Reviews: Davanti Enoteca and Henri

MAGIC AND MYSTERY: Exploring the fine line between a winning restaurant and a disappointing one: a culinary conundrum

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Henri, a polished newcomer from the people behind The Gage, serves a side of amaranth, an iron-rich grain that you might find in health food stores. Henri’s is thick, porridgy, and mellow—like quinoa on Valium—and the fact that it’s even on the menu is impressive. But my group left it 75 percent uneaten. That sums up my feelings about Henri: I’m glad it exists, and I admire it, but I’m not in a hurry to try it again.

Billy Lawless has poured a lot of energy and money into his French-inspired venture next to The Gage, and he has taken pains to distinguish it from its boisterous neighbor. All the details are in place, from the biodynamic and organic wine program to the sharp bartender and impeccably groomed staff. The intimate chocolate-toned dining room awash in silk, leather, and velvet exudes the kind of effortless elegance that is rare nowadays. “We’re going for a vintage salon feel,” says Lawless, and this gorgeous room nails it.

Henri’s pricey menu feels like a throwback, too. The chefs, The Gage’s Dirk Flanigan and Christopher Cubberley (the latter a former personal chef to Martha Stewart, which must be the most thankless job on earth), know when to blow the dust off fuddy-duddy fare like beef Wellington, turning it into lobster Wellington with foie gras. They also know when to leave a tender classic alone, like the buttery Dover sole meunière. Some of the modern options coming out of the new kitchen downstairs are pretty good—even dazzling, such as the crisp-skinned, honey-glazed duck breast with duck-confit-stuffed Swiss chard and dense Concord grape reduction.

So why does this restaurant leave me lukewarm? Whether understated by design or simply misguided, much of Henri’s menu falls flat. The bland celery purée with leeks and whitefish and the roasted Florida snapper with poached tomatoes and Parisian potatoes were more muted than a mime convention. I found the stone-oven pissaladières (southern France’s version of pizza) depressing with their overcooked out-of-season vegetables.

Pacing problems don’t help, nor do the little chinks in the armor that surface when you press the staff. When we asked a manager what the fruit part of the fruit au crème was (raspberries and rum-soaked pineapples, it turns out), he blanked. “This is what happens when you manage two restaurants,” he said, disappearing to find our answer. I’m not demanding encyclopedic knowledge, but if you’re going to charge $75 for a slow-roasted lamb for two, know your menu. The last thing you want is for a customer to walk out of your restaurant with a hole in his pocket and an indifferent shrug.

THE SKINNY

DAVANTI ENOTECA
1359 W. Taylor St.; 312-226-5550
FYI Ninety percent of the wood in the room is 180-year-old refurbished barn wood; 180 years is also how long your wait for a table feels.
TAB $25 to $35 HOURS Lunch, dinner daily

HENRI
18 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-578-0763
FYI Loved the wee crudo of Hawaiian tuna with crisp shiitakes and creamy salted pineapple vinaigrette—a gouge at $15, but a delicious one.
TAB $60 to $75 HOURS Lunch Mon–Fri, dinner nightly

Tabs do not include alcohol, tax, or tip.

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