Little Italy food scene undergoing a renaissance

I’m filling in the last of my to-do list before my first visit in eight years to the wine country of Italy. The “old country” beckoned when Celebrity Cruises booked me into their October Mediterranean Wine Cruise as a host and presenter.  In a way I feel like I’ve already been to Florence and Rome when I reviewed the newest dining room in the Little Italy District of San Diego, Davanti Enoteca. 
The Little Italy food-scene is undergoing a renaissance with smart new restaurants mixing it up with old fixtures like Filippi’s and Mona Lisa.  Davanti’s and its sister restaurant, Mia Francesca, opening soon in Del Mar Highlands Center, comes from Chicago’s Little Italy and owner/chef Scott Harris.  The food is  Roman/Tuscan, with a big emphasis on small bites, and food as a social experience. 
Davanti has that neighborhood, rustic bar feel that you would see in the farm villages and fishing communities of Italy.
“We are all about treating diners as family and serving them fresh foods that they will talk about and bring others to enjoy,” Harris said. 
I saw people come by the airy front entrance and the wait help greeted them with their first name.  Many of them lived on the same street:  typical of a Chicago style-eating house.
Josh Zanow is the impassioned general manager of Davanti who worked under the legendary Thomas Keller at the French Laundry in Napa Valley, then moved over to the wine side and went to work at the respected Plumpjack Winery nearby.  As you may have guessed, Plumpjack is one of the premium wines on Davanti’s list.
Zanow has 20 wines by the glass, plus the option of ordering wine by the half carafe as well as the bottle.  Beside Plumpjack Cabernet, I tried the La Poderina Brunello di Montalcino which is Italy’s wine-royalty.  We all toasted our lunches with a La Fiera Moscato from Puglia. 
“Helps with digestion”, someone commented. Late afternoons after work or touring, Davanti has an outdoor patio on warm days, or the bar in the middle of the dining room, for a 2-hour unique menu of food and drink.  Street tables are coming soon for an authentic trattoria feel.
“We made a calculated decision to make this a truly family style restaurant,” Zanow asserted.  “We did not put any TVs or video games in.  We want families to gather, eat and talk.”
Next I had to compliment Executive Chef Jonathan Batty on his Bistecca con Ravanelli e Funghi, an oven roasted tri tip steak with roasted radish and grilled oyster mushroom.  It wasn’t the usual old-country breaded version, as chef felt it was more palatable for new-world foodies in this style. Chef also supervises the Chicago operation.  Plans are to offer a Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. starting in mid October.
Davanti Enoteca is still another Italian Restaurant in the Little Italy District, with lovely lunches, an upbeat indoor-outdoor happy hour, and dinners are flavorful and easy to digest.  Yet the techniques of modern hospitality blending with traditional Italian style gatherings, define the restaurant and the neighborhood through food and wine. 
Josh Zanow with his kitchen and bar team are outreaching for a kind of hospitality that is unique to this neighborhood.  Visit Davanti at davantisandiego.com, or call at (619) 237-9606.
Wine Bytes
— Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula has a Brown Derby Cigar Night, with a dinner, entertainment and great wines Oct. 14 from 6 to 10 p.m. $100 per person.  $90 wine club.  RSVP at (951) 699-9463.
— Wine Styles in Encinitas is planning a John Alan Winery Tasting Oct. 15 from 5 to 8 p.m.  This Paso Robles wine choice is the No. 1  seller at Wine Styles.  $14 regular price, $12 for members.  Call (760) 633-0057.
— Holiday Wine Cellar in Escondido presents Micheal David Wines Oct. 15 from 2 to 4 p.m.  $10 per person. RSVP at (760) 745-1200.
— Orfila Vineyards and Winery has a Concert in the Vines for Oct. 16 from 6 to 8 p.m.  Features Stoney B Blues Band and the Super Q Catering.  Includes a glass of Orfila Wine, all for $25.  Call (760) 738-6500 for more.
— La Jolla Gallery offers a Wine, Walk and Taste event for Oct. 20 from 5 to 9 p.m.  Tour over 15 galleries while sampling red and white wines.  Food sampling included for $40 pre pay, $45 day of event.  Details at (619) 233-5008.
— San Antonio’s L.A. Winery has a Tasting Room Grand Opening and A Day in Tuscany four-course Luncheon and Wine Tasting Oct. 22 and Oct. 23 from 1 to 4 p.m.  Downtown L.A. $75 per person. Call (888) 223-1401.

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