The Big Cheese
In the seven years I’ve lived in Chicago, I have only ventured out to Little Italy twice. That was until Davanti Enoteca opened on Taylor Street and now I have been there six times in 2011 because I just cannot get enough! The Italian small plate restaurant offers an enticing variety of appetizers, salads, pastas, pizzas and entrées. And their bottles of wine are sold at retail prices with a $7 corkage fee, which is a welcome change from the usual high-priced alcohol when dining out. Beware, Davanti does not take reservations, but there is a wine bar across the street where one can wait until they call you when your table is ready.
Last night at Davanti, I had the pleasure of dining on their newly opened rooftop patio. It was the perfect night for sitting outside and the fresh air made the meal that much more enjoyable.
It is impossible for me to go to Davanti and not order the ricotta and honeycomb to start. The cheese arrives in a mini mason jar with the honeycomb on the side, which is to be mixed in to the whipped cheese. The combination of the ricotta, mild and smooth, with the sweet honey is divine. The toasted Tuscan bread that is served alongside the cheese is so delicious, it needs no accompaniment. I often dream about this cheese in a jar.
The roasted cherry tomato, burrata and basil pesto insalate is Davanti’s take on the caprese salad and is another dish that I cannot pass up. The tomatoes are served warm, on the vine, with a nice sized ball of creamy burrata cheese, both which are wading in a shallow pool of pesto and olive oil. If you have any of that amazing bread left, I highly recommend taking a piece and dipping it in the deliciousness that accumulates at the bottom of the bowl. You will not be disappointed!
Their pastas are cooked perfectly al dente, a technique I don’t think I’ve mastered yet. The Cacio e Pepe pasta is spaghetti with pecorino cheese and black pepper. This dish is so simple yet so distinct with the generous amount of pepper providing the bulk of the flavor and the cheese creating a nice coating for the noodles. The second pasta we had was Paccheri con Salsiccia e Pomodori, giant rigatoni pasta with sausage and oven roasted tomato. The size of the sausage pieces mimic the oversized noodles and add a subtle spice to tomato sauce.
The last dish of the meal was the Pollo ‘Sole Mio’ which is a grilled half chicken with chili pepper paste. The mild kick from the chili peppers give the chicken interest beyond a basic grilled chicken. The decently moist chicken is served with a garnish, which I consider to be a side salad, of romaine lettuce and radishes topped with some awesome unnamed dressing. Clearly this salad is insignificant to the restaurant, as it is not listed on the menu; however, I actually really love this added touch and look forward to the salad every time I’ve ordered the chicken. The chicken is good, but I would think it was even better if it wasn’t being served alongside so many irresistible carbs!
Davanti Enoteca also has thin crust pizzas that must be sampled on your first visit. I highly recommend the foraged mushroom, braised leek and truffle oil pizza. There are so many other tempting items on their menu, I just need to find away to break away from the dishes I already love so much to try something new. Since Davanti quickly made its way toward the top of my favorite restaurants list, a short drive to Little Italy is a small price to pay for great food.