Tuesday, May 18, 2021
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Fort Worth

Food & Wine: Avanti is just warming up

Avanti Ristorante – Fort Worth

150 Throckmorton St.

www.avantirestaurants.com

After 27 years as a mainstay on McKinney Avenue in Dallas, where little has changed over the decades, co-owner Ameen Malek decided to bring his popular Avanti Ristorante to downtown Fort Worth.

The new offspring bears little resemblance to the original. “Ameen gave me free rein in the design process. So I gave a definite nod to the classic red umbrellas and signature color scheme on the patio, but inside I went in a completely different direction,” said co-owner Amy Lowe.

Where Avanti Dallas has dim lighting, dark woods and snug ceilings, Avanti Fort Worth makes the most of the volume, light and a wall of windows facing the eye-catching patio at downtown’s City Place.

Two City Place will soon become a major draw “Off-Sundance” when three additional restaurant chains finally open their doors. This gleaming and glassy venue has had a lot of construction delays that have postponed the opening of Avanti’s neighbors just across the breezeway. When both Wild Salsa and Chop House Burgers do eventually open, their busy outdoor patios will join the chorus and add to the fun and somewhat secluded atmosphere of this relaxed and walkable area.

Then there is the looming arrival of another restaurant chain around the corner that many feel might spoil the upscale, modern ambience (#hootergate, #theregoestheneigborhood). Perhaps Avanti, Wild Salsa and Chop House Burgers should all include a messy pile of nachos and a signature chicken wing dish of their own, to welcome the impending onslaught of Hooter Girls next door.

But until the other surrounding restaurants finally open, Avanti’s dining room and patio are enjoying the quiet and serenity.

The attractive bar area is separated from the main dining room by an ingenious high-backed, central, tufted banquette. But the bar was filled (as was the spacious patio) with cocktail-lovers taking advantage of the extra-long appetizer selection and sharing small plates when we visited on a recent Friday evening.

The stuffed mushrooms ($8) are meaty white button mushrooms overflowing with spinach, salty prosciutto and Parmesan cheese. The tasty dish was painted with both béchamel and marinara sauces adding flavor. Other appetizers to try include the herb-crusted calamari fritti and the Pernod steamed mussels with shallots and garlic.

Along with several pasta dishes, such as three-cheese spinach lasagna and tagliatelle Bolognese, there are a number of main courses worth exploring. The chicken limone ($19) is a filling dish. The base is a mound of mashed potatoes with dill, topped with two thinly pounded and delicate chicken breasts that have been lightly floured and pan fried. The sauce is a chardonnay and citrus reduction with an appealing yellow hue, tossed with large caper berries. I loved the fork-tender chicken, thought the potatoes were lacking salt, but the briny capers made up for it.

The nightly special seemed too good to pass up. The halibut special ($35) had a similar presentation with a side of broccoli and mound of mashed dill potatoes, but it was topped this time with a generous portion of halibut. You could really taste the finely ground macadamias in the crust imparting their nutty and buttery signature. The flaky, clean-tasting halibut was very well prepared. The dish was sauced with a mild garlic cream and topped with two large grilled shrimp.

Along with an authentic tiramisu, you will occasionally find the chef has prepared a molten chocolate cake. But one of the new additions to the Fort Worth iteration of Avanti is a cheese board, which can be ordered for an appetizer or dessert. The display comes with three cheeses, dried fruit, nuts and a slice of honeycomb.

The patio is lit by string lights swaying in the breeze, while five large wire chandeliers grace the dining room. The space is grounded by industrial concrete, but the acoustics are saved with additional sound-proofing around the two-story-high ceilings. The flow continues into a private dining room beyond. Lowe created a space that is both dramatic and serene and hopes that once customers venture past downtown’s hustle and bustle, they will find an oasis at City Place.

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