The first thing I notice as I turn off Florida Avenue to park in the lot at the rear of Domani Bistro & Lounge is a huge pile of garbage. Black bag upon white bag like some old photo in 3-D, nearly blocking the view of the restaurant’s dumpster. I don’t work in waste management, but something is clearly amiss. Either the container is too small, or the pickup is not frequent enough. They’ve only recently opened, so this can be fixed, but it’s not an appetizing starter.
The entrance is at the back of the building as well — through an odd 2x4 fence that seems more appropriate for a BBQ joint than for the elegant, clean lines of the interior, with its dark wine-colored walls and a ginormous silver fork and spoon adorning one side. With all the attention to detail on the inside, I can only conclude that the entry is a work in progress.
A bubbly, knowledgeable server welcomes us with a big smile, erasing the initial impression and delivering a plate of chewy focaccia and a smart square plate of herbed olive oil to begin our culinary journey. Since I’ve been having great luck lately with flatbread, I decide to try what ends up being just a rectangular Margherita pizza with “house-pulled mozzarella.” I always think of flatbread as being crisper than pizza, but this really is more pizza-like. It looks pretty, but it’s kinda bland. The dough is ordinary and even the basil seems boring. Not inedible, but nothing like the exemplary flatbreads cited in last week’s Best of the Bay.
The tuna crudo also suffers from a lack of punch. It arrives at the table looking very sharp, topped by a sunny-side-up quail egg, whose yolk drips down to add extra lushness to the tuna. But where is the acidity to bring the flavors alive? The sriracha doesn’t register at all, and the sauce gribiche can’t make up for the zip that should be integral to the dish.
Almost all of the food looks really beautiful on the plate, but the flavors in many cases just don’t measure up to the lovely presentations. But this can be fixed; the concepts reflected by the menu are sound.
One dish that’s right is the Sambuca mussels: they are wonderful in a light, creamy tomato sauce where the anise notes of the liqueur stand out, but don’t overwhelm. However, for some odd reason, there’s a smoked salmon garnish at the center of the bowl that isn’t necessary and even seems out of place; these mussels are succulent on their own and don’t need any help.
I haven’t quite figured out what happened to the exotic-sounding “honey lavender Thai chili duck confit.” While the herbed couscous and tiny haricots verts garnish are nicely done, the main event is more reminiscent of finely shredded pulled pork than chunks of an unctuous confit. Since “confit” is in quotes, perhaps this is a riff on the classic French technique, which relies on a prolonged burial under duck fat. At any rate, the layers of flavor promised on the menu don’t arrive prominently on the plate.
The grilled salmon is a handsome presentation. Beautiful grill marks reflect the luscious smokiness of the fish, which is presented atop a stack of tasty panisse (chickpea fries) with pea tendrils and hibiscus reduction.
The housemade goat cheese ravioli is nicely al dente, but the delicate chèvre is overwhelmed by the thick tomato sauce. Perhaps that’s because Americans like their red sauce, but I’ve been converted by the Italian preference for lightly saucing pasta, especially ravioli, so that the filling has a chance to shine.
That same question of balance arises with the crab, asparagus and lemon zest risotto. There is something in this combo that reminds me, and the other guests with whom I share, of canned tunafish instead of crab. Crab is such a delicate crustacean that the asparagus and lemon overwhelm it so that the flavors are out of sync.
The bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin is the most successful entree of the ones we tried. The apple dijon gastrique balances the richness of the pork with some sweet and sour tang. Traditional spaetzle and some spinach fill out the plate.
A lemon tart arrives neatly and completely covered with fresh blueberries, but the curd is simply overwhelmed by the bold granola fig crust. Perhaps if the lemon were really assertive it could work, but this one needs to be rethought.
And thus I fear that the white wine poached Asian pear with orange, star anise, pink peppercorn and the odd Indo-Italian combo of curried Mascarpone will suffer the same fate, but I am dead wrong. This culinary trip around the world is an unexpected and magic fusion; just be sure that you combine all the elements in each bite.
The menu often reaches for exciting, unusual flavor combinations that just need more tweaking and/or simplifying to be sure that each ingredient plays a distinct part in the symphony of taste. And when that time comes, Domani’s will be a contender.
Here is a link to the new shot menu! Go grab some! http://bit.ly/16A7PlK
Not one for beer, I'll vouch for Eric the cook. I tend to get the…
Awesome job B.T.G.. Can't wait to get out to Florida to try it. I'm down…
My Happier Son!