901 A. St.
San Rafael, Calif.
Contemporary Italian Cuisine
Located in the heart of downtown San Rafael, Il Davide is one of the leading Italian restaurants in Marin County. Founded in 1995, David Hayden was determined to bring a different culinary experience to the county, rather than the classic Toscano-style restaurants he was surrounded by. His mission was to create a unique, flavor-filled menu with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. “I wanted to reconstruct the classic Italian dishes to the Il Davide-style,” says Hayden.
Il Davide offers a fine dining experience in a modern atmosphere with a relaxed neighborhood feel. It was highly recommended by a regular, Victoria, who tells me that famed film director George Lucas, is often seen dining there. Alex and I arrived on a Saturday night just before 6 p.m. and the place was already humming with business. We waited in line as Hayden, proprietor, greeted guests with a wide, warm smile. He appears never too busy to welcome them.
Our server for the evening is Francisco Vasquez. When I remark about the number of diners already there, he mentions they have 150 reservations for the evening. The patrons are mostly local, but according to Vasquez, it’s also a popular spot for Santa Rosans, who take the train to San Rafael. The wine list is extensive and offers a selection of Californian and Italian wines. We begin with a glass of 2016 Vermentino from Nuraghe Sardegna, which is crisp and bright, poured by another server, Kristi Campbell. When Hayden inquires about our preferences, we ask him to lead the way. He suggests we begin with an assortment of small plates.
The first plate to arrive is the gamberi pancetta—grilled pancetta-wrapped prawns, served on a generous puddle of Cajun beurre blance sauce with a grilled polenta cake. Elegantly plated, the gamberi is a study in contrasting flavors and textures—bright, smoky, creamy and crisp. A great appetizer to share with another, but one you’ll be tempted to eat on your own. Next, we tried the torta di porri, a garlic-infused custard leek-and-mushroom tart with a sweet crust and truffle oil. Light and savory, the torta is manna from heaven. Though it was taken off the menu, Vasquez says, it was recently brought back to the menu. “David loves to rotate the menu, but only does a couple items at a time.”
After two small plates, it’s easy to understand why regular diners are disappointed when a favorite is rotated off the menu. The final small plate is the polpette, rustic meatballs made with spicy sausage and grass-fed beef, smoked mozzarella and tomato sauce so fresh you’d think the tomatoes were picked that morning.
For the next course, the insalata, we sample two—the classic Cesare, which is everything you want in a Caesar salad (crisp romaine in a lemony-garlic anchovy dressing) and the insalata amaro an inventive blend of shaved fennel, radicchio, cabbage, candied walnuts and pecorino cheese. A great alternative, if you want to try something different.
For the main course, we each sip on a glass of bubbly, which pairs well with the special of the night—sea bass with a beautiful crisp, served with a Dijon citrus sauce over polenta and asparagus and topped with fresh sunflower sprouts. The Sea Bass is cooked to perfection and is light, bright and delicate. We enjoyed it along with another small plate, the tortelloni funghi porcini, which once won a judged chef competition as well as the People’s Choice award at a charity event in Mill Valley. Filled with black truffle porcini mushroom and tossed with black truffle cream, this is a dish that is woodsy and savory.
It’s hard to pass on dessert at Il Davide. We shared the butterscotch pots de crème and the flourless chocolate cake—rich and decadent, they were the perfect ending to an exquisite meal. Next time you’re in San Rafael, try Il Davide for a spectacular dining experience where each dish is beautifully executed, and the service is impeccable. I promise you’ll want to linger there and celebrate good food and wine any day of the week. For special occasions, there’s a room for private parties where you can plan a special event for up to 40 guests. Il Davide always has room for walk-ins, too, making it one of the unique fine dining experiences that has managed to retain its casual neighborhood feel. You may have to wait, but I guarantee it’s worth the wait.
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