If you were born and raised in the historic and popular Quartiere Flaminio neighborhood in Rome, many would never leave. But Paola Bottero has led a life full of surprises, where time and again “why not” took precedence over “why”, leading to a career of interesting turns and achievement where all roads eventually led away from Rome.
Summoned by their father Alessandro Bottero, a violin virtuoso playing with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York in the 1960’s, the family left Italy to be reunited in New York, and chose to live close to Columbia University. Paola’s dad left to work with Zubin Mehta in the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Paola stayed in Manhattan as a translator for the Italian Trade Commission. Paola’s two younger brothers’ wild success opening 65 Irving Place in downtown New York provided the family with a template for their culinary career. Andy Warhol and Paul Newman were habitual clients. Paola said “Why not?” again, rolled up her sleeves, and went to work for the Lattanzis, a Roman family, who at the time had the only 3 star Italian Restaurant in New York as awarded by Mimi Sheraton.
In 1983, when she was 36 and mother to two boys, Paola opened the doors to Paola’s on Manhattan’s UES. By providing a welcoming, authentic home for Italian Cuisine, incorporating the classic dishes from Rome and resisting the trendy, Paola earned 2 stars of her own from the New York Times 14 years later on Valentine’s Day in 1997. The restaurant quickly became a local favorite. Ruth Reichel said of Paola;s “Everybody in New York seems to be looking for the perfect neighborhood restaurant. I think I found it.”
Opportunities followed, including the chance at a bigger space in the Wales Hotel, near Carnegie Hill, and owned by one of her customers. The space played with sunlight and had a party room upstairs and a rooftop terrace overlooking Central Park provided ample opportunity to grow yet again. Paola’s current location at 92nd and Madison, is loved by locals who are made to feel like family. “Having the opportunity to serve the generations of families who come in together for dining moments is my greatest gift yet,” Paola emphasizes time and again.
But there are many gifts. Working with her son Stefano, being across the street from her granddaughter’s school and living near her eldest son and all her grandchildren make the work mesh with family so beautifully. And, when a few extra minutes bubble up, she can sneak away and indulge her passions at the Metropolitan Musuem of Art and Metropolitan Opera House. Her brothers are both nearby, one of whom is the Executive Chef for Cuisinart – Waring and the other a restaurateur in the Hamptons with his sons. They gather, talk shop, and remember Rome where the old neighborhood has recently been revitalized with the new Maxxi Museum and the Auditorium Music Center, home to the Rome Symphony. Alessandro Bottero would be quite proud of the new Rome, and even more so where the roads from there have led his daughter. As Paola’s approaches a 30 year anniversary, there will certainly be reason to celebrate. Why not, once more.
Puntarelle, a type of wild chicory found in Italy, makes a perfect light summer salad and is featured at Paola’s Restaurant each spring signaling, as it does in Italy, the start of summer. Found in Italy at the Campo de Fiori Market in Rome, Chef Paola remembers fondly from her childhood when the first giant heads of Puntarelle arrived at the market; summer had to be around the corner. She now undertakes the effort of importing Puntarelle to her Manhattan restaurant so that her clientele can share in the classic warm weather salad and take comfort in the anchoviy/galric/olive oil classic preparation and the fact that winter is truly over. Puntarelle is light, flavorful, crunchy, and for Chef Paola and other Italians, very nostalgic. So happy that Puntarelle, and summer, is finally here!
Roman style Puntarelle Salad, Olive oil, Garlic, Anchovies Dressing
- 1 head Puntarelle
- 8 anchovy filet in olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic
- 4 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar (vary to taste)
For the salad:
Remove outer leaves of head of puntarelle. Pull inner puntarelle bulbs out whole. Cut the hard end off the bulb and julienne the rest. Place julienned puntarelle in a large bowl with water with ice for an hour so they will curl up. Strain, pat dry and toss with salad dressing.
For the dressing:
Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend together to a chunky emulsion (if mortar and pestle available it can be used in place of blender). Taste and adjust. Drizzle over the julienned puntarelle.