San Diego: A Burger Topped with Cheese Curds at Davanti Enoteca
1655 India St., San Diego, CA 92101
(map); 619-237-9606; davantisandiego.com
Cooking method: Grilled
Short Order: Big, tasty burgers with a lot going on (aioli, bacon jam, and griddled cheese curds)
Want Fries With That? Definitely. A mound of seasoned, super thin-cut fries come with the burger
Price: Davanti burger, $12 ($8 during happy hour, $15 at lunchtime, with a glass of wine or a beer)
Notes: Additional locations in Carmel Valley and Chicago's Little Italy
One dining trend I'm noticing is a lot of the new openings in San Diego are satellite locations of established restaurants, expanding from the East Coast, Europe, or other parts of California. Multiple burger chains have rolled into town, and upscale spots like Border Grill and Pizzeria Mozza are reportedly checking out available spaces. Davanti Enoteca, part of a Chicago-based empire (whose pizza was reviewed over on Slice) recently opened their second San Diego location in Carmel Valley, which was enough to jog my memory about their burger. It has a lot of upgrades, including one ingredient I've been scouring the city for: cheese curds.
The curds aren't the only exciting topping on the burger: instead of lettuce, it's got arugula, the tomatoes are confit, and the spread is a garlicky aioli. There's also a smear of bacon jam on the bottom bun, which is brioche. It's a complicated burger with a lot going on, but it all works.
You're going to have to give me a minute to gush over the curds. After trying every poutine in the city for a San Diego Magazine dining feature and coming up empty, I'd all but given up on finding the elusive ingredient. As much as I love a plate of poutine (so much), Davanti's application of cheese curds on a burger is equally good. The curds are formed into a makeshift patty on the griddle, then browned on both sides, so you get crisp spots on the outside and a melty, creamy interior. Curds are the marshmallows of the cheese world, so it only makes sense to "roast" them like this.
And it keeps getting better. From the sweet tomato confit and liberally applied bacon jam to the piquant aioli and peppery arugula, there is no bite that isn't a relentless assault of flavor. The patty was also delicious, with visible grill marks and a good amount of char, but still moist and juicy in the middle and cooked to my requested medium-rare. The beef was coarsely ground, loosely formed, and seasoned with just enough salt and pepper.
Brioche is usually a good bun choice, but this one was a little too sweet, particularly coupled with the bacon jam. A plain bun would be sufficient given all that's going on with the toppings. Still, Davanti's burger is one of the best I've had in a long time.
The fries reminded me Hickory Sticks, a beloved snack item from my homeland. The petite planks of potato are so thin cut that they're all about the crunch, and taste more like a deconstructed rösti than your standard french fries. They're also sprinkled with pepper, parsley, and porcini powder, which gives them an earthy flavor. From a texture and taste standpoint, the fries are great, but eating them was a little awkward. Grasping one fry at a time was tedious, and pinching a small handful of them felt clumsy (and I'm guessing would have been even more so if you wanted to make use of the ketchup). Still, it was worth the effort. Maybe using a fork is the answer.
Even at the regular price ($12) the burger and fries at Davanti is a steal, but you can get the meal even cheaper at happy hour ($8), or grab a burger and fries at lunchtime for $15 (with a beer or glass of wine). With all of that bacon jam, cheese, and aioli, the more time you give yourself to digest it, the better. This isn't a burger you want to eat right before bed.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her newly-launched San Diego food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax