Walter Mencken 11:31 a.m., Feb. 1
Going the Route Less Traveled at Davanti
Who’d have thought three years ago that brussels sprouts would be one of the trendiest ingredients around? Not me, but it’s pretty cool that just about every restaurant that opens sticks them on the menu.
The fact that these midget cabbages have gotten so hot in a day and age where bacon and short ribs are everywhere is remarkable. It’s a great sign that the American palate is expanding. Ditto the creativity of chefs, who are doing more than serving up plain-as-day sprouts worthy of the upturned nose we afforded them when we were kids.
I’ve come across some nice roasted, fried, balsamic-dressed, pancetta-studded, crème fraîche adorned versions, but I enjoyed one most interesting take on this veggie earlier this week at Little Italy’s Davanti Enoteca. They shave their sprouts raw, then simply mix in some Pecorino Romano, Parm, and a light vinaigrette. The result is a salad that’s like a low-dressed slaw with built-in salty bite and a refreshing quality I’d have never thought was possible from this often bitter vegetable. It’s made for a delightful start to a meal that featured two other ingredients that, like brussels sprouts, I at one time in my life abhorred.
One of those is faro, an ancient grain that’s to 2011 what quinoa was to 2009. The problem with it is that it usually tastes and feels like an ancient grain; earthy to the point of tasting dirty and as gummy as undercooked macaroni. It’s been the bland foil of more duck dishes than I care to remember, but here it’s served in a seasonal dish incorporating roasted butternut squash, arugula, and balsamic vinegar. It’s a true component rather than an obligatory starch, which allows it to meld with its counterparts to make for a tasty dish that’s sweet, earthy, and very autumnal.
Rounding out my cavalcade of lesser-ordered edibles was polpo con rafano, seared octopus tentacles drizzled with a horseradish aioli served over warm fingerling potato salad. Typical treatments of this cephalopod leave them tough, yet the appendages at Davanti were not only tender but boldly seasoned. That zestiness stood up to the spice of the aioli and the salt provided by flecks of finocchiona (Tuscan fennel salami) in the potato salad. It’s one of the better and more complete octopus dishes I’ve had in a long time and yet another dish at this restaurant that makes a solid case for ordering outside the box.
Davanti Enoteca is located at 1655 India Street, Little Italy, 619-237-9606.