davanti – in front of
enoteca – wine bar
–  from the glossary on Davanti Enoteca’s menu

The Italian restaurants in the St. Louis of my memory are the Cicero’s, the Rossino’s, and the Talayna’s;  a vowel-laden litany of boisterous, dimly-lit, wooden-walled, linoleum table-topped rooms filled with baseball teams, cast parties, church groups, girls’ nights out, first dates, and second anniversaries mingling with clattering trays and decades-old smoke and grime, where as high schoolers we’d share plastic pitchers of soda and crunchy iceberg salads tossed with buttery tubes of provel cheese and creamy Italian vinaigrette and as college students we’d share pitchers of Busch Light and chewy pizzas topped with sliced black olives and bacon and jalapeños.

That old-school vibe was overthrown in the Foodie Revolution in favor of “nouveau Italian” – handcrafted salumi perched in pepperoni’s throne and purple pickled cauliflower in waiting on tables instead of breadsticks. And across the country in San Diego’s Little ItalyDavanti Enotica reigns as Rossino’s glamorous cousin, the ultimate finishing school graduate of the foodie revolution.

Davanti Enoteca is bricked-walled and plank-floored just like those Italian restaurants of my youth, but clean – oh so clean – and decorated in a nod to the past with black and white photos of wooden Italian speedboats docked in tidy harbors and yellow #10 Marzano tomato cans stacked in tidy pyramids, then dotted with single white orchids and tiny tea lights flickering in 4-oz Ball canning jars. My glass of wine was served in a miniature carafe accompanied by an oversized stem – nice to pour just a bit at a time to sip while browsing the oversized, heavy paper menu, considering seared octopus with horseradish aioli and sea urchin linguini. We nibbled on a super-mild, milky chèvre, the formaggio di Capra, spread onto crusty nut-studded pugliese. Somewhere overhead, “Baby I Love Your Way” segued into “Somebody That I Used To Know,” underscoring my sense of the traditional evolving into the now. (Not everyone will deem Peter Frampton as traditional, but you understand.)

We went in what we thought was a traditional route, ordering the Pizza con Prosciutto e Rucola, prosciutto di Parma with fresh mozzarella, fontina, and arugula. It was wonderful and perfectly nouveau; a flatbread absent of tomato sauce, light on the cheese, heavy on arugula – a perfect lighter way to finish our progressive Little Italy dinner that had started with bacon cracker jacks at Craft + Commerce. This is a gorgeous pizza:

If you go and aren’t in a pizza mood, be sure to try the ricotta + honeycomb vasi, a dish highly recommended to us by locals Layne and Grant Pecoff of the gorgeous, colorful Pecoff Studios, a few doors away. (And thank you, Layne, for sending us to Davanti Enoteca. Sadly we were too stuffed to try that dish . . . but there will be a next time!)