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Davanti Bringing its Iowa Italian to Del Mar

was walking around Del Mar Highlands Mall today and could not help but notice Davanti Enoteca (underwhelming Italian) will be opening there fairly soon as well as a sister restaurant, Mia Francesca next door. These are being built on the upper level next to Rimel's and close to the Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas

Speaking of the Cinepolis, has anybody eaten the food there?...worth it or stick to the $19 theatre tickets.

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  1. There are certainly things on Davanti's menu that are underwhelming, but I'd go back for:
    Foccacia di Recco
    Truffle egg toast
    Riccio di Mare

    3 Replies
    1. re: mikec

      I actually ate again recently at Davanti and I have to rate it higher than Bencotto.

      The burrata, cheese plates, prosciutto and ricotta with honey comb were all good.

      Plus, I went to Bencotto at 9:15 and the kitchen was already closed, which is ridiculous.

      Davanti was still serving at 9:20 (we were easily the last table).

      Since I prefer dining at 10:30 to 12:30 pm, when I am not in san diego, Davanti gets the nod from me for their kitchen hours.

      1. re: stevewag23

        Yeah. And for the record, I was pretty underwhelmed by their pizzas, pastas with red sauce, tri-tip and roasted chicken. Their lemon cake desert was good.

        1. re: mikec

          Interesting. I didn't try any of "pizzas, pastas with red sauce, tri-tip and roasted chicken" at Davanti.

          I think the key is to order out of the "bottle" on their menu (this makes sense if you are holding the menu in front of you.)

    2. not sure of the food at Cinepolis (I think someone posted about it last year) but I've heard from others that the waitresses walking around end up blocking your view of the screen and therefore, detract from the movie watching experience

      1 Reply
      1. re: daantaat

        I found the concept of ordering and eating food while movie watching better than the reality. The food I've tried has been fine, nothing special. Eating in the dark in a leather recliner is a little tricky (e.g., the fries come in a mini metal fry basket which is cute but impractical to balance on your armrest or lap, and even dipping in ketchup is a bit risky). The servers are a bit distracting but not terrible. The problem is how often they have to come to your chair -- they take your order, then deliver your food, then bring the check later which you have to sign under a small penlight. Cries out for a tablet-type solution where you order your own food, swipe your own credit card, and all they have to do is deliver it to you.

        I was very disappointed by the cocktails when they first opened (just not well made) and have stuck to beer and wine since. I love the recliners and sipping a beer during a movie. I'm not sold on eating much beyond popcorn and easy finger food.

      2. Caramel popcorn at Cinepolis was pretty good. Someone else will have to tell us about the rest of their menu..

        1. Sorry but I don't get the Iowa reference. I thought I'd heard that Davanti was a Chicago-based restaurant, no?

          10 Replies
          1. re: steveprez

            Iowa borders on Illinois, but geography aside, I think El Chevere's refrence was more about the safe and rather uncreative (uninspired?) food that seems to be the norm in "middle America" than about location.

            1. re: DiningDiva

              I can't see the three dishes I suggested as being uncreative or uninspired.

              1. re: mikec

                El Chevere will have to comment on that one himself.

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  Iowa Italian = Ronzoni pasta + Heinz Ketchup + Kraft Cheese.... Any Italian restaurant that has hamburger on it's menu ( happy hour or otherwise) not authentic Italian in my book.

                  1. re: El Chevere

                    I feel your pain...my parents were originally from Iowa, but we never ate that way.

                    However, my cousins from Omaha, Nebraska recently sent us this...Saturday Supper = pound of pasta, pound of bacon, 2 cans of tomato sauce...don't think I'll be in a hurry to try this no matter what day of the week it is...

                    1. re: El Chevere

                      I don't think they are going for authentic Italian (and I don't think they claim tobe authentic Italian). Similar to Cucina Urbana ( which also has a burger on its menu) they are Italian inspired at most.

                      1. re: honkman

                        And I'm not a big fan of Cucina Urbana either. Delfina in SF is not authentic Italian as well but the big difference vs Davanti and Cucina is that they put out good food.

                        1. re: El Chevere

                          CU is growing for us over time - it's not outstanding food (hardly any house made pasta, surprisingly bad pizza for an Italian inspired place) or one of the highlights of SD but it is a nice place to share 5-6 plates, decent cocktails and reasonable priced wine - something we don't have too much in SD.

                          1. re: honkman

                            Yeah, the key to a lot of these joints is to know how to "navigate" the menu.

                            1. re: honkman

                              I like the ambience and will go for cocktails.

              2. seeing as how the average san diegan's taste is closer to Iowa than SF or New York, I'd say that's a wise decision on Davanti's part.

