Review: Caffe DaVinci

In every restaurant I’ve reviewed, no matter what the type, I’ve always tried to look at the positives. Maybe I’ve turned into an Italian food snob. Maybe I expected too much. But unfortunately, I was unable to find a single thing about this restaurant that I liked.

Caffe DaVinci is the next incarnation of the long-running DaVinci Ristorante, which operated at the corner of Reed and Henderson on the city’s northwest side for many many years, until the former funeral home it was housed in was knocked down and the entire corner it was located on was redeveloped to accommodate several new businesses. After a brief period of closure, the same owners opened Caffe DaVinci, a casual eatery in Upper Arlington. We had been to the previous restaurant a few times before for their buffet, which was decent, but never for their sit down menu.

When walking into the building, it isn’t immediately clear what you’re supposed to do next – i.e wait to be seated, go up to the counter to order, etc. so we asked an employee. It turns out that you order at the counter using overhead menu boards, and then they hand you a number which you bring to your chosen table (you seat yourself). When your order is ready, they’ll bring it out to you.

If I were smarter, I would have made a lot less assumptions of what a dish is supposed to be and actually taken the menu quite literally. You’ll see what I’m talking about soon.

Service was competent and pleasant, but not outstanding, although it was a different person every time they came up to us. Our only complaint with regards to the service is that there was absolutely no staging on the courses. Our salads came within a minute, and then within 5 minutes we had our appetizer and entrees as well. This may be a kitchen issue rather than service issue, though.

For an appetizer, we picked the Blue Cheese Chips ($6.95) – it was described as being potato chips with a blue cheese dressing, so I specifically asked, “by blue cheese dressing, do you mean an actual blue cheese salad dressing?” to which she responded “no, it’s chips with an alfredo sauce and then sprinkled with blue cheese and put under a broiler” – I really should have gone with my first impression because I’ll be damned if those chips weren’t covered with a salad dressing of some sort – hard to tell if it was blue cheese or Caesar dressing, but it had the unmistakable vinegary tang of dressing. And hot salad dressing is just gross. If that weren’t bad enough, in the spots where the salad dressing was ladled, it was overly salty to the point of being inedible. If I’m incorrect and that was in fact alfredo, I’m thanking my lucky stars I didn’t order an alfredo based dish, because I’ve had better out of a jar. The chips that weren’t covered with the dressing or blackened and burned weren’t too bad, though. Unfortunately, at almost $7 a pop, I want an appetizer of which I can eat more than half.

Blue Cheese Chips from Caffe DaVinci

If the appetizer left me that underwhelmed, then I died a little bit inside when I got my entree. I opted for the Risotto alla Milanese ($8.95). Correct me if I’m wrong, culinary types – but isn’t a risotto supposed to be made with arborio rice, take at least 30 minutes, and for a Risotto alla Milanese in particular, be a saffron based risotto? In my mind, I pictured a lovely (but perhaps small) serving of nicely al dente risotto with maybe a little meat sauce ladled over the very center and then sprinkled with a little freshly grated Parmesan. I should have known I was in trouble when it came out 5 minutes after I ordered it, and was red all over, and liberally covered with melted mozzarella. On first taste, I knew something was off. After closer inspection, I realized that this definitely was not arborio (arborio grains are not that long), and hell if I’m not unsure if it was even long grain rice at all – if you click on the picture below and look at the large one, you’ll see that the texture of the rice has the strange rat-bitten appearance of Minute Rice. Mushy Minute Rice at that. And the flavor was so overwhelmed by the red sauce that it was like eating meat sauce straight up. This dish was an insult to risotto. Hell, this dish was an insult to rice, period. This was easily one of the worst things I’ve eaten this year.

Risotto alla Milanesa from Caffe DaVinci

We also had higher expectations of Paul’s entree, the Chicago Style Meatball Pizza ($7.95), which turned out to basically a bread bowl filled with meatballs and sauce and topped with cheese. The outer dough was vasty undercooked, and the innards tasted almost exactly like my entree. The meatballs were good, though – I definitely wouldn’t call this dish a pizza by any stretch of the imagination, though.

Chicago Style Meatball Pizza from Caffe DaVinci

We chose to add a Pronto Side Salad ($3.95) to both of our entrees. While the flavor wasn’t bad, the vegetables and lettuces lacked freshness (the cauliflower, in particular, was black/brown in places), and we felt this was an extremely steep price for the quantity and quality of the salad.

Pronto Side Salad from Caffe DaVinci

Needless to say, we won’t be returning. And judging by reviews on Yelp and Urbanspoon, most people clearly like it – just can’t say that we’re among them. Whether it’s because we’ve had too much good Italian to pay for bad or that we ordered the wrong dish, we parted with too much of our hard earned money today for horrible food that I’m not willing to take that chance again.

If you’d like to go: Caffe DaVinci, 3080 Tremont Rd, Columbus, OH 43221, 614-459-9945

Caffe Davinci on Urbanspoon

14 thoughts on “Review: Caffe DaVinci

  1. terra

    wait… a risotto milanese with MEAT SAUCE and mozzarella? yeah, that is totally weird. and gross.

    thanks for taking the bullet for the rest of us!

