Share and Share Alike

February 2024 View more

By Phil Vettel

Davanti Enoteca offers rustic Italian dishes with contemporary twists

Inside Davanti Enoteca
Davanti Enoteca, 47 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville

A little more than 13 years ago, I headed to Chicago’s Taylor Street neighborhood to check out a new restaurant called Davanti Enoteca. I liked it, especially the wide range of cheeses and salumi (which, back then, was just starting to become a thing), the traditional Italian menu, and nice touches such as the truffled-egg toast with cremini mushrooms. Even the Davanti burger, with its non-Italian toppings (bacon jam, cheese curds) was fun.

Fast-forward to last April, when Davanti Enoteca made its debut in Naperville. Davanti’s arrival was the culmination of a bit of musical chairs by restaurateur Scott Harris; he moved Fat Rosie’s, his Mexican concept, across the street into the vacated Shakou (a shuttered sushi restaurant), and built Davanti into Fat Rosie’s former home.

A large booth at Davanti Enoteca

The decor at Davanti in Naperville (there are other locations in Western Springs, San Diego, and, by the time you read this, Lincolnwood) is an agreeable blend of the rustic and contemporary. Weeping-mortar brick walls, arched-brick alcoves serving as bar shelves, subway-tile accents, bare-wood tables, and whimsical touches that include a poster extolling the joys of lard—it’s a comfortable environment. Hanging panels help reduce noise while hiding the ceiling-height mechanicals.

The Naperville menu contains several longtime Davanti favorites; I was happy to see that the truffled-egg toast and Davanti burger are alive and well. The way the menu is organized, it would be easy to overlook the formaggi e salume (cheeses and cured meats) section, but please don’t. All the cheeses are Italian imports, but the meats are local, mostly sourced from Tempesta and Smoking Goose (based in Chicago and Indianapolis, respectively). Pricing is for three, four, or five selections, but if you want a different number, the kitchen will accommodate. Don’t pass up the La Tur cheese from Piedmont, Smoking Goose’s Gin & Juice lamb salumi, and Tempesta’s ’nduja (a spicy and spreadable salami).

Polenta and ragu
Polenta and ragu

Much of Davanti’s menu consists of sharable dishes, many (but not all) grouped under the “per la tavola” heading. These include the half-dozen versions of focaccia, which function as de facto pizzas (albeit with spongy, high-rise “crusts”). All are worthy, though I’d point you to the version with olives, caciocavallo cheese, and warmed ’nduja.

Don’t skip the polenta and ragu, which has been on Davanti’s menu for 13 years; it consists of a wide spread of mascarpone polenta, on which a server decants a generous amount of ragu (meat sauce), whose components vary but often include short rib or pork shoulder. “There’s also a vegetable ragu we can make (on request),” says Jonathan Court, corporate executive chef. “We could even do one with octopus, but normally we stick to meat.”

On the lighter side, there’s a fine crudo plate topped with blood orange, pine nuts, and peperoncini. The roasted cauliflower, served over romesco sauce and topped with Marcona almonds and shaved parmigiana, is delicious.

Orecchiette con salsiccia
Orecchiette con salsiccia

That same romesco sauce (a thickened sauce of tomatoes, red peppers, and almonds) ably supports the octopus entrée, mixed with fingerling potatoes and cipollini onions, along with a warmed ’nduja vinaigrette (served on the side, to accommodate the spice averse).

The Bistecca Davanti is a substantial New York strip steak with roasted onions and aged balsamic vinegar; I’d suggest instead the lamb porchetta, a traditional dish (lamb shoulder wrapped in lamb belly) that gets a 24-hour marinade before slow roasting. There’s a vibrant salsa verde on top of the roast, and a cucumber-yogurt sauce underneath. Crispy on the outside and moist within, it’s a very good dish.

Pastas are a menu strength. Most of the pastas are created at Fiore Bakery in Forest Park. An exception is the orecchiette (little ears) pasta, made in-house and tossed with fennel sausage, rapini, and pecorino cheese. Also good is the classic cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper), spaghetti noodles tossed in cheese and a mix of peppercorns.

A dining area and mural at Davanti Enoteca

Speaking of cacio e pepe, the can’t-miss dessert is the cacio e pepe cheesecake, a novel dessert reminiscent of Basque cheesecake but made with Parmigiana-Reggiano incorporated into the batter. Served wrapped in parchment and topped tableside with black-pepper honey, this is a dessert so rich that sharing it among two or four diners is, well, a piece of cake.

The wine program is very strong. More than two dozen wines, predominantly Italian, are available by the glass (in two sizes) and bottle. A separate bottle list offers more options, and for true aficionados, Davanti offers a few premium wines that, thanks to a Coravin system that keeps wine fresh for weeks or longer, can serve tasting portions (or larger) without the commitment that a bottle purchase would entail. What’s Italian for “YOLO?”


Photos: Eric Kleinberg