1655 India Street, Little Italy
Davanti Enoteca is not a good place to go if you’re looking for a quick meal.
I’m sure if you told the waiter you were in a hurry, they’d accommodate you, but the charms of this place are better savored over a leisurely dinner.
Davanti Enoteca has two San Diego locations, Del Mar and Little Italy, and three in the Chicago area, but it doesn’t feel like a franchise.
The menu focuses on shareable plates of various types of Italian regional specialties, along with wine, cocktails and beer.
A great starter is the mascarpone polenta served with the ragu of the day. When I was there the ragu was a tomato sauce with chunks of pork that had been slow-cooked for a long time. The cheesiness of the polenta blended nicely with the pork, but some pieces melted in the mouth while others took a long time to chew.
But it sure was tasty. I kept going back for bites even after the waiter brought my formaggi and salumi plate. The prosciutto had the right amount of saltiness to go with my glass of Barolo. I fought over the gorgonzola and aged Parmesan cheeses with my friend Hugh.
The roasted squash antipasti, made with farro, goat cheese, hazelnuts and watercress, looked and tasted fresh but wasn’t memorable.
The Brussels sprouts were memorable, but not necessarily in a good way. The menu lists them as being served in a Pecorino-Parmesan vinaigrette. Great, I’m there. But Davanti Enoteca slices the sprouts really thinly so they look and taste like shredded lettuce.
I respect the right to have something different and this is a great way to serve sprouts to people who don’t like sprouts, but the preparation takes away the crunchy bitterness that makes them so delightful.
Wanting something different than the normal pasta, we went for the linguini with sea urchin and crab. Hugh was unfamiliar with sea urchin and found some of the briny bitterness a bit off-putting. I liked it more than he did, but wished there was more crab.
For my entrée, I decided to get the seared octopus. It’s an octopus tentacle served with a warm fingerling potato salad, horseradish aioli, and finocchiona, an Italian pork sausage flavored with fennel. It was incredible. Octopus might seem kind of tough, but this tentacle was tender while still having a nice, firm chew.
The bacony flavor of the finocchiona was a great counterpoint. Definitely a reason to come back soon.
Another reason to come back is the popcorn panna cotta. Panna cotta is a pudding-like dessert made by simmering cream, milk, and sugar together and mixing with gelatin. What Davanti Enoteca does that makes it delicious is to mix in pieces of cheesy popcorn and caramel popcorn, adding a sweet, salty flavor that is sublime. Very memorable.
Davanti Enoteca has a lot to recommend it: Relaxing setting, knowledgeable staff, good wine, and decent food for the most part. I certainly would love to explore the menu more.