Davanti Enoteca opened in Little Italy some four years ago, the local expansion of a Chicago-based restaurant group founded by Chef Scott Harris. A second local location is in Del Mar. Harris’ restaurant group now operates 33 restaurants in four states, of which 23 locations are Mia Francesca sophisticated fine dining concepts, five Glazed & Infused artisan donut shops, and five Davanti Enoteca locations, which offer casual Northern Italian cuisine with a twist.
The busy Little Italy location caters to a hip, upscale clientele, many of whom live in the jungle of nearby condos. The exterior of the location seems a bit smaller than some of the nearby competing eateries but the interior goes deep and roomy. Aged, brick facing covers many of the interior walls, creating an old, rustic ambiance. A long bar runs along one wall, and comfortable tables line the adjacent area, across from a central walkway. A small patio off India Street lets diners watch the flow of humanity searching for a place to eat. My favorite area is an interior open patio, that is pet-friendly. This patio has a beautiful tree growing in the middle. At night, pin lights hung from the tree’s branches glow romantically to create a mellow, sweet ambiance.
Chef Harris, who is bi-coastal, living both in San Diego and Chicago, sets the menu, which changes from time to time to reflect seasonal opportunities. But, his genius lies in modifying traditional recipes to conform to modern, sophisticated tastes. For example, Focaccia di Recco + honeycomb is a Ligurian style bread, very thin, folded over soft cow cheese. It is served with a chunk of honeycomb that one spreads on top of the focaccia to give it a sweet taste. The sweetness enhances the texture of the focaccia and adds immeasurably to flavor. Liguria is an area of northern Italy bordered by France in the west. Our server jokingly called the dish “an Italian quesadilla.” It was delicious.
Several versions of pizza are listed on the menu, including Pizza con Funghi e Taleggio, pizza topped by mushrooms and leeks, with truffle oil sprinkled on top. The crust is practically paper thin but strong enough to serve as a good base for the delicious topping. Pizza Calabrese is topped with spicy Italian sausage and “scamorza.” That’s Italian for a type of cow’s milk cheese.
In case some of the terms on the menu are unfamiliar, the website includes a glossary to interpret. For example, “davanti” means “ in front of” and “enoteca” means “wine bar.” So the name of the restaurant means “in front of the wine bar.”
The website does not include a wine menu. Rather, each manager has the opportunity to select the wines that are offered. The Little India location wine menu includes selections by the glass or bottle. Some of the selections are Italian but many are from Napa. Prices run moderate to high for bottles.
Pastas include Paccheri con Salsiccia e Pomodori al Forno, giant rigatoni with sausage and parmesan. On the giant side, Uovo in Raviolo alla Carbonara are giant ravioli, with egg, peas and ricotta. Funghi Risotto is a risotto with mushrooms, enhanced with wonderful truffle oil.
Entrees include salmon and branzino dishes, an octopus dish and Pollo Cavatelli, a delightfully flavored dish with about half a chicken atop pasta that is shaped like small hot dog buns.
Davanti Enoteco features a daily afternoon happy hour and a weekend brunch. Is Bloody Mary your cocktail of choice? There’s a build your own Bloody Mary bar, with all the mixing for you to make it the way you like it.
If entertaining out-of-town guests, keep Davanti Enoteca in mind. It presents crowd-pleasing cuisine in a casual setting with food prices that are moderate. Guests will enjoy seeing and experiencing a hip and sophisticated California lifestyle setting.
Davanti Enoteca is located at 1655 India Street in Little Italy, near the corner of Date Street. Call (619) 237-9606 for information and reservations.
To all my readers — my best wishes for a Joyous Holiday Season and the Best New Year.