Full review with pictures in the blog, text as below:
The Gist: http://www.davantiscottsdale.com/
The Why: I’d always meant to visit the Davanti Enoteca in Chicago but my only visit was under somewhat strained circumstances – and when I say “strained” I mean my waistline in that I’d eaten breakfast at Bleeding Heart Bakery, Lunch at Sun-Wah BBQ, a tasting menu dinner at Chris Nugent’s last night at Les Nomades, and an impromptu 3-hour affair at Achatz and Beran’s Next – Childhood. It was only when I was walking out the door of Next that a friend texted me to ask if I wanted to meet up at Davanti – an offer I took them up on, but given the heavy day of eating and late hour a place where I only sipped on a glass of rose and tried a few bites of pasta, a spoon of polenta, and a bite of pate; I promised myself I’d someday return…at least until I found out Davanti was coming to Scottsdale where Scott Harris would tap locally respected Chef Peter DeRuvo to head up the concept.
The Reservation: Generally not a difficult reservation even in the Windy City I didn’t assume a restaurant three weeks old would be difficult to get into – especially at 3:30pm – and as it turned out I was correct. A sort of impromptu meet-up with a local who reached out to me through my blog I arrived at 3:10 and after first stopping in to check out the space I decided to wander next-door to the Scottsdale Marketplace until my new friend arrived just after 3:30; with only two couples seated we were offered any other seat in the house and I opted for #25 for no other reason than that it had the best lighting.
The Space: Taken directly from the website – “with rustic exposed brick walls, re-purposed farm wood and communal tables, Davanti Enoteca takes its cues from the small villages of Italy,” and while that may indeed be true, I get the idea that the small villages of Italy aren’t jamming 80’s cult classics overhead on an infinity loop. Generally not one to nit-pick a restaurant’s style – something that Davanti actually has plenty of from the bucolic lounge up front to the copper pots and wrought iron fixtures strategically placed throughout the room – all I can say is that during a 110 minute seating I should not hear Soft Cell’s Tainted Love three times…once would be quite enough.
The Service: Unlike space and music, I do tend to nit-pick service and while I realize that some service issues are common at old and new places alike I’ll simply say the service at Davanti Enoteca needs a bit of work before, specifically with regard to plate presentations (lacking description,) timing (partially a kitchen problem I’m sure,) and most of all understanding the concept of being present without being a hassle. Perhaps an effect of delivering too many plates at much (the timing issue) or perhaps simply in an attempt to be attentive there were no less than five times during the course of our meal where either myself or my friend would stop to set our fork down only to have someone appear to attempt to take our plate – in one instance a dish still more than 1/3 full; to say the least it was haphazard and felt rushed…and when you pair that with the young man who took the liberty of actually breaking the yolk of an egg for us only to later actively place his hand on a plate that we were still working on it was downright annoying.
The Food: 8 plates ranging from $7 Vassi to the $20 Chef’s whim.
Chicken Liver Pate with Poached Cherries and Tuscan Toast: To anyone who knows me this was an obvious choice and served in a flip top jar for $7 along with a pile of lightly oiled toast it was every bit as good as I would have hoped. Dense and slightly rougher cut than a true mousse but rife with a mineral tinge below the liver’s characteristic sapor the cherries served as a brilliant foil to the fat and easily enough for two this would have been the deal of the menu if not for the daily special.
Focaccia di recco - ligurian style baked focaccia with fresh soft cow cheese and local honeycomb: Perhaps the most consistently raved dish from both the Chicago location and from local gourmands who’d already visited Davanti Scottsdale the first time I’d heard of this dish was actually from our server at Avec and although slightly different in texture and composition this Ligurian classic marrying crisp focaccia with a stracchino/mascarpone blend was every bit as memorable. Taking an alternate route to Avec’s density and utilizing local honeycomb (an extra $2) as opposed to savory notes to balance the soft cheese’s higher lactic acid content I’d be hard pressed to say who does it better, but at $18 I can only say this dish is worth the money even if it seems ‘simple.’
Roasted corn + walnuts + pecorino + arugula + wild mushrooms: Wanting to sample from each part of the menu this choice from the insalate was recommended by our server and although I would have preferred to taste it warm (simply too many items on the table at once, as noted above) it was quite good at room temperature as well. Essentially the results of high quality ingredients paired carefully this was a dish about texture and flavor above anything else and with the mushrooms and corn each lightly cooked there was a great interplay of natural sweetness and earth all set off by the lightly applied cheese.
