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Mar 15, 2012 09:30 PM

Mia Francesca & Davanti Enoteca - Carmel Valley

The Scott Harris joint venture opened up in Del Mar Highlands about two weeks ago. Wanted to start a thread for anyone to make comments on about either restaurant.

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  1. I visited Mia Francesca in Carmel Valley yesterday and had an interesting experience with the front of house. More than two weeks after opening, I'd kinda figure that they would have worked out most of the kinks in the system...

    Full review with pictures:

    While I had some reservations about returning to dine in the same shopping center where I had been told to "take a walk..." "...across the parking lot," the recent opening of Davanti Enoteca and Mia Francesca was enough to interest me in trying out another new restaurant. After missing the grand opening in late February, I decided to give the new restaurant the "requisite two weeks" to get things together so that I could get an accurate glimpse into what Mia Francesca really has to offer.
    Mia Francesca is part of an Illinois Restaurant empire that began in 1992 by Chef Scott Harris. The vision of Mia Francesca was to be "informal but not compromise the quality of the food" and to "offer an exciting dining experience at a good price." Harris now seems to be mostly a restauranteur, but was a part of many Chicago kitchens prior to opening Mia Francesca including the 95th, Ambria, Cucina Cucina, Harry's Cafe, Sole Mio, and Petthany's in St. Croix. Recently, Harris has turned his attention to San Diego, first opening Davanti Enoteca in Little Italy. Harris seems to have been interested in San Diego for awhile as he had an interesting interview regarding the similarities of Davanti to Cucina Urbana.
    After deciding to visit Mia Francesca, the first thing I tried to do was obtain a reservation. While there is a reservation system on the website, it did not include locations outside of Chicago, which forced me to use the antiquated method of calling the restaurant. After confirming my reservation for two with the hostess, we arrived on time the following day to a restaurant that was about half-full. While there were two hostesses, one of the hostesses (the more senior one) absolutely refused to talk to me while the other was on the phone. Afterwards, the senior hostess asked me to step aside and wait "for a moment" while they tried to "find us a table." The senior hostess then proceeded to sit the next four parties of customers, three of which were walk-ins without reservations. Only when there were absolutely no other customers waiting for a table, the senior hostess returned and instructed the junior hostess to take us to a table.
    While I may be known to be more irascible and quick to jump to conclusions, the individual I dined with is very level headed and calm. That my dining companion felt this was a problem most likely caused by ethnic background is a sure sign of trouble.
    While I wanted to put the front of house issues behind me and enjoy the meal, the service at the restaurant left a lot to be desired. When silverware was cleared with a previous course, we had to ask for replacements when the next dish arrived as no new silverware was provided. The service also seemed to be very disorganized in general; enough to cause my normally bucolic companion to complain to me about the service.
    Front of house and service issues aside, restaurants are ultimately about the food.

    mussels - spicy tomato sauce
    The mussels were easily the best dish of the night; the mussels were cooked perfectly and the tomato sauce had the perfect balance of seasoning, spice, acidity, and complex flavor. The sauce was so good that we asked for extra bread that we could use to soak up the sauce. The sauce seemed to consist of crushed tomatoes, garlic, fennel, and white wine.

    carpaccio con asparagi - raw sirloin, capers, tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, olive oil, parmigiano
    The carpaccio was a beautifully plated dish and seemed to have all the elements of what would be an amazing dish. Perhaps the beauty of the plating set the expectations too high for the end result.
    While the asparagus, mushrooms, parmigiano, and other elements all added flavor to the dish, the ultimate key component of the dish had to be the flavor of the sirloin. While I felt that the sirloin was fresh and of high quality, the only explanation I have for the lack of flavor is that it must have been sliced far in advance to the point where the goodness of the beef was lost with the beef sitting in the refrigerator.

    pesce capesante - grouper, sea scallops, red and yellow peppers, capers, garlic, tomatoes, spinach, white wine
    This dish arrived with the most mouth-watering aroma of the roasted grouper. Smelling the dish was a great experience and made my mouth water in anticipation. Overall, the dish was enjoyable but not without faults; chiefly, the grouper was too salty. The sea scallops were a nice touch to the dish and a luxurious ingredient, but they did not seem to add much to the dish in overall composition.

    rigatoni bolognese - tomato meat sauce, carrots, celery, onions, herbs, parmigiano
    I originally ordered this dish figuring that it would be a good comparison point to other Italian restaurants. Fortunately, I ordered other dishes because I don't believe this dish was reflective of Mia Francesca. In addition to the pasta being under-cooked, the bolognese tasted as if it had only been cooking for about five minutes as opposed to slowly braising for hours to develop layers of unctuous flavor.

