This year my friend Ellen had a really good Christmas idea. Those of us who have dinner together most every Friday night, and usually buy each other Christmas presents, would forego the gifts, and spend our Christmas dollars on a fantastic dinner together. We made reservations for seven at Davio's, and this was a very, very good choice. I was the only one among us who hadn't been there before, though I've been hearing about it for years. I don't actually eat out very often, and when I do, it's usually cheap and cheerful, rather than Fine Dining.
I took my camera, but I am no good with a flash, so I will have to tell you about it. The clown picture you see, is purportedly Davio, and hangs on the wall of the itty bitty restaurant, which looks and feels like the slightly baroque living room of someone's home, in candlelight, with a few extra crystal chandeliers, and a warm glow. It is cozy, the waitstaff is charming and friendly, and it is, atmospherically, a perfect place for a special celebration.
I'm not sure I can convey how good the food is. It is hard to explain, and you are probably going to think I was just in a very good mood, or something. Well, I was, but it was in large measure because of the amazing food. The menu is southern Italian , and the food is not odd, arranged in unusual configurations on the plate, or in any way fusion-ish. There is an enormous amount of everything served-I took home at least two dinners worth of leftovers, which I am guarding with my life. Sound ordinary? This food is emphatically not ordinary.
Every ingredient is obviously the most beautiful, freshest, and most perfect...seafood, fruits vegetables and all, and it is clear that there is some special relationship with the purveyors of ,well, everything. All The filled pasta is whisper thin and delicate, and fillings are beautifully seasoned, different, in no way place holders. Every dish and every sauce is interesting without being weird, and tastes special...more intense, more cleverly seasoned,more something, than other versions you may have had. I'm not kidding. I was blown away, and driven to asking rude questions about ingredients, most of which were graciously unanswered.
They start you off with their own bread and a plethora of dipping goodies, olives etc. We also shared an appetizer of roasted peppers in some kind of insanely delicious vinagrette. Someone had a lobster bisque- and lost a lot of it to friendly triple tastings. There is so much that sounded great that none of us ordered...I was especially regretful about a gorgeous veal chop thing I saw go by. Some things I ate or tasted included a salad with roasted pears (wow), romaine,arugula, toasted pine nuts, stilton and some other gorgeous cheese (creamy, English, not cheddar), and an incredible and mysterious dressing... tortoni with a "lobster" sauce and huge chuncks of perfectly cooked lobster and giant, tender scallops, a spicy linguini thing... my stomach is starting to hurt.
Desserts, made on the premises, included a flourless "russian" chocolate cake-which was quite different from the myriad other similar cakes I've had, but I'm not sure how..at this point I'd had a lot of wine, and fine distinctions were even harder to make..an incredible real key lime pie with cashew crust, and a spumoni unparalleled. Homemade macaroons appeared as if by magic. I knew I wouldn't do a good job of describing the food- but truly, it speaks for itself. The cooking is perfect, and sort of ego-less. I mean, I'm sure the chefs are more than proud of their work, but it is so very fine without being the least bit show-offy. If you were dreaming up the perfect restaurant for an occasion..this would be it. I'll bet there have been quite a few proposals of marriage on the premises, for example.
We were totally unrushed, and spent many hours eating, talking and drinking our BYOB wine.It is sooo nice to be able to bring your own, especially as this place is, by my standards, extra very expensive...costing a hundred bucks each, with tip. Everything is a la carte- you could get by with less, and certainly, quantity wise, you don't need starters, salads, desserts-there is so much to eat in your entree. But we were celebrating, enjoyed the variety, and took masses home. If you were paying for wine at restaurant prices, it would blow the thing sky high. As it is, this is a once a year thing for me, and a better present I could not have.
Davio's is in Beechview, in the South Hills of Pittsburgh, in what looks like a largish family house with a warm glow in the windows. Needless to say, you need a reservation.