The Coast News Group
Lick the Plate

Italian goodness at Davanti Enoteca in Del Mar

When our server at Davanti came out with the Fall menu and their signature cocktail, the Davanti Spritz, I knew we were in for a treat.ChefDarrellCambell

The drink combined Aperol, Prosecco, soda and orange. Aperol was new to me and but it’s a perfect aperitif with a long history, originating in 1919 in Italy. It worked nicely with Prosecco and was a fine way to start the meal.

The menu included two dishes with ingredients I’m quite fond of, farro and spaghetti squash. Farro is an ancient grain believed to have sustained the Roman legions and is showing up on menus everywhere but has been a staple in rustic Italian kitchens forever. It’s used in soups, salads and desserts and the little light brown grain is an intriguing alternative to pasta and rice. Chef de Cuisine Darrell Campbell combines it with roasted butternut squash, goat cheese, hazelnuts and watercress to create a delightful mix of flavors and textures.

For parents out there looking to introduce their kids to a fun vegetable that can be used as a substitute for just about any pasta dish, spaghetti squash is worth a shot. I’ve just been recently turned on to it myself and get a big kick out of how it forms spaghetti-like strands when cooked and scraped out with a fork. Chef Campbell took it to a much higher level of course, combining it with seared scallop, pork belly, and pear to create a surf and turf perfect for autumn. I loved this dish!

I should note that while we were seated at Davanti, its sister restaurant Mia Francesca is located right next door and we sampled a couple of dishes from their kitchen as well. The gnocchi Bolognese was spot-on with one of the better Bolognese sauces I’ve had in recent memory. Our dessert, a Mele e Mascarpone with caramelized apples, mascarpone and crumbled graham crackers also came from Mia Francesca.

Chef de Cuisine Darrell Campbell is a fellow Michigander, having grown up not far from me in metro-Detroit. He attended college at Michigan State University and was en route to majoring in math and science when he realized that what he truly enjoyed in life was cooking. The resulting switch toward pursuing a career in the culinary industry was no surprise to his circle of longtime friends; Campbell recalls early memories of visiting friends’ houses and whipping up inventive meals from whatever food was lying around their refrigerators. After realizing his enthusiasm for the culinary world, Campbell worked in Michigan kitchens for seven years. In time, he found himself drawn to a warmer locale and relocated to Arizona, where he attended the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts.

Campbell remained in Scottsdale until February 2013 when he was tapped to lead the kitchen of the Del Mar location of Davanti Enoteca as chef de cuisine. He’s dedicated to working the line with his teammates and purposefully continues to learn, believing that the joy of being a chef is about trying new recipes and ingredients and a lifelong ability to teach and be taught.

Davanti Enoteca in Little Italy and Del Mar and Mia Francesca in Del Mar are the first Southern California outposts born of the highly successful Francesca’s Restaurant group in Chicago. Dana Chrisos-Harris, a proud San Diegan for more than 20 years, brought Francesca Restaurants’ Davanti Enoteca and Mia Francesca to San Diego in 2011. Wife of nationally acclaimed restaurateur Scott Harris, who founded Francesca’s Restaurants, Dana knew Davanti Enoteca and Mia Francesca would win the hearts of Southern Californians − each with its own distinct Italian dining style. North San Diego County favorites Davanti Enoteca and Mia Francesca are located in the Del Mar Highlands Shopping Center. Davanti Enoteca’s second hot spot is located in the heart of the Little Italy community in downtown San Diego. These three restaurants are locally owned and operated by the Harris family.

Davanti Enoteca’s two San Diego locations take their cues from the small villages of Italy with contemporary, creative twists of the authentic Italian dishes they would find in the Italian countryside. Each location’s chef de cuisine lends a unique cooking style and presentation to the Davanti dining experience. The menu features a selection of appetizers and main courses expertly prepared with a nod to fresh, local ingredients − many sourced directly from neighborhood farmer’s markets. Each restaurant also features its own seasonal and daily specials.

They are at 12955 El Camino Real, San Diego, CA 92130 and can be reached at (858) 519-5060 or