Inside Davanti Enoteca, there are a number of excellently curated, atmospheric evenings to be had.
The main dining room plays up rustic European décor with barn doors; exposed wood beam rafters; wooden shelving for the wines; and beautifully stacked, irregular stonework and brick with decoratively weeping mortar. A side room feels like dining in a wine cellar with a massive cask clock and arched, vaulted brick ceiling. Another room contains a single long table, the walls covered with the sides of wine crates and a fascinating light fixture of hanging rope and Edison bulbs. Even the walk to the restroom is interesting, the walls papered with single, hand-placed sheets of Italian newspaper and Italian movie posters. It’s a charmingly authentic venue in which to inject their delicious small plates selection of Italian favorites.
Much of their menu allows the ingredients of each dish to speak for themselves. Instead of naming each dish on the Insalate menu, they just lead with the type of green providing the base before listing each additional ingredient.
We went with the “Escarole + gala apple + celery + pecorino pepato + hazelnuts.”
It’s a fantastically light and crisp salad for summer. The first thing to hit the taste buds is the tang of vinaigrette dressing before a wave of pepper flavor punches through, courtesy of the pecorino pepato cheese and a sprinkling of black pepper.
Shortly afterward, it resolves with the lilt of fresh apple slices and the hazelnuts deliver a little bit of nutty, dessert sweetness.
Though everything that came to the table was delectable, the highlight of the evening came from the Antipasti menu.
The Truffle egg toast + fontina + asparagus arrives as a thick, warm cake of bread topped with two runny egg yolks on top of a layer of melted fontina cheese. The yolks are broken at the table and the server recommended we cut into it to allow the egg and cheese mixture to soak into the toast momentarily before we ate. The result is incredibly decadent and creamy, the upscale pinnacle of everything we love about grilled cheese sandwiches. Perfectly grilled and peppered asparagus is cut into bite-sized chunks surrounding the toast.
It’s wonderful on its own or rounding out the other delicious flavors on the plate.
The Mascarpone polenta + ragù of the day come to the table in two pots, fresh from the stove. Our server deftly spread the polenta across a cutting board at the table, creating a basin into which he poured an Italian sausage ragù. On other days the ragù can be made with anything from pork shoulder to lamb, but it’s hard to imagine it gets better than this slightly spicy Italian sausage swaddled in the rich tomato taste of fresh ragù with hints of garlic. The polenta is creamy and thick, providing the essential cheesiness to offset the bright tomato and savory sausage.
It’s all the elements of comfort food in one excellent bite, with the flavors of an elevated, deconstructed ravioli, and feels like essential Italian dining.
Having experienced their skilled touch with tomato sauce, we had our spaghetti with a rich cheese sauce in the Cacio e Pepe. Translated as “cheese and pepper,” this dish once again tells you exactly what to expect, exquisitely al dente spaghetti noodles dripping with melted sheep’s milk Pecorino cheese and grated black pepper.
It’s like a thicker, creamier Alfredo sauce with a lovely pepper sting to each bite.
From their Piatti menu, we were told not to miss the Polpo con Rafano, or octopus with horseradish. It arrives as two tentacles, seared to present a fantastically tender bite edged with pan-blackened crispness. It creates a tasty nuttiness in the seafood, paired with Marcona almonds on the plate. A fingerling potato slaw provides a robust base to an otherwise light dish. The whole presentation is topped with a delicious horseradish aioli sauce.
Our Bistecca alla Fiorentina was cooked to a lovely medium rare and was pre-sliced into easily shareable sections encouraging tapas-style dining. It was flavorful, well seasoned, and was served on a cutting board with roasted garlic herb butter visibly melting over the top. The quality of the meat and the tender juices provoked by the Florentine preparation made for a mouth watering finish to dinner.
The Brown Butter Blondie from the Dolci menu arrives on top of a large flower rendered in caramel sauce. This oven-warmed, brown sugar cousin of the brownie evokes the flavors of a tantalizing bread pudding. It’s topped with a scoop of maple gelato and a smattering of almonds. It was the perfect sweet counterpoint to the parade of savory delicacies that preceded it.
Davanti Enoteca is located at 800 Hillgrove Avenue in Western Springs.