  2. logicafe

    That did not look like "good eats". I had their buffet and mediocre pizza at the old location and was waiting till some strong souls tried out the Caffe. I have made minute rice with ragu jar spaghetti sauce (nothing to eat in the house and snowed in) and it looked exactly like the picture. Thanks for the honest reveiw.

  3. Julie

    It sounds like they were trying to do a knockoff of Northstar Cafe's blue cheese and alfredo chips, and failed really miserably. Like you, I try to find something good about every restaurant I go to– and it's somehow doubly depressing when you just can't. The risotto, in particular, looked awful. How hard is it to just use good ingredients simply?

  4. Paul Ferrara

    Well, count me as one of those folks who really likes it. On the other hand, I've never ordered the same items that you did. But everything that I've tried has been great including appetizers, lasagne, pasta, etc. I gave it five stars on Yelp.

  5. Susan

    Their eggplant is fantastic–love the bread and seasoned olive oil–that is self serve and unlimited. Great people that run the place–when I place an order to go they always offer a FREE beverage while I wait–that is unusual here in the grand Midwest–I am from New Orleans and that is customer service 101 down there…not knocking Columbus –love it but not for the food industry here..

  6. Brian

    I ate at the place on Henderson and was always underwhelmed, but this looks just wretched.

    Nothing hits the spot like burned potato chips covered in salad dressing…

  7. Katie

    Wow, I've gotta' get on here and defend the place! I worked about a block away from Caffe da Vinci for the past year and it was a frequent place for business lunches. They have always treated us incredibly well and the people/service was always fantastic. In fact, the restaurant has a reputation in Upper Arlington for being friendly, warm, and welcoming. In fact, the only complaint I've ever had is that it's so busy in the evenings that sometimes it's hard to find a seat.

    All of the food I've had here has been delicious, and I frequently tell people that it's the best gelato I've ever had in the United States, coming the closest to the real stuff in Italy. It has the right texture and consistency and they are generous with letting you taste the different flavors. Once when we were waiting for carry out, the owner offered us a few samples of gelato without us even asking, just as a courtesy while we waited.

    My favorite food here is the pizza, but I've always gotten the thin crust kind. I love it so much I chose it for my birthday dinner!! My friend ordered a sandwich once that was absolutely delicious, and I love their wedge and salmon salads.

    I would suggest giving a restaurant a second chance before giving it such a poor review, especially since you noted how well-liked it is by many people in the city. It sounds like an unusually bad experience for a place that I know to be so great!

  8. columbusfoodie Post author

    I try to be as honest as possible in my reviews, but the pictures speak for themselves as to the quality of the food that we were served, at least. We spent almost $40 there and left feeling ripped off. Usually I'll give places a second chance before writing a negative review, unless the food is SO bad that we'd rather gnaw our arms off than return. Unfortunately for us, DaVinci fell into this category. So I don't think we'll be back.

    I'm glad that you (and a few others) have had good experiences here – it means that they have a following that like their food and will stick around for a while (I hate to see just about any restaurant fail, especially in this economy). I'm not a fan, however.

  9. Dan D.

    Swampkitty – I love your blog, but I have to be on the side of the dissenters – I love Caffe DaVinci – their alfredo is not from a package or a bottle – it's actually quite light and tasty over their pasta – and their salsa rosa (combination of alfredo and marinara) is my favorite. Their pasta has bite and I've never seen a tired green in my DaVinci or my Pronto Salad. I can't vouch for the risotto – but given the restaurant's setup, i would not expect a 5 star risotto course. But it is reliable red sauce "mom and pop" Italian – just like the Carfagna's, the Milano's, and the Ciatola's – the old name Italian restaurants of Columbus. The gelato is tops as well …toasted pecan, hazelnut, and Donatella (nixed with Toblerone) are the best …

  10. Katie

    I know you want to/should be honest. I just feel like you must have gone on an off night or something. It's too bad, maybe try giving it a chance some other time and getting their thin crust pizza 🙂 Or at least some gelato! It's terrible that you felt ripped off, I feel like you missed out on the good things they have. But then again, I love a lot of food in this city that other people can't stand haha, and vice versa! I have never tried their risotto before, maybe I'll check it out sometime and let you know my thoughts. Risotto seems like a hit or miss dish at a lot of restaurants, it's hard to get the perfect texture.

    Also – I like your review of the Inn at Cedar Falls. Hocking Hills is one of my absolute favorite places to visit and the food there looked amazing!

  11. Susan

    I, too LOVE your blog but again really enjoy this restaurant and actually forgot about the gelato–Yum, that love giving samples!! We, the two of us, never have a bill over $20.00….drinks are always no bar bill for us at this restaurant…

  12. Amanda

    Just a correction for you….the restaurant is not owned by the exact people who owned the old DaVincis on Henderson….same family, but not entirely correct to say it's the same people.

    Also, I have to say, while this is certainly no 5 star italian fare, i think it serves its purpose…that is to serve "fast" italian food at an affordable price. Thanks.

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