Honoring Italian traditions in classic dishes crafted with quality ingredients
Posted on November 1, 2018
It’s a Friday night vivified by the spirit of week’s end; time to shake off the workweek doldrums with a cocktail or a nice glass of vino amid familiar environs. And if pasta or flatbread dressed in a delicioso red sauce is involved, all the better. Del Mar Highlands offers a home away from home that’ll fit the bill: Davanti Enoteca. Even swelled to capacity on a rollicking Friday, one is made to feel a welcome part of a winsome, well-fed family care of an engaging staff and hearty Italian dishes that come across like soothing hugs.
Though Davanti Enoteca (whose sister eatery of the same name is found in San Diego’s Little Italy) is relatively young, more than a quarter-century of warmth and traditionalism fuels its inviting aura. It all started in Chicago with a humble restaurant devoted to honoring Italy through simple interpretations of classic dishes made with quality ingredients and delivered in a homey, neighborly setting. Twenty-six years later, proper execution of those simple-yet-noble principles has translated to 25 locations, spanning a quintet of concepts across three different states.
Davanti Enoteca is the Windy City chain’s contemporary concept. Chefs afford familiar recipes a fresh point of view without losing focus on their fundamental charms. Soft cow’s milk cheese and honeycomb accompany well-browned focaccia, wooden planks smeared with mascarpone polenta are topped with a daily-changing ragù, and showstopping veal meatballs are cut with prosciutto for heightened, meaty flavor. A particularly innovative starter is the simple-sounding truffle egg toast. Instead of bruschetta, diners are presented with a warm cube of bread crusted to perfection on all sides with two baked, runny-yolk eggs on top, and thinly-sliced asparagus scattered about. The whole plate offers aromas of truffle and olive oil, making for a luxurious embodiment of breakfast available all day.
Small jars filled with assorted goodies ranging from mission fig jam and whipped chèvre to chicken liver and cherry-shallot compote make for shareable, spreadable palate-awakeners, while a half-dozen salads highlighted by roasted beets with walnut butter, crème fraiche, and candied walnuts offer equal variety for the herbivore-minded. And though pappardelle in a Bolognese of beef and veal sticks to one’s ribs and palate, meat is absent from stellar pasta dishes, including Cacio e Pepe (simple spaghetti with Pecorino Romano cheese and cracked black pepper) and Orecchiette alle Verdure (plump “little ear” pasta in a tart, lightly creamy lemon sauce with escarole and rapini, which imparts a horseradish-like spice). Chicken or fennel sausage can be added to the latter for those seeking more protein.
Pizzas run the usual gamut, often bringing in supplementary cheeses (Fontina, Taleggio, Parmesan) to add depth beyond mozzarella, sharing secondi space on the menu with an array of meat and seafood dishes. Pollo Limoncello is bright with citrus tang, while salsa verde and sweet saba (a grape must condiment) boost Fettine di Manzo (grilled flat iron steak with fingerling potatoes).
Those seeking sustenance before catching a flick at next-door theater, Cinépolis, will do well to partake in happy hour, from 3-6pm daily. But no matter the day of the week, a visit to Davanti Enoteca is bound to be an enjoyable one. 858.519.5060, davantienoteca.com/delmar Brandon Hernández
Photography by Vincent Knakal