Review – Little Italy, DaVanti Enoteca

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Davanti Enoteca on a sunny afternoon
Davanti Enoteca on a sunny afternoon

I grew up in Chicago but left here before I turned 21. Boo-hoo. Except for a few places downtown and a rare visit to a couple of the hot Rush Street clubs when I was underage (yes, it was a lot easier for not-yet-legal kids to get in to bars and clubs back then), I didn’t get much chance to enjoy Chicago as a grownup. Which is what makes it so much fun to do so now!

It was hot as hell when my daughter and I took off for Chicago’s Little Italy section for lunch last week. She’d attended college here in Chicago and had been a frequent visitor in the Little Italy section of town, so she suggested we try a place there. Our destination DaVanti Enoteca at1359 W. Taylor Road at Loomis St. And oh, yeah, and it was a taste of Italy for sure.

Nice ambiance—light shining in the high windows onto oak panel tables with big red numbers painted on them. Track spotlights highlighting the same oak panels in wine racks lining the walls. Big clear glass lanterns scattered around, some reflecting extra light via outsized wall mirrors.

The menu was unusual and included some Italian words we couldn’t decipher, so we figured we’d ask the server Martha for ideas. We’d already noticed and thought how reasonable most of the prices seemed when she advised that the plates are all tapas-sized smaller servings. We appreciated knowing that ahead of time, and then we did, in fact, end up ordering from just the items she pointed out.

English: Olives in olive oil.
English: Olives in olive oil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Started out with a tasty room-temperature salad of roasted fresh corn with arugula and walnuts, dressed with a drift of goat-cheese-rich dressing. Mmmm. Next we split a plate of cold oil-dressed tuna salad sparked with red onion bits and served on some marvelous Italian toast. The bread was perfectly grilled in olive oil, the crust crunchy but not too hard. The tuna tasty, though not outstanding. And the finale was a buttery nest of linguine noodles that had absorbed a rich transparent brown sauce along with some pasta water and was flecked with small bites of crab and bits of sea urchin. Very nice.

Martha helped us with our wine choice as well—the name itself a mouthful, Alto Adige Terlano Terliner—and we were delighted. Just enough crispness and body in a substantial white wine. A perfect choice for both the food and the atmosphere—and for the heat.

As we left the restaurant we thought to cross Taylor Road and check out the menu of the competitor place Francesca’s. Looked good, the ambiance a bit more formal, the prices higher. But then again, they probably don’t serve tapas style.

Then something across the other street caught our eye: a freestanding sidewalk sign covered in—I’m not making this up—big yellow feathers. When we first crossed we found a delightful little pet specialties shop called Tails on Taylor, full of unusual toys, specialty food and treats/surprises for cats, dogs and so on. Then we had to go look at Zia 925, the home of the yellow-feathers sign, and were rewarded with a fancy/funky atmosphere full of an eclectic mix of merchandise—jewelry, hair ornaments, hats, scarves and more—at quite reasonable prices. I walked out with a pair of unique dangling, gold-painted earrings but could have spent a lot more if the budget were bigger.

I wouldn’t hesitate to visit this little corner of Little Italy again. Definitely recommend DaVanti for other baby boomers looking for a unique Italian food experience in an enjoyable atmosphere. Read more at DaVanti Enoteca. And oh, my, how I love experiencing Chicago as a grownup!

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How to tell a good mussel from a bad one

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Is there a way to tell a good mussel from a bad one without tasting it? I haven’t found a reliable one yet – except the sense of smell.

Mussels at Trouville fish market
Mussels at Trouville fish market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I once decided to try a restaurant in the just-getting-trendy neighborhood known as Tremont in Cleveland, where I owned a rental property at the time and dreamed I might one day retire. The community charmed me because it was the only place in Cleveland–my home for 33 years – that reminded me of Chicago. A bar or restaurant or pizza/takeout place on virtually every corner of its delightfully walkable streets. I didn’t imagine at the time that I would joyfully end up back in my beloved home town.

Anyway, there was a restaurant a block down from my property that I’d heard good things about. So I went in one night and was thrilled to see they had mussels on the menu. Now I like mine in a simple wine broth with garlic and lots of butter and good bread. I was hungry, so I was eager for them to arrive. When they finally did, an overwhelming smell greeted me before the plate even hit the table – it was awful.

I pointed this out to the waitress and she actually tried to tell me I was mistaken. That’s how mussels are supposed to smell, she insisted. Hey, have you ever smelled a bad mussel? There’s a rotten odor about them. Sometimes the smell isn’t immediately noticeable and if you bite into one like that, you’ll immediately spit it out. It’s unmistakeably not something you want to eat. And they don’t have to look bad at all to have this smell.

If the first time I’d ever eaten mussels they tasted like that, I’d never have ordered them again, no matter how much people assured me. The waitress finally agreed haughtily to take them back. After that appalling customer service, I was seriously disinclined to take her up on her reluctant offer to substitute another dish.

So it’s time for mussels to be in season. And some Chicago restaurants are making special deals on these tasty little seafood treats served in their black shiny shells. Go out and enjoy yourself at one of these – and don’t take any guff if you get a bad one.

And I’d love to hear if you run into one that meets their marketing claim to include “the best mussel dishes in town.”

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