Restaurateur Steve DiFillippo may not be as well known as Lidia Bastianich, Thomas Keller or Drew Nieporent, but he's certainly on his way. In addition to his Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse restaurants in Boston, New York, Philadelphia in Atlanta, he's got new ones opening in Los Angeles, King of Prussia and an undisclosed location in Massachusetts.
If you haven't yet had a chance to dig into Davio's signature dishes or top cuts of beef, you may have sampled Davio's savory cheesesteak spring rolls—found at your local supermarket. He's also an author (his book "It's All About The Guest" was published in 2014). We sat down with the native Bostonian for a chat, for some pointers on what travelers can see and do in his home town.
What are your must-do experiences for visiting Boston?
The first thing I always tell people when they come to Boston is go to the top of the Prudential Center. The first thing you do. The reason I say that is so you can really get the feeling of what Boston is; it's so small. You go up there [the Pru] and you can see that you can walk from the Back Bay down to Faneuil Hall and the waterfront. You can just kind of walk around. If you don't [visit the Pru], then you don't really get a sense of the city. You can really see all the [city's] sides from the top. You can see South Boston, the airport, the Charles River. It's something to do first-thing. And, then, you have to do Boston Duck Tours. I think a duck tour is just so great. It's funny. It's educational. You really get a sense of what's going on in town.
What do you like to do personally?
Everything. I went to Boston University. This is where I live. This is where I grew up. I know Boston really well. Even though I'm in all these other cities, Boston will always be home to me.
Is there a particular neighborhood that you enjoy exploring?
There are so many good neighborhoods. There's the North End. You walk around to all the Italian spots. Then you go over to Harvard Square. People kind of forget Cambridge is part of Boston, even though they might not act it. So it is fun to walk around Harvard Square. There's so much to do there. Then obviously, there's Newbury Street. If you come to Boston and don't walk down Newbury Street, you really miss Boston.
Since you're an avid runner, tell us your thoughts on Boston's best spot for a run?
The Charles River. What's great about the river is, if you run the whole thing, the big huge loop, I think it's eight or 10 miles. But, you can do shorter runs because there are bridges every once in awhile. You can run over that bridge, and then swing over by the Museum of Science. You can do three miles if you want. It's very flexible. It's really safe, there are a lot of other runners, there's kids, there's dogs. It's just unbelievable. You know, I'm very fortunate: I go to New York, I run along the Hudson; in Philly, I run along where the boathouses are. I run anywhere, but Boston, there's just nothing like it.
If you could somehow dine incognito at your own restaurant, what would you order?
We have these spring rolls that we've become very famous for—they're in 4,000 stores around the country—so I've got to start off with our spring rolls. Then, our gnocchi are hand-rolled; usually they would do them with a light sauce like with a mushroom sauce, but I would actually have it with Bolognese sauce. Then I would have the rib eye, because the rib eye is a little bit more fatty that a sirloin, but it has a lot more flavor. It's my favorite thing. I would have broccoli rabe with it, because I'm trying not to eat potatoes right now. Plus, you can't have pasta and then potatoes, because that's really cheating. Then I've got to end it with our chocolate cake, warm chocolate cake that is just crazy how good it is. And, also, our panna cotta. Those are my favorite desserts.
Best piece of advice you can give travelers on how to approach dining in an unfamiliar city?
Preparation. Just don't show up to a city and walk over to the concierge at quarter of seven and ask for a seven o'clock reservation. It just amazes me. Business travel is probably last-minute, but most leisurely diners know they're coming to the city. Go talk to people, talk to your friends, read magazines. You really need to prepare a little bit, see what's out there and that will help you make your decision.
Your top three food cities anywhere in the world?
I think you've got to start with New York. New York is hard to even comprehend. In Boston, we feel like we are always second to New York. We're not even close—we're like a hundred to New York. New York has got so many different international restaurants. The difference between Boston and New York are the people. They have all these different people that we don't have. They have to take care of these people. They have to accommodate food from all over the world. If we did all these crazy types of food in Boston, we'd never be able to survive. That's the difference. You've got to say Paris. It's just so cool. Sitting in those outