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On Food: Famed Italian steakhouse opens in Irvine

Steve DiFillippo owns Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, which recently opened its 10th location, the first on the West Coast, in Irvine.
(Photo by Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, an East Coast concept, recently opened in Irvine, marking an expansion from the East Coast and Southeast into the bustling California market.

The 10,000-square-foot restaurant at 18420 Von Karman Ave. is tucked between the Irvine Towers high-rises near John Wayne Airport. The site was previously Prego Ristorante.

Davio’s is classically classy: white tablecloths, well-dressed staff. A 30-seat bar is in one corner, as is patio seating.

The brand as we know it today started in 1985 in Boston’s Back Bay. Owner Steve DiFillippo, a Boston University graduate who grew up cooking with his Portuguese mother and learned business acumen from his Italian father, bought the restaurant that year when he was 24. It achieved success, and now he and his wife own the nine other Davio’s locations, from Boston and Philadelphia to New York and Atlanta.

Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse opened its first West Coast location in Irvine recently, down the road from John Wayne airport.
(Photo by Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

In an interview, the fast-talking DiFillippo noted how Northern Italian fare differs from the Americanized and Southern Italian food with which many are familiar. For one, it’s a heavier cuisine, with more truffles and cream. It relies on more sauces too.

On the Davio’s menu — which serves brunch, lunch and dinner — expect handmade pastas, local seafood and appetizers like American Kobe beef meatballs, tuna tartare and the signature spring rolls with fillings like steak and cheese or buffalo chicken. (The spring rolls are popular to the degree that they can be found in grocery stores nationwide.)

Also notable on this menu, as the restaurant’s name suggests, is the steak. The Davio’s group buys from Brandt Beef in Brawley, located in California’s Imperial Valley. From there, it goes to an aging facility in Boston. For the Irvine restaurant, the steak is then sent back to California — a practice that makes it become, in effect, a 6,000-mile beef.

The 18 oz Ribeye at Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse comes from Brandt Beef in Brawley, located in California’s Imperial Valley.
(Photo by Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

During a recent visit, I tried the 18-ounce prime aged ribeye. Davio’s reputation doesn’t disappoint: expertly prepared, wonderfully aged, every bite going down easy.

I also tried the hand-rolled gnocchi and scallops — both excellent, though hard to compare with an expert steak with a 6,000-mile journey behind it.

Davio’s takes particular pride in its hospitality. DiFillippo’s book is titled “It’s All About the Guest: Exceeding Expectations in Business and in Life, the Davio’s Way.”

The company has perfected a customer tracking system.

“Guests love to be recognized,” DiFillippo says, “about what they like to drink, eat, what they like, servers they like. They might like their steak medium, but they really want it medium well ... it happens a lot.”

The restaurant gathers as much data as it can, storing it in a database shared by all Davio’s locations.

“Name recognition,” DiFillippo says. “It all goes back to ‘Cheers.’ ”

Even though he’s been at the restaurant game for more than 30 years, DiFillippo says, “I feel like I’m just getting started, I really do.”

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Bradley Zint is a contributor to Times Community News.