Davanti's eggplant parmigiana with a side of spaghetti is available for lunch and dinner at this new counter-service spot. (Photo by Photos Courtesy of Davanti Ristorante Italiano)
The exterior of the new Davanti Ristorante Italiano in River Oaks. (Photo by Photos Courtesy of Davanti Ristorante Italiano)
One of chef Crescini's signature dishes is his ravioli, like this one made with Lira Rossa ricotta and spinach filling. (Photo by Photos Courtesy of Davanti Ristorante Italiano)
Chef Crescini's favorite dish on this menu includes this Tagliatelle with lamb sauce. (Photo by Photos Courtesy of Davanti Ristorante Italiano)
All the desserts are made in-house, and many are gluten-free. Pictured here: a chocolate decadence torta. (Photo by Photos Courtesy of Davanti Ristorante Italiano)
Another view from the exterior of the new Davanti Ristorante Italiano just off Weslayan near Westheimer Road. (Photo by Photos Courtesy of Davanti Ristorante Italiano)
Forlorn fans of the shuttered Houston restaurant Fresco Italiano — some who quite literally wept when chef/owner Roberto Crescini announced he was closing up shop and heading back to Italy — take a moment to rejoice. Crescini is back.
He’s now partnering with the consummate pro Paco Calza, a longtime Houston restauranteur whom many will recognize from his days in the front of the house at Cafe Annie who is currently a partner at the lauded Spanish restaurant BCN. That partnership has Crescini back behind the range at the duo’s new restaurant called Davanti Ristorante Italiano in the River Oaks area.
A native of Brescia in the Northern part of Italy, Crescini is a classically trained, certified Italian master chef and certified salumi maker and taster. Having been cooking since the age of 14, when he trained at the Caterina Medici Institute of Culinary Professionals in Gardone Riviera, he’s also been recognized by the American Chef Association.
But what about Crescini’s new restaurant?
Having taken over the modest home of the former breakfast and lunch spot dubbed Baggy’s at 2900 Weslayan Street, the new Davanti’s casual counter-service setup at lunch and dinner belies the quality of Crescini’s authentic, classic Italian food (mostly of Northern Italian influence, naturally). Everything is made from scratch on-premise at this new Houston restaurant, from the fresh pastas to the cannoli shells to the pizza dough and breads.
Examining Davanti’s Menu
The menu at Davanti includes antipasti like burrata cheese with 36-month aged Parma prosciutto ($18.95), grilled Mediterranean octopus Alla Pugliese served with a fresh tomato-based caponata sauce ($18.95), along with soups, salads and Romana-style pizzas that are simple, never overwrought with extraneous ingredients.
The chef’s favorite pasta on the well-edited menu (which is the same at lunch and dinner) is the tagliatelle with a braised lamb sauce (all’Abruzzese, $17.25). Here it is made in the typical manner where the meat is slowly rendered down for eight hours, and the reduction with tomato, onion, celery and carrots is intertwined within a tangle of flat, fresh pasta noodles.
Crescini is as particular about his Bolognese, too, which he cooks for five hours without the addition of milk and a 90/10 meat-to-fat ratio of all beef (no pork, no veal). The sauce is served here in a Lasagna Alla Bolognese ($15.75). Prepared in the typical Northern way, this lasagna is devoid of tomato sauce and ricotta. Instead, it is composed of five sheets of fresh pasta and layered with a bechamel and sauce Bolognese.
His handmade ravioli, a cappelletti-style, is a delicate pasta pouch stuffed with Lira Rossa ricotta and spinach filling, napped in a butter, parmesan and fresh sage emulsion ($18.75). With something like 34 different varieties of ravioli shapes, fillings and sauces served throughout Crescini’s homeland, expect the chef to put a rotation of his favorites on special.
At the time of this story, Calza and Crescini are waiting for Davanti’s beer and wine license, which is expected at any moment. When it arrives, you can look forward to a list strictly composed of Italian wines selected by Calza.
Desserts at Davanti are straightforward yet beautifully executed. The cannoli — whose shell is made in-house, its dough rolled thin and fried in olive oil — breaks beneath a gentle bite and is filled with a lightly sweetened ricotta filling ($6.50 for two). Many of the sweets are gluten-free, too, including a rich, cocoa-topped tiramisu made without the more common addition of ladyfingers. In its place, you’ll find an espresso-soaked gluten-free sponge cake.
Davanti Ristorante Italiano is open Mondays through Saturdays, from 11 am to 9 pm, It is closed on Sundays. No reservations are required at this casual restaurant.