Two new Italian restaurants opening at Del Mar Highlands Town Center

By Karen Billing

Chicago restaurateur Scott Harris is bringing two new Italian restaurants to Del Mar Highlands Town Center and promises that neither will be “another red sauce place.”

Look for doors to open on Feb. 23 at Mia Francesca and Davanti Enoteca, both representing two different flavors of Italian cuisine. While Mia will be more rustic and family style, Davanti will be a wine bar with unique small dishes.

Harris splits his time between Chicago and Carmel Valley, but since November has been more of a fixture on the West Coast as he opens eateries in San Diego and Arizona.

He started Mia Francesca 20 years ago on Feb. 13 and the Carmel Valley Mia Francisca will be the 23rd location. The Del Mar Highlands’ Davanti Enoteca will be the third location, the second opening in August of last year in Little Italy.

Davanti is like stepping into a bit of old Chicago—its designed to look like a place that’s been there for years with reclaimed wood floors and walls accented with brick and old wine crates and corks. A halved wine barrel serves as a hostess stand.

It’s a small, intimate space with an open kitchen, indoor and outdoor seating and a 12-seat bar. Another bar bellies up to the kitchen, encouraging interaction between customers and chefs.

“It’s much cozier, much warmer,” said Harris. “We want to welcome people in with open arms, that’s what we’re about.”

The concept is wine bar and more sophisticated food — Harris hopes it can become a place people stop by before or after a movie for a glass and a bite.

The menu includes dishes that can be shared or served as a main entrée. There are small plates like cheeses and charcuterie, vasi (grilled bread with jars of spreads like ricotta and honey comb) and boards (presentations of dishes such as mascarpone polenta) and larger dishes like pasta, pizza and entrees such as grilled swordfish.

Mia Francesca is accessed from the Davanti side through a hallway — the two restaurants will share a bathroom but little else.

Harris describes the food at Mia’s as “Roman trattoria”-style.

“It’ll be clean flavors, bigger portions and a paper menu that changes bi-weekly,” Harris said.

Add-ons this week at other locations included risotto with Maine lobster; linguini with shrimp; scallops in a spicy cherry tomato sauce; roasted salmon with braised lentils; and heart-shaped pizza and ravioli for Valentine’s Day.

Both Davanti and Mia will have a gluten-free menu and the option for whole-wheat pasta.

Mia Francesca’s space is much larger than Davanti, with warmly painted walls, glossy wood floors, a stamped metal ceiling and two large dining rooms with black and white photos and chandelier décor still to come. Harris wants Mia Francesca to be a casual, family atmosphere.

“I want people to feel like this is their neighborhood Italian place,” Harris said.

Harris is happy to be a part of Del Mar Highlands’ newly refreshed vision—his restaurants will be close to where — starting in March — live music will be offered outside in the plaza near Cinepolis. He said the Del Mar Highlands is really becoming a dining destination.

“Everyone in the country is talking about this mall,” Harris said of the restaurant and mixed-use center industry. “They’re coming here to see the prototype of what they did. They did a great job here.”

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