What was once a vacant 25,000 square foot lot in the East Village downtown is now an outdoor community space with repurposed shipping containers to create an urban park called Quartyard. Home to a coffee shop, restaurant, dog park, beer garden, music venue and rotating schedule of food trucks, Quartyard is open daily to host cultural events from farmers’ markets and film festivals to pop-up markets and outdoor concerts. Its sustainable, innovative design is the brainchild of graduate students from the NewSchool of Architecture + Design who designed the concept during their thesis studies, and later created their business called RAD Lab. Insider tip: sometimes Quartyard is reserved for private or special events, so it’s best to check their online calendar ahead of time. Keep in mind that’s it’s an outdoor venue, which is ideal for our weather conditions about 95 percent of the time.
Once you’ve had the San Diego experience of playing cornhole and drinking craft beer at Quartyard, head over to Bottega Americano, an Italian restaurant a few blocks away, and one of my personal favorites. I wrote about Bottega a couple years ago before it opened, and have been talking about it ever since. Bottega is located in the Thomas Jefferson School of Law and combines a swanky restaurant with interactive food stations and a carry-out marketplace. Bottega serves lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, and recently launched a new weekday breakfast that sounds yummy (think cheddar biscuit sandwich or avocado toast with eggs). The interior design by Thomas Schoos will catch your eye as soon as you walk in, and will keep your interest because of the open, modern architecture with natural elements. No need to wonder if the pasta is made fresh – you’ll see the colorful noodles hanging up to dry in the kitchen. You can order food from the restaurant to go, grab pre-prepared speciality items from the display case, or shop in the marketplace to prepare your own meal. They also have a great happy hour daily from 3 to 6 p.m. in the bar area (be sure to check out their impressive wine list).
Since Bottega has a seasonal menu, the specials and entrees are constantly being updated. I always have a hard time deciding between a pasta dish and a fish entree. Either way, you HAVE to start out with the smash avocado bruschetta and the steamed mussels. Trust me when I say you’ll be thinking about both for a long time after. The bruschetta is topped with truffle and pecorino, and the mussels are served with chorizo, white wine, garlic-herb butter, chiles and grilled bread to soak up all the broth.
You can’t go wrong with any of the pasta – the butternut squash ravioli is one of their most popular dishes, but the gnocchi, paccheri, and spaghetti & meatballs should not be overlooked. I’m not even a spaghetti & meatballs person, really, but they add pesto to the dish and I can’t resist. The gnocchi has marinara, burrata, pesto and breadcrumbs; the paccheri comes with truffle panna, pork guanciale, peas and mushrooms with a creamy sauce; and the ravioli includes butternut squash, brown butter, sage, balsamic and goat cheese.
The seasonal seafood entrees are always a good choice – I’ve had swordfish and halibut dishes there that were both fantastic. I’m not one who usually goes for scallops, but they prepare them so that the texture is exactly to my liking. For dessert, order the dark chocolate budino if chocolate is your thing. If not, try another seasonal cake like the spring cake with passionfruit or the banana cream bar. Mamma mia!