Chicago-style wine & food launches in San Diego

A twin launch recently resonated with San Diego diners when Davanti Enoteca and Mia Francesca opened side by side in an upscale food court in the Del Mar Highlands Center, next to the renovated movie theater.

Mia Francesca’s lead managers are left to right: Brittany Ziegler-Hastings, Chef Woody Benitez and Jessica Wakely. Photo by Frank Mangio

I was surprised and moved by the flavor and friendliness of both operations, owned by the same group from Chicago, where several restaurants are thriving, mostly with the same favorite Italian theme.

Brittany Ziegler-Hastings is the congenial manager of Mia Francesca, which she describes as “the big sister” to Davanti. “Here it’s family-style with upscale surroundings and white table cloths with a Roman-style Trattoria and full-service bar.” Seventy percent of the wines are Italian with such names as Vietti, Il Po9ggioni, Tignanello, and Tenuta Brunello. The “warm welcome” theme is so important to both Mia Francesca and Davanti that new help is brought back to Chicago to get personal training for months to understand that the customer is “family” with both restaurants.

I believe a dinner is off to the best start when the salad is fresh, flavorful and leaves you wanting more.

The salads at Mia Francesca included fresh asparagus, pea pods, warm lentils with spinach and goat cheese, tomato and cucumber and many more discoveries. Moving into the pastas, I would recommend the Rigatoni alla Siciliana. The pasta is sautéed with a spicy tomato sauce, roasted eggplant and parmigiano. The “secondi” or main course is rich with healthy, exotic chicken dinners and fish dishes like salmon, tilapia and sea scallops. A handout accompanies the menu and serves as today’s news with hot topics like today’s wine specials and chef’s creations. Davanti Enoteca is not new to “Taste of Wine” reader who have been treated to the story on the original Little Italy San Diego location that opened some months ago, managed by the former Napa Valley wine manager Josh Zanow.

The new Del Mar location is run by Nicole Holderman, a wine writer with local restaurant experience.

At Davanti the tempo is up with lots of drop-ins. The wine and dine experience is as much social as anything with a huge Italian wine selection from the “Wine of the Week,” this week a Prosecco sparkler either by the glass or bottle, to a La Poderina or Argiano Brunello from Tuscany. Enjoy both with a quick salad or an oven roasted wagyu tri tip made to perfection in a few minutes more. Both Davanti locations are serving a weekend brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Davanti Enoteca managers are Josh Zanow (left) in Little Italy and Nicole Holderman in the new Davanti in Del Mar Heights. Photo by Frank Mangio

You will love the amusing but informative menus as they define and de-mystify Italian cuisine language that sometimes defy pronunciation.

It’s “mangia bene” at Davanti Enoteca and Mia Francesca. The only hard part is deciding which one to dine at next — a happy problem. And, since they’re connected, why not both? For reservations it’s (858) 519-5055 for Mia Francesca, and (858) 519-5060 for Davanti.

Wine Bytes

PAON Restaurant & Wine Bar in Carlsbad is featuring Classic Italian Wines in the wine store now though May 9. Six 1-ounce tastings for $16. Call (760) 729-7377 for times and names.

A High End Super Tuscan Tasting is planned at Bacchus Wine market downtown San Diego from 2 to 8:30 May 5. Cost is $30 to taste Brunello, Chianti Classico, and Cab-based blends. Call (619) 236-0005 for details.

It’s Women, Wine and Golf from 2:30 to 7 p.m. May 9 at the Country Club in Rancho Bernardo. The event is looking for business women from all skill levels. The cost is $79 for non-members and $59 for members. The price includes all golf, wine, appetizers, gift bags and more. Call (703) 268-5078 for an RSVP.

A Night at the Mission, Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, happens from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. May 11. There will be sample wine tasting, hors d’oeurves and live music plus silent auction. The cost is $25 in advance by calling (760) 213-5622.

Pacifica Del Mar at the Del Mar Plaza hosts a Kim Crawford Wine dinnerfrom 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. May 16. There will be selections from this award-winning New Zealand winery plus a multi-course dinner. Cost is $85 per person and includes parking, tip and tax. Call (858) 792-0476 for details.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. His library can be viewed at www.tasteofwinetv.com. (Average Google certified 900 visits per day) He is one of the top five wine commentators on the Web. Reach him at mangiompc@aol.com.

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