Monday, August 23, 2010

Davio’s Gives Patriotic Effort in Foxborough

Owner Steve DiFillippo sure knew what he was doing when he expanded his beloved Northern Italian Steakhouse, Davio’s, from Boston into the suburbs. After all, why not expand his culinary empire into Patriot Place, the shopping plaza built adjacent to the hallowed grounds of a football dynasty? The sheer size of the restaurant almost keeps up with the seating capacity at the Gillette stadium, accommodating an eye-popping 350 patrons.

Our large party was seated in an intimate, rotund-spaced private room, which made for pleasant people watching given the al-fresco dining outside. Davio’s interior as a whole is impressive, from its warm, inviting brown hues to its magnificent cathedral ceilings and its expansive bar and lounge. The décor evokes grandeur, but with a hint of restraint. Mooo…., KO Prime, Grill 23, this is not.

Our cocktails are generous and well prepared, particularly the house-made sangria. Often times, the Burgundy wine flavor is lost amidst all of the juices thrown into this type of concoction. Here, the wine takes center stage, well balanced with the other liquors and juices. My wife’s cocktail, prepared with Kiwi and Sprite, was light and refreshing, a perfect, innovative summer drink. A platter containing four varieties of freshly baked breads, including wonderfully tasty pesto, is brought out to the table with an equally interesting selection of spreads, including roasted eggplant and goat cheese.

The cocktails also go down well with an array of appetizers, including crispy fried clams served with delectable housemade chips and a spicy remoulade sauce ($14). Crispy fried calamari with hot cherry peppers and spicy aioli ($12) pack welcomed, subtle heat. At Davio’s, fried seafood - unlike at many similar establishments - is surprisingly one of its strongsuits. The seafood we sample is not too rubbery and possesses just the right amount of crispiness. A side of sautéed green beans with crispy pancetta ($8) was tasty, if not a tad too spicy.

Entrees are equally strong. One eating companion orders the spaghettini, which includes generous chunks of Maine lobster, sun dried tomato, and creamy basil pesto ($26). Although the prospect of ‘creamy basil pesto’ paired with lobster initially frightened me away from ordering this dish, after sampling a couple of forkfuls, it was no wonder that she was unwilling to part with any additional bites. The pasta was well cooked and the pesto sauce was delicious and surprisingly light. It’s an odd mismatch of ingredients that somehow works. Even better was the gorgonzola crusted prime top sirloin, seared perfectly on the outside, cooked medium rear, topped with gorgonzola cream and accompanied by an otherwordly organic mushroom risotto. For only $29, this generous cut of quality meat was an outrageous bargain. With the exception of a side of far-too-salty-baby spinach on another companion’s dish, the presentation, size, and taste of all entrees were all top-notch. The maccheroni alla chitarra, with shrimp, pancetta, hot cherry peppers, and arugula lemon oil ($24) was another satisfying pasta dish.

Desserts provided a nice conclusion to the evening. Baby cakes – Davio’s take on the warm chocolate molten – were well cooked, if not as dense and gooey as I had hoped. The best dessert, hands-down, was the warmed strawberry rhubarb tort. The flakiness of the dough paired with succulent fruit was heavenly.

Service was respectable, though given such high price points here (i.e. a grilled porterhouse veal chop runs $46, while several steaks run into the $40s and even $50s), one would expect it to be flawless. While our server was only one week into her job, she was genial, surprisingly knowledgeable of the menu (even making recommendations), and attentive while at our table. Minor snafus, which reflected more upon the busboys more so than with our waitress, included a dining companion having to request steak sauce and a coffee refill on more than one occasion. Now in its third year at Patriots Place, one would think that such basic service glitches as these would have worked themselves out by now.

If there were one minor quibble overall with the menu, it’s that it is a bit unorganized and overly expansive, making it difficult to navigate and order at times. For instance, some of the appetizers (and several entrees) are separated out and appear on the Classici section (Davio’s staple dishes since the restaurant’s inception, though this is not explained on the menu). A variety of spring rolls even have their own section unto themselves (Marchi). What does Davio’s pride itself on – steak, seafood, pasta – all of the above? It’s as if the restaurant wants to be all things to everyone, and is a bit too schizophrenic for my taste.

Beggars, however, cannot be choosers. Davio’s pleasantly delivers on several levels. Its ambience and its food make it a welcomed addition to the South Shore dining scene. Is it the Super Bowl of fine dining? Not at all, but DiFillippo and his staff score a touchdown in Paul’s Palate’s book.