DaVinci seems to market more to the nightlife crowd than the food-focused. But people are always asking for recommendations on Federal Hill, so I thought I’d try this relatively new restaurant. Located on a side street off Atwells, DaVinci opened early last spring after an extensive renovation. It’s owned by four brothers in the Rouhana family who have previous experience in the restaurant business.
This restaurant is certainly opulent in its presentation, from the exterior stonewalls to the menu’s hyperbolic promise of a “total experience of unparalleled cuisine.” The chandelier, and every other piece of decor, does its best to convey luxury.
We started with cocktails and I ordered the Strawberry Jalapeño Margarita ($13) made with Maestro Dobel tequila, which is billed as the “world’s first multi-aged clear tequila.” The glass was enormous and the heat just right. My husband was in the mood for a dirty martini, so he tried a Dirty DaVinci ($13) made with Grey Goose and blue cheese stuffed olives.
The house-made bread basket was fantastic: fluffy and fresh, and even better when dipped in the seasoned olive oil. Our appetites piqued, we tried the DaVinci Salad ($10), a house salad with a little bit of antipasto flair, incorporating olives and pepperoncini. We followed with the DaVinci Famous Meatballs ($11), two huge meatballs made from a mixture of beef and veal that could have been a meal on their own.
Our favorite appetizer was the Rollatini Melanzana ($10), three eggplant rolls with mozzarella and ricotta. They were not greasy like some versions, but delicate and well seasoned.
Along with the first-floor restaurant, DaVinci also has a cigar and hookah bar on the second floor, which made the restaurant smell faintly of cigar smoke. It didn’t bother me after a few minutes, but this might be a turnoff for sensitive noses. Seeing the large windows, I assume this is not a problem in the summer when fresh air circulates through the restaurant.
We decided to take our time with an interstitial pasta dish: the Vongole Alla Linguine ($20). This linguine dish had a delicious wine-spiked lobster broth, plump in-shell clams and slices of Italian sausage. It was elegantly sized, a nice presentation instead of a giant pile of pasta. I’d happily order this again.
At this point, we switched to the DaVinci Chianti ($32/bottle, half price Monday through Wednesday). No, it’s not made by the restaurant, but it’s a nice touch to include an eponymous wine on the menu. Vinci is a town in Tuscany, in the western end of the Chianti-growing region.
For my entree, I chose the Center Cut Swordfish ($25), a large, thick piece of swordfish grilled and topped with a lemon butter caper sauce. On the side were carrots, broccoli and halved, roasted fingerling potatoes. My husband ordered the Stuffed Veal Chop ($30), an impressively large bone-in chop stuffed with proscuitto and fontina cheese, topped with a sherry mushroom sauce and whipped mashed potatoes on the side.
When DaVinci opened there was a lot of concern on Atwells; other local businesses feared a nightclub atmosphere and that a late closing time would attract a rowdy crowd. After visiting, I doubt this is the case – it seems like DaVinci’s owners have put a lot of effort into situating their business on the classier end of the nightlife spectrum. I do suspect, however, that this restaurant has a nightclub alter ego. The colored lighting gives the restaurant a sexy feel, but somewhat alters the dining experience. It made our food glow in improbable neon colors: the tomatoes and tomato sauce hot pink, and the carrots a glowing orange.
But back to the food. Our waitress was wonderfully attentive and professional, she even talked us into dessert – an apple crisp ($10). It, like the rest of our experience, was over the top: the large, shallow oval ramekin was filled to the brim with apples, topped with a crumble, and the two scoops of house-made ice cream poured over the sides onto the artful arrangement of napkins that covered the plate. The excess added a decadent edge to a normally rustic dessert. We woke ourselves up with two espressos ($4.50) with a lemon twist and prepared for our return to the much less colorful world outside.
DaVinci Ristorante, Lounge and Cigar Bar
146 Acorn Street