Add another foodie feather in the cap of Seminole Heights.
Domani Bistro brings the neighborhood’s restaurant renaissance a bit further north. At the corner of North Florida Avenue and East North St., Domani is five blocks north of the Front Porch Grille & Bar and 13 blocks north of The Refinery.
Parking, always at a premium on this busy street, is actually ample for Seminole Heights and around the back. However, expect to park on the street unless you have an early dinner, such as we did.
Entry to the restaurant also is in the back. You walk past a large outdoor seating area that was empty on a hot and muggy recent Saturday night. We arrived early without reservations and were greeted warmly by a hostess. Although we didn’t have a problem getting a table, by 7 p.m. the dining room was full. It’s recommended if you are dining after 6:30 p.m. you call ahead to reserve a spot.
The restaurant boasts a midsize dining room, large enough so you feel a part of the crowd, but small enough so you can easily find the bathrooms. A separate lounge area has a good-size bar, about five tables and room for live music. Two screens pleased the majority of Hillsborough County baseball fans by offering the Tampa Bay Rays game and the New York Yankees game.
The dining room is chic yet comfortable, with vermillion walls adorned with original artwork, white clothed tables and light wood chairs spread comfortably apart.
The service is outstanding, with water glasses filled often, knowledgeable servers and prompt delivery of food and beverages.
Still, as can occur at any popular mid-size local restaurant on a Saturday night, the kitchen ran out of rack of lamb and the bar ran out of the house sangiovese. But the server suggested satisfying alternatives for both.
The menu is concise, with about a dozen entrees, yet diverse enough to suit most tastes. Although it has an Italian flair, it’s not a chianti bottle candleholder type Italian menu.
All tables are served complimentary fresh, warm focaccia with arugula pesto. Even so, a must try is the Rolled Grapes appetizer, which includes 10 plump red grapes coated in a soft Brie cheese and then rolled in pistachio pieces. It’s an excellent example of the yin and yang of creamy crunchy and salty sweet.
For the salty without the sweet, try the Salmon Crudo, which is a tartare of diced salmon mixed with tomato and pickled purple onion. It’s served with homemade crustini and a smear of a spicey sriracha and a creamy kim chee aioli.
For entrees we recommend the Spaghetti and Meatballs, because that’s the test of any Italian restaurant. Domani did not disappoint. The meatballs were large and filling without being too dense, with a lemon zest that proved a surprisingly good addition.
We also ordered the chef’s special of fennel risotto with beef tenderloin tips accented with a drizzle of red hibiscus reduction. It was comfort food at its best.
For dessert we were so glad we ordered the crème brulee. The velvety custard under the crunchy topping was riddled with flecks of vanilla bean.
Domani Bistro is a welcome addition to a quickly transforming Florida Avenue (or, at least, it seems quick to those of us who knew Florida Avenue back when). The north-of-downtown neighborhood is becoming a destination for people from all parts of the Bay area. Still, we hope it doesn’t lose its neighborhood charm.