Picture exposed brick walls, stone foundation, and cozy velour booths framed in candlelight. Cue Frank Sinatra to croon “Night and Day”. You have entered Davide. Located at 326 Commercial Street, Davide is awash in the charms of days gone by when parents slow-danced by the fireplace, “Mad Men” wasn’t just the premise of a T.V. show, and the Rat Pack ruled Hollywood.
Stepping inside the exposed brick and oak interior, a sharply dressed waiter named Adrian hands you a menu as you slip into your booth. He regales you with tales of how he was trained by the chef and owner, Frank Gesualdi, how he was “broken down, and built up” in Frank’s image. While rattling off the night’s specials, and reciting the menu he has memorized in both Italian and English, Adrian lets you in on how all the pastas are hand-made, including the fusilli, which is individually rolled by Gesualdi’s mother. Giving you time to digest the multitude of anecdotes he has just given you, Adrian gives you a slight bow as he leaves you to ponder over the delectables in Davide’s repertoire.
The menu boasts a cornucopia of inspired dishes such as Gnocchi al Pomodoro e Basiliico, a perfect combination of rustic pasta topped with a light tomato and basil sauce, and Costoletta alla Valdostana, a veal chop stuffed with prosciutto and fontina cheese in a white wine sage sauce. These dishes alone are enough to make you come back for more but do make a point to try the unforgettable appetizers with a slight twist such as Involtini di Melanzane, paper thin sheets of roasted eggplant, rolled and stuffed with a creamy, well-balanced mixture of goat and ricotta cheeses, and the Fagottini ai Funghi di Bosco, a puff pastry purse bursting with wild mushrooms and fontina cheese drenched in a marsala thyme sauce. For the classicist who is willing to step outside of the box, dishes like the Anitra al Porto, pan-seared duck breast in a port wine and cherry brandy sauce will not disappoint.
As your waiter sets down the food, plentiful and steaming, the scent of quality and tradition that has gone into its preparation overwhelms your senses. The involtini’s tangy plum tomato sauce and creamy cheese blend balance ever so delicately on the palate. The fagottini feels like a crisp walk through a forest that ends in a cozy, warm cabin. The duck transports you to a Christmas dinner in Italy.
Owner and Chef Frank Gesualdi takes earnest pride in his food. He is humble and straightforward to the point of hilarity. He started his legacy at Davide as a busboy in the early ‘80s, picking up Sunday and Monday shifts so he could save enough money to “get a Saab.” Now a quarter century later, he boasts a AAA Five-Diamond Award, and Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence, “but still no Saab.” What began as a part-time job to earn some extra money has now turned into a passion to deliver simple, excellent food that lingers on the diner’s palate and mind.
With the clamor and hype that rule over the restaurants on Hanover and Salem Streets these days, one forgets that all it takes for a memorable meal is consistently great food, an inviting atmosphere, and an ever-gracious host. Simply put.
And just like Frank says: “That’s all good Italian food is. Simple.”