FOrlorn lovers at Houston’s closed-down Fresco Italiano—some of whom literally cried when chef/owner Roberto Crescini announced he was closing his shop and returning to Italy—take a moment to rejoice. Krishni is back.
He’s now partnered with pro Paco Calza, a longtime Houston restaurateur who many will recognize from his days at the front of the house at Cafe Annie and who is currently a partner at BCN Spanish restaurant. This partnership brought Crescini back behind the group 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 the certified Italian chef, classically trained, certified salumi maker and connoisseur. Having been cooking since the age of 14, when he trained at the Caterina Medici Institute for Culinary Professionals in the Gardone Riviera, he has also been recognized by the American Chefs Association.
But what about the new Crescini restaurant?
Having taken over the humble home of a former brunch spot nicknamed Baggy’s at 2900 Weslayan Street, Davanti’s new casual counter-service setting at lunch and dinner belies the quality of Crescini’s classic, authentic Italian food (mostly of northern Italian influence, in natural ). Everything is made from scratch on the premises at this new Houston restaurant, from fresh pasta to cannoli crusts to pizza dough and bread.
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The menu at Davanti includes appetizers such as burrata with 36 months of Parma prosciutto ($18.95), grilled Mediterranean octopus Alla Pugliese served with fresh tomato caponata sauce ($18.95), along with soups, salads, and Romana-style pizzas. . Simple, do not overuse extraneous ingredients.
The chef’s favorite pasta on the well-adjusted menu (which is the same at lunch and dinner) is tagliatelle with braised lamb sauce (all’Abruzzese, $17.25). It’s made here in the typical way where meat is slowly simmered for eight hours, and reduced to tomatoes, onions, celery, and carrots entwined into a tangle of fresh, flat noodles.
Crescini is special to Bolognese, too, cooking it for five hours without adding milk and a 90/10 meat-to-fat ratio of all beef (no pork, no veal). The sauce is served here at Lasagna alla Bolognese ($15.75). Lasagna is prepared the typical northern way, and is free from tomato sauce and ricotta cheese. Instead, it’s made up of five layers of fresh pasta and topped with béchamel and a bolognese sauce.
The handmade ravioli, capellite-style, is a delicate pasta bag stuffed with a filling of Lira Rossa ricotta and spinach, topped with butter, Parmesan, and fresh sage emulsion ($18.75). With nearly 34 different ravioli variations, fillings, and sauces served throughout Crescini’s homeland, expect the chef to put a rotation of his favorites on the special.
At the time of writing, Calza and Krishini were waiting for Davante’s beer and wine license, which is to be expected at any moment. When it arrives, you can look forward to a menu consisting strictly of Calza-selected Italian wines.
The desserts at Davanti are simple and straightforward but beautifully executed. The cannoli—which is in-house crusty, doughy thin and fried in olive oil—breaks under a nice bite and is filled with a filling of slightly sweetened ricotta ($6.50 for two). Many desserts are gluten-free as well, including a cocoa-rich tiramisu made without the more common addition of lady fingers. In its place you’ll find a moistened espresso- and gluten-free sponge cake.
Davanti Ristorante Italiano is open Monday through Saturday, from 11am to 9pm, and is closed on Sundays. No reservations are required at this casual restaurant.