During a short stint in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant, I made a lot of gnudi and gnocchi. I was obsessive about getting them just right, and so when I eat gnudi in a restaurant I’m usually critical. In general, it’s just something I shouldn't order because I know in advance I’m going to dislike it. Sometimes I’m a glutton for punishment though (or, some would say, I like writing blog posts about stuff I hate), so I recently ordered the gnudi at the new DaVanti Enoteca in River North.
DaVanti’s gnudi were wonderful. So good that they could serve them with little more than melted butter or simple tomato sauce and I’d be thrilled. That these gnudi come bathing in a rich, viscous and intensely delicious pork stock takes the dish over the top. The dumplings have that ethereal outer skin which is characteristic of great gnudi, barely holding together a light interior of well-seasoned, quality ricotta. The serving is relatively small, but the dish is so rich and intense that although I wanted more (even after sopping up every drop of pork stock with Davanti’s sub-mediocre bread), I was glad there wasn't any.
Impossible as it seemed for any dish to top DaVanti’s gnudi, the cauliflower steak from the antipasti menu did just that. A flat, inch-and-a-half-thick slab of cauliflower was charred on the grill and barely cooked through to lend a meaty texture that was just-right for the massive steak knife served with it. The grill lent a smoky, earthy flavor that was fantastic with the sharp lemon jam, the briny, tiny-minced olive tapenade, and the nutty, crunchy toasted ceci beans. This is now on a short list of favorite dishes in town, and might be the best restaurant dish I’ve eaten all year.
That this post focuses on the food rather than the annoying enforcement of a “small plates” service philosophy at DaVanti really says something. It isannoying. This was my third experience at an outpost of what I think can at this point fairly be called the DaVanti chain. I’ve enjoyed them all, and if this is what chain dining can become in 2013, please put one in every town small and large to which I’ll be traveling in the coming months and years.
Davanti Enoteca (the outpost on which this post is based)
30 E Hubbard St