Bottega Louie lords over 7th and Grand in downtown LA from its magnificent white-walled, heritage space on the southeast corner. Marked only with LOUIE at the corners of the building in bold, gold letters, the restaurant, with its soaring ceiling inside and marble-everywhere space filled with the fashionably dressed, is as much a statement of Louie's self-assured presence as it is the return of trendy destination restaurants to the once maligned area. The extensive patisserie at the front, filled with incredibly delectable-looking cakes, macaroons, and other forms of sugar, gives hope that Louie is all that you were expecting and more.
Unfortunately though, Louie does not end up delivering on this promise. In its attempt to offer a little bit of everything for everyone (in addition to the patisserie and restaurant, there's also a bar, a deli market, and to-go coffee for the office set) Louie ends up doing a whole lot of things just so-so. The bar feels strangely out of place next to the market, and the market strangely out of place during dinner hours. The crowd is also mixed, with young professionals sitting next to women dressed as if they were practicing the world's oldest profession next to a group of raucous birthday revelers, all in a dimly lit interior that ends up feeling like a cold cavern fronted by floor-to-really-high-ceiling windows that are too showy.
All of this would be forgivable though if the food - which sounds so good on the vaguely all-over-the-map menu - ended up being better. Louie offers traditional American-infused Italian fare, updated with a little bit of modern flair. Ask anyone who has been, and they will likely tell you to have the Portobello fries, huge strips of Portobello mushrooms deep friend with batter. Other starters sound equally rich, and the exhaustive list of mains are complimented by a large selection of pizzas straight out of the wood-fired show ovens at the back of the restaurant. While none of the food was bad - it all ended up tasting a bit the same. Louie offers food that have heavy, over-the-top flavors that lack not only subtlety but also depth. The end result is food that tastes eerily similar, regardless of the dish, that gets old rather quickly. While a large party ordering a slew of starters might end up with a decent meal, it's a much harder place for a pair or group of 3 to go and share.
The unfortunate and perhaps unfair comparison for Louie, given the extensive pizza and starter menu and similar prices (expect to pay at least $20-30 a person at Louie also), would be Pizzaria Mozza. However, as I've mentioned already on this blog, Mozza is stunning. Louie is not. In all fairness, the promise of Louie is not necessarily an amazing meal. It seems clear the owners are more intent on providing the culinary wasteland that has traditionally been downtown LA with a hip and hot spot to see and be seen, to have a space that offers the brave folks who live downtown an alternative to driving west to get their macaroons and fresh deli meats. In this, perhaps Louie has succeeded. Since I am more interested in food than any of these other things though, I don't think I'll be dropping my dimes at Louie again anytime soon.
Editorial Note: Review written at the end of 2010. The menu and context may have changed since. I have not been back.
Bottega Louie | 700 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90017 | 1.213.802.1470