WHERE: 800 Hillgrove Ave., Suite 100, Western Springs
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, with brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
DRESS CODE: Casual
INFO: 708-783-1060, www.davantienoteca.com
Wine and charm flow plentifully at Davanti Enoteca, newly opened in downtown Western Springs, just north of the tracks. The place was almost full on a recent Sunday evening, but we were directed to a comfy high top next to a window in the bar.
The design pays homage to the rustic wine bars of Europe, right down to plank floors and weeping mortar that appears to drip between the bricks behind the bar and the stone on the walls, including a semi-private area off the main dining room. That space with an impressive vaulted brick ceiling loosely evokes the atmosphere of Old World subterranean wine cellars.
Hanging over the granite-topped bar are three lamps with exposed filaments that at first remind you of oversized incandescent light bulbs, until you realize they are the giant glass wine jugs you'll spot in 19th century Italian paintings celebrating the fruit of the vine. Another wall is fancifully covered with the lids of wooden wine crates.
The Italian word Enoteca refers to a wine bar or shop, and Davanti offers an expansive selection, complemented by a full bar.
Our server explained that the menu features small plates meant to be shared. So we both dug into a salad of roasted beets turned decadent with a garnish of creme fraiche, accented with a melt-in-your-mouth accompaniment of walnut butter.
The server said a house specialty whose flavor changes daily is the ragu served with mascarpone polenta, a comfort food favorite. Neither of us had ever eaten polenta, which is made of cornmeal, but we're glad we were adventurous. Friends had tried it with lamb ragu recently and raved. That Sunday, we were in for the pork.
For added drama, a server assembled it with a flourish at our table, creating a generous oval of polenta on a wooden board, and then filling the center with the tender ragu, a nicely seasoned stew. The polenta is rich and creamy thanks to the mascarpone, a soft Italian cheese more familiar to us from its sweetened role in desserts.
Our next dish was the night's special of halibut served atop a bed of vegetables cooked to just the right amount of tender. The fish was delicious with a crispy, seasoned exterior.
"Flavorful and innovative," commented my dining companion.
For another visit, we'll be tempted to try some of the pairings of gourmet cheeses and salami varieties or the seared octopus served with warm fingerling potato salad, marcona almonds, finnochiona and fresh horseradish aioli. The menu also extends to a Davanti burger, pastas and pizzas.
The restaurant easily accommodates groups with several long tables that seat up to 10, making for an enjoyable night of communal sampling.
The design elements are appealing, including playful visuals in a hallway whose walls are papered in recent Italian newspapers and accented with vintage movie posters for U.S. classics screening in Italy back in the day.
Foodies will enjoy the culinary quotes that dot the menu, one of which seems to sum it all up: "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not eaten well."
The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at Suburban Life Media. The diner's identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. Only positive dining experiences will result in published reviews.
(To view the Mystery Diner's photos taken at Davanti Enoteca, go to http://shawurl.com/m66; visit its website at www.davantienoteca.com.)