Truffle egg toast + fontina + asparagus: I’ll start out by saying it wasn’t as good as the incredible famous version at ‘ino…but it was pretty damned close. Oddly a fan of eggs at all other meals despite my propensity for sweets at breakfast this “toad in a hole” style presentation featured nothing more than a dense piece of brioche topped with a thick slice of young fontina lightly kissed with truffle oil and black pepper plus julienned asparagus on the plate beneath; it was simple, it was rich, and it was the one dish I really wished would have arrived separated from the others so I could truly enjoy it as opposed gulping down my half for fear of it getting cold or soggy.
Risotto Carbonara - Italian rice + pancetta + sweet peas + parmigiano + farm egg yolk: The start of our second round of dishes would start out with our overzealous server plunging a spoon into our egg yolk at tableside after telling me the “chef would get mad” if he did not mix it. Coming from a restaurant that felt the need to explain to me what ‘small plates’ means at the start of the meal I guess Davanti is still shooting to accommodate the lowest common denominator despite the progressive menu and after getting over the annoyance of being told what to do by an 18 year old I enjoyed this dish a lot – the slightly toothsome Arborio nicely paired with saline notes of cheese and pancetta but finding a much needed vegetal sweetness in the fresh peas.
Gnocchi di Ricotta - eggplant + roasted tomatoes + basil + mozzarella: Detailed as gnocchi on the menu this was the low point of Davanti’s offerings for both myself and my friend and given my love for these pillows of pasta under most circumstances I was quite unhappy to find these fork-formed dumplings far less soft than anticipated – some of them almost rubbery and if I’m not mistaken tinged with semolina making them more a pasta gnochetti than the true potato/cheese dumplings annotated. Decent but decidedly not what I’d anticipated the ragu of roasted tomatoes, fibrous eggplant, and fresh basil definitely helped but compared to the gnocchi at Pomo earlier in the day this was quite disheartening.
Chef’s Whim – Confit Roasted Half Duck + Sour Cherry + Mascarpone Polenta + Candied Pecans + Radish + Endive: I’d wanted to try a pizza, but when our server told us the Saturday “Chef’s whim” (announced at 4:00 on Saturdays) I fortunately changed my mind – and I say thankfully not only because duck is my favorite protein, but because this was one of the best duck preparations I have ever tasted. Priced at a bargain $20 and featuring a half-duck split down the center served over a bed of mascarpone polenta and Amarena cherries whose texture would rival the finest gelato this was the sort of rustic preparation I’d hoped for walking in the door. Intense and meaty with crispy skin giving way to tender flesh each bite of this dish was savored as much as the last and with sweetness from the cherries and pecans met by the bitters of the radish and endive the dish never felt ‘heavy’ at all. Honest to God, ff this is on the menu it is a must order – I’ve paid twice as much for far less impressive fowl at any number of ‘top tier’ restaurants.
Chocolate Budino – Chocolate Pudding + Amaretto Cookie + Toasted Marshmallow: Un-wowed by the standard dessert menu and myself with dinner plans three hours later we’d originally considered skipping dessert until our server told us the “Chef’s Whim” dessert of the day was a budino – on par with bread pudding for ‘must order’ status for myself – and with a dense pudding of semi-sweet chocolate at its base subsequently topped with a warm amaretto cookie plus light meringue quickly toasted under the salamander this dish also wowed. Thankfully small in portion but huge in flavor I’d place this dish alongside the focaccia, egg toast, and duck as must orders – next time with coffee.
The Verdict: Service and music issues aside, Davanti Enoteca is a great addition to the local dining scene and although much of the menu is cribbed directly from West Taylor St. the dishes where DeRuvo was allowed to flex his muscles were without a doubt the strongest of the afternoon. Perhaps the gnocchi did not live up to expectations and would have been better sold as a gnochetti and maybe some would argue that the focaccia is a bit overpriced priced at $18 (ingredient-wise maybe, but taste-wise it is worth every penny) but all things being equal my friend and I walked out the door for $60/pp after tax and a more than generous tip for a meal featuring 7 good-to-great dishes, particularly a duck dish I’d put on the same level with versions at Gagnaire, Eleven Madison Park, and L’Arpege that cost nearly as much as (or more than) our whole meal. If anyone from Davanti is reading – put the duck on the permanent menu, add a few songs to your Ipod playlist, fix up the service, and I’m pretty sure you’ll have a hit…though I’m pretty sure I’ll be back either way.