                1. Ah, the "it's not authentic enough" argument.

                  Some of the best Thai food I ever had was in a strip mall in a suburb outside of St Louis. Funny enough, some of the worst Italian food I ever had was in Rome and in Venice. Even worse was on Mulberry Street in NYC and on Columbus in San Francisco.

                  The birthplace of the chef, or the city which the restaurant is located in has nothing to do with the quality of the food, nor the potential for it to be good. See Nobu for a perfect example of what a chef from another country can do when inspired by another culture's ingredients. Likewise, take a guy like Rick Bayless, a guy from Oklahoma City who mastered Mexican cooking. Not being from that country isn't an automatic disqualifier to be able to make the food, just as being from the country doesn't make the food automatically good.

                  I thought Davanti was fine. They don't bill themselves as the most "authentic" place on the block, so I don't know why anyone would be holding them to such a standard. Apply that same measurement to any restaurant and 99% of them will fail. Doesn't mean they can't still make good food. On India St, I like Bencotto better. Funny thing is that there are plenty of comments out there from people who don't like Bencotto either, for the same reason of it not being "authentic enough". Yet, they make their pasta by hand, they feature ingredients imported from Italy, the owner is Italian, and half the wait staff is Italian.

                  Seems that the "authentic" argument gets brought up a lot with Italian and with Chinese food. Something about those two cuisines that has devotees always taking it back to national pride. Yet, some of the most "authentic" Chinese restaurants use pre-packaged sauces loaded with preservatives, just as many Italian restaurants use prepackaged and canned tomatoes. The tomato isn't even native to Italy (it's from Peru), but of course the only kind of "authentic" tomato suitable for pasta sauce comes from there.

                  So, the answer to the "it's not authentic enough" question will of course always be the same result...."If you want good (insert cuisine here) food, you have to go to (insert country name here), to get it."

                  16 Replies
                  1. re: cookieshoes

                    "some of the worst Italian food I ever had was in Rome and in Venice"

                    You have to avoid the places with a bunch of chubby Americans wearing shorts and visors slapping on their I-pads.

                    1. re: stevewag23

                      Italy is lucky to have these chubby iPadders spending their hard-earned American dollars there. But I know what you mean even though most foodie Italians I know (a lot of them) are kinda (or totally) chubby.

                      Buon appetito.

                    2. re: cookieshoes

                      FWIW - I was in Bencotto for New Years and one of the backers of Davanti stopped in to talk to the owners (It wasn't Scott ____, but it was someone that knows him). I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure he actually dined at Bencotto. I do find it a little interesting that he stopped for a bite in a supposedly "competing" restaurant. Then again, all the owners seemed to be friendly with each other.

                      He did mention that he's really focused on opening Davanti and Mia Francesca in Del Mar though...

                      1. re: karaethon

                        "I do find it a little interesting that he stopped for a bite in a supposedly "competing" restaurant."

                        I haven't had the chance to see that too much in san diego, but in other cities its pretty commonplace. I have met many a chef dinning at the bar of a competing (friendly) restaurant.

                        If you think about it, what is good for Davanti is good for Bencotto.

                        They are on the same "bringing people to Little Italy" team.

                        1. re: stevewag23

                          Makes sense; don't get me wrong I thought it was great that they were really friendly. I have noticed at least some undercurrent of hostility in competing businesses in the past though. I'll refrain from saying more so I don't stick my foot any further into my mouth.

                          1. re: karaethon

                            I could be wrong but it seems to me that "chefs hanging out at each others restaurants" is a mark of a more sophisticated food city.

                            (Cue the san diego defenders who will take issue with my use of the word "sophisticated" in three...two...)

                            So yeah, I agree with you, this is a positive thing.

                        2. re: karaethon

                          Someone from Davanti also stopped by Salvatores recently and raved abour their sauces.I'm a fan of the food of Salvatores, though the ambience is not my style.

                        3. re: cookieshoes

                          While the term 'authentic' did come up in this thread, I--for one--also mentioned Delfina in SF which does not meet the definition (more Cal-Italian)...I am not hung up on authentic (though that is my first preference) and could give 2 craps if it is authentic or not as long as the dishes are good...in the case of Delfina, not only are the entrees good but so are the salads (any salad there blows away the vast majority of salads you'll find in San Diego), they serve great artisan, pugliese style bread that actually has crust on it (from next door at Tartine--a phenomenal bakery), and their wine by the glass selection is outstanding--as tends to be the case at the majority of Bay Area restaurants (the opposite seems to be more the norm here in San Diego where I consistently find too many non-memorable and mediocre selections by the glass). Of course that's just one example and I've also been hugely disappointed by many over-hyped SF restaurants as well which gets back to my point of as long as the food is good.

                          1. re: El Chevere

                            I guess the beef here is calling their italian "underwhelming." Can underwhelming italian be executed to taste good? To me, yes. Sometimes the simple classics are still the best which is why they stand the test of time. As far as the food at davanti, I can't comment on that since I haven't been there. I have however eaten at delfina, 4 days ago. That place is really something special. Their pizzeria blows away bruno, IMO.

                            1. re: chezwhitey

                              I was underwhelmed by the dishes I have sampled at Davanti and I have been underwhelmed by their Mia Francesca restaurants in the Chicago area. Underwhelming is underwhelming...if I could rephrase title of this thread, I would probably refer to their cuisine as designer Italian rather than Iowa Italian.

                              I love Delfina--did you eat at the full service restaurant or their pizzeria?...the one thing I will say about eating at a restaurant in SF (and Portland, for that matter...does not necessarily have to be Italian cuisine) is that you are almost guaranteed to get great bread and have an excellent selection of wine by the glass at a good restaurant. I am blown away and love the bread served at Delfina (baked at Tartine) as well as their wine by the glass selection....in Portland, love the bread and wine selection at Caffe Mingo and Serratto (I know Ken's Artisan bread supplies Serratto. not sure where Mingo gets their bread from but it is wonderful).....I travel on business and dine solo many times and truly appreciate a great--not mediocre--wine by the glass selection since I cannot drink a full bottle by myself and be functional the next day....I am challenged, here in San Diego, to find restaurants that offer great bread and/or great wine by the glass selections outside of the chain steakhouses.

                              1. re: El Chevere

                                I have been to both the pizzeria(pac heights) and the full service restaurant a week ago They had a wonderful squid ink chittara with dungeness that was phenomenal(I'm a sucker for any squid ink pasta). I agree with you on the bread, tartine does a great job although that may be a curse to delfina as tartine is essentially next door. I'm more inclined to skip desert at delfina and go to tartine instead. In fact, that block is probably one of the best places to live in the country in terms of food, delfina, tartine and bi-rite all within steps of each other in addition to everything else in the mission. I feel Mission Hills has that type of potential but isn't quite there yet, but that's a whole other discussion topic.

                                If you are working in sf again as a solo diner, Cotogna in the financial district does an exceptional job with pizza and has a nice bar. I'm not sure about their wine by the glass selection though. Caffe Sport sounds great, have you tried the sardinian restaurant that seems to get a lot of love on chow, La Ciccia? Haven't had a chance to try that one yet.

                              2. re: chezwhitey

                                Next time you are up in SF and want to try (if you have not done so already) great Southern Italian (Sicilian) cuisine that has withstood the test of time, I still am a big fan of the food served at Caffe Sport....now here's a place that goes against my stated desire for great bread (very basic, though it does have crust) and they do not have the greatest wine list in the city, but their penne con pesto and penne pizzaiola is phenomenal. Others love their shrimp in white sauce....nothing fancy, though the decor is unique...I used to eat here once a week when I lived in the Bay Area many years ago, am glad to see it is still around, and try to get back there every once in awhile when I visit the city.

                                1. re: El Chevere

                                  Love the Mission District....besides those you mentioned Foreign Cinema, Farina, and Garcon are worth trying....I had pizza and appetizers last month with a friend at Beretta--was OK. There's a Cuban theme restaurant I cannot recall the name of that I have to try and during the warmer months, there's nothing like a cocktail on the rooftop of Medjool (thankfully, they saved that place from closing down)....funny, when I lived in the Bay Area 25+ years ago, you couldn't get me near the Mission; good thing I'm the opposite of most and have become more liberal as I get older.

                                  Will give the place you recommended above a shot...you should definitely check out Caffe Sport--amazing pasta (and especially if you love garlic). Cash only, though rumor has it they might finally accept plastic (best to call in advance to confirm).

                                  1. re: El Chevere

                                    Beretta is perfect for the midnight cocktail and some small plates. The pizza is nothing special.

                                    1. re: honkman

                                      Agreed....was being generous with the term OK

                            2. re: cookieshoes

                              In Italy if they have an English menu, it's probably not that great by Italian (and perhaps American) standards. This is a longstanding rule and I can attest to it personally. The best places were all 95%+ locals. I don't think it had anything to do with authenticity though, there are simply good and bad places in Italy and the bad ones survive on tourists or because of location.

                            3. Anyone know if it's open yet or when the opening date is?