And pick she did!

A relatively quick car ride later we were at the chef’s table at La Ciccia, a family run Sardinian restaurant, in the good hands of our server, Petra.

When you skydive you stand at the door of the plane, then jump. What happens next isn’t really in your control and you have to give into the experience. That’s precisely what we did this night, and the reason why we took no photos and turned off our instincts to record and document. But, as it is in parachuting, it’s also great when things go your way: I’d spotted something on the menu that looked very appealing, Spaghittus cun Bottarga (Spaghetti with Bottarga), but did not order it. We let our server decide our meal. Clearly the planets were aligned since this dish arrived as if divined by the universe.

Bottarga, it turns out, is the salted, cured roe of the mullet fish. In this simple dish of olive oil, garlic and parsley, it’s cooked into the oil as well as shaved onto the top in lieu of Parmesan. It also makes the whole thing float about six inches off the table it’s that good. The neat little wrapped bundle of spaghetti was plated off-center on the dish. Maybe on purpose, to give the ethereal umami some room?

Needless to say, the rest of the meal was also remarkable, including the well-matched wines, also selected for us. I half-joked about another order of the Bottarga for dessert. Four days later, while comparing highlights, Mark and I were both still thinking about this dish. Turns out he was just as into a second helping as I’d been, but gave way to the cerebral pulses instructing him to move along to dessert. Oh well.

I asked Petra about where one gets mullet roe and she led me to believe it was terribly difficult to locate and I’d have no luck short of a trip to the Old Country. Seems though, that it might actually be available here at La Grotta del Formaggio on the Drive. I will check shorty and report back. I asked for the recipe and she replied, “It’s just garlic, olive oil and bottarga”. I took this as a casual ‘you can’t really have the recipe’ response, but you know what, I found it. One their own website! Yes, yes, here’s the La Cuccia recipe for this sublime dish:

Spaghittus cun Bottarga (Spaghetti with Bottarga)

Olive Oil

Boil a pan of water with a pinch of salt on it, when the water is boiling add the spaghetti, While the pasta is cooking in another pan sauté the garlic and then remove it from the pan, remove the pan with the oil from the stove and stir in half of the Bottarga, when the pasta is cooked drain the water and add to the pan with the oil and the bottarga, mix in the rest of the Bottarga and the parsley. (Eat immediately)…..Great with Vermentino.

You’ll have to use your instincts for the proportions, but I’m guessing you can base it on a recipe for Spaghetti Aglio Olio, or use this other recipe for Bottarga I found online.

Pailin, you are as beautiful as your choice in restaurants.

Speaking of which, despite no less than six people tweet back that we had to go to Tartine, we tried, but opted to catch our plane rather than wait 30+ minutes in the line snaking out the door and down the sidewalk. We did however, make it to Bourbon and Branch for a cocktail and the most fabulous, kid-in-a-candy-store fine spirits store ever, Cask. Love their tagline: Artisanal Beverage Purveyors! Literally, floor to ceiling and wall to wall lined with brands and bottles we can only dream about buying in Vancouver. Last stop was Four Barrel for a coffee and chocolate star anise donut. Then, sadly, airplane food.

Our late night Bourbon & Branch cocktails. Sorry, can't recall what they were.

Quick snap of lost opportunity at Tartine. Had to catch a plane!

Pourover at Four Barrel.

My Cask purchases: Old Forester Bourbon, Rothman and Winter Creme de Violette and Pacific Distillery's Absinthe


8 Responses to “What is Bottarga and why do you want some”

  1. Posted on May 18th, 2011

    I don’t know that I’ve had a “svelte figure” for a decade or so, but you’re spot on with this post Ben—La Ciccia was amazing and the Bottarga Spaghetti was divine. If Pailin and Lindy not protested, we certainly would have had another serving for dessert!

    Our terrific server Petra also paired our meal with two bottles of wine—one white and one red of course—both of which were wonderfully different and perfectly matched to the flavours in front of us.

    I generally avoid making sweeping claims—recommendations or rants—about any restaurant after only the first visit, but I will say that I’ll be back at La Ciccia soon. And I’ll take anyone who’ll go with me. You coming?

  2. Posted on May 18th, 2011

    “It’s just garlic, olive oil and bottarga”. Love it!

  3. Posted on May 18th, 2011

    Cask is so awesome. Last time I was in San Fran, I went around the block 4 times waiting for it to open.

  4. Posted on May 20th, 2011

    I did fight for my dessert, as I usually do, and I don’t apologize for it cuz could you really say that the ricotta honey cake wasn’t worth the fight?? LaCiccia was meant to be, the restaurant had slipped my mind for months and then reappeared as soon as you guys showed up. Would go back any day with you!

  5. Posted on May 20th, 2011

    By the way I am getting goose bumbs just thinking about the food Mmmmm…..must…go…back….

  6. Posted on May 21st, 2011

    OK, I have two updates dear readers:

    1) I can confirm that La Grotta del Formaggio indeed sells vacuum-packed whole borttaga from Sardinia. It’s not cheap (my .17kg package cost $45) but it’s the real deal. I’m making this dish tonight!

    2) My Italian friend Tiz laughed when I told her about La Ciccia, telling me that the name of the restaurant is apparently slang for the roll of fat hanging over your pants at the waist—otherwise known as the “muffin top”. Perfect.

  7. Posted on July 3rd, 2011

    I was first introduced to Bottarga by Romy Prasad at Savory Coast (menu covers can be found in Kits at Rowan’s Restaurant – but that’s another story….sadly the food and atmosphere has nothing to do with the now closed Savory).
    I recently sampled Bottarga again at La Ghianda and then was looking for where to buy. Thanks for this post.

    Here is also a very ambitious step by step instruction of how to make your own.

    Now where to find fish roe of that caliber….

  8. Posted on June 13th, 2016

    Bottarga is delicious, I have tried it so many times with very simple spaghetti (olive oil, garlic and grated bottarga on top) and also with another Sardininan pasta, similar to cous cous, which is called fregola (the recipes is “fregola con arselle e bottarga”). Bottarga is hard to find but not impossible in the US and CAN.

    There is a typo in the article: “La Cuccia” just above the name of the recipe should be “La Ciccia”. One of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco!

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