Date of Last Visit: Sunday, November 7th, 2010
The Victim: Me
The Damage: $30
The Background: When I lived in London, I used to walk down Brick Lane and think to myself, “What if just ONE Indian or Pakistani or Bangladeshi restaurant opened here that was doing something even just moderately different? Something modern? Something interesting?” But no…when one restaurant closed, another mediocre spot took its place, its windows full of obscure awards and hawkers at its doors. Chinatown was doing it…with the likes of places like Bar Shu opening up a few years ago. Why couldn’t other ethnic enclaves do the same?
Truth be told, in my eight years in Chicago previously, I’d never been to Little Italy. Besides for an old Italian ice stand, there was nothing much to recommend it…one old Italian restaurant after another, dishing out lasagna for tourists. But now the critics’ darling Davanti Enoteca has opened its doors and this stretch of Taylor Street has become more of a destination.
I’ve come to Davanti Enoteca (which means “in front of the wine bar”) straight from my spa appointment at The Trump and I am famished. There’s probably a rule about not drinking wine after using saunas and steam rooms and having 90 minute spa treatments, but the wines-by-the-glass menu at Davanti cracks me up so much I have to give it a go. (That is the wine list, plastered to that very large wine bottle up top.) On my server’s recommendation, I opt for a quartino (that’s one-quarter of a standard 750 ml bottle) of Barbera d’Asti. (This didn’t match so well, but there are worse crimes than a good wine that doesn’t match.)
Things start off on a very high note. The corn salad is a mixture of great flavors and textures. The corn still has some good crunch to it, and of course so do the walnuts. But sprinkled in there as well are wild mushrooms which lend the dish an earthy flavor. Ah and then there’s the rocket (sorry–arugula), which gives everything a little peppery spice. This is all topped off with some aged goat cheese and a swirl of olive oil. I feel very virtuous and decide that I will come to Davanti Enoteca every day and have this salad.
But then I have the rigatoni with sausage. And you know what? It’s just rigatoni with sausage. The pasta is done to a perfect al dente, but that’s about all this dish has going for it. Both the sauce and the sausage were mild and unmemorable, and after the great sweep of flavors in the corn salad, I was hoping for more. This dish let me down and I felt like I could get it anywhere.
Throughout it all, however, service was polite and sweet. Dare I say…perky? I should note that my server did try to steer me away from the rigatoni and towards the giant ravioli with ricotta, egg and spinach, but I feel like having some animal protein so there you go.
The Verdict: Davanti Enoteca is of course a welcome addition to Taylor Street. I think it has a lot going for it, not the least of which is an interesting menu with flashes of brilliance and creativity. But I don’t know if I’d make another special trip here in the near-term.