    While the overall front of house staff was a tremendous letdown, I still felt that the overall experience at Mia Francesca was positive. There is certainly much room for the restaurant to improve, but I am willing to give them another shot to see the improvement.
    Still for a large minority of people, the treatment from the senior hostess would be offensive enough to preclude any future visits. This is one area that should definitely be looked at if Mia Francesca wishes to be successful as San Diego is an area of high ethnic diversity.

    8 Replies
    1. re: karaethon

      - It can take more than 2 weeks for opening kinks to be worked out.

      - Service is, and should be, as much a part of the dining experience as the food. I think you let the poor service off easy.

      - I would hate to think you and your dining companion were treated so poorly due to ethnicty. Not only is that boorish and immature, it's most likely illegal ;-)

      1. re: DiningDiva

        I would give restaurants two months to work out any kinks

        1. re: honkman

          I agree, that would be the minimum I'd give for opening kinks to be worked out.

        2. re: DiningDiva

          After I posted the blog, I got some questioning about why I mentioned the parts that I mentioned and not the more specific things that were really more troublesome. Despite the problems with the food, I tried to keep the amount of writing about the service no more than the amount I talked about the food, which should be the main focus for me.

          As for the ethnicity thing, I can't say if that is what the person intended. I think proving that they did something "illegal" would be very difficult. However, I think the important distinction is that we FELT that was why we were treated differently. There are many times when you get bad service and you just chalk it up to circumstances, but there seemed to be something malicious in intent to how we were treated.

          1. re: karaethon

            Carmel Valley, hmmmm? Maybe the hostess was in Burlap the day that you ambushed Mr. Fedora:



        3. re: karaethon

          Front of the house appears to very military, I'm surprised the senior hostess didn't order you to drop down and give her 20! very unprofessional IMO. I'd recommend some extra training for her. Just based on that experience alone, I'd avoid for a while. Lastly, the food didn't appear to be anything special and rather poorly preped and cooked. It's one thing to work out some kinks but, this appears to be a significant miss. Thanks for being straight up and honest.

          1. re: cstr

            Are you implying that I haven't been honest in the past?

            I think the issue with the reception was that it was the first impression I got of the restaurant, so it pretty much set the tone for the entire experience. Having something subpar there certainly taints the remainder of the experience.

            1. re: karaethon

              Not at all, in fact, I believe your reviews are consistantly straight up and to the point. I also agree about your first impression experience, it'll set the tone for the whole evening.

        4. Been to Davanti Enoteca twice and was not impressed.
          All of the food we ordered was very heavy. However the pizza was ok and the escarole and apple salad was quite good. You would think with the name Enoteca this would be a good place to have wine.
          Almost all of the wine is Italian and prices are beyond reason. We had a sangiovese merlot blend on the advice of our waitress and it was a let down. They had Sean Minor cabernet for $46 a bottle, the same wine I bought at San Diego Wine Co for $13.
          When we arrived we were greeted by three people at once which was kind of confusing, one them was a large man in a white chef's coat. During the time we were there this guy sat around BSing with customers and would occasionally bring a plate from the kitchen to a table, but mostly he did - nothing. Maybe he is an owner or manager but If I am paying high prices I want to see some effort made by the staff. This was like a scene directly out of Gordon Ramsey's kitchen nightmares.

          1 Reply
          1. re: pantani

            Davanti Enoteca is a step above Buca di Beppo (in concept). If you want the whole story, I reviewed it a couple months back for CityBeat. I'd rather wait in line and get stuffed on Filippi's pizza than give this place another go-around. Happy hour does have some good deals (for those that want to give it a try), and I did also enjoy the escarole and apple salad (at its discounted rate).

            I ate my way across the menu on 2 different visits and one of the best things was the burger topped with fried cheese curds. Pitiful.

          2. Had some time to kill before catching a movie at Cinepolis (Del Mar) so we grabbed some bar seats and had some drinks and some charcuterie and cheese. The portions of both we surprisingly large, the truffle salami was impressive. They don't appear to make any of them in-house.

            Didn't get to try them but the flat bread with ricotta and honey comb looked tasty, and the polenta ragu looked impressive.

            The short rib sliders I had at Cinepolis were actually quite enjoyable, crisp but soft rolls with tender and juicy short ribs with a dash of pickle for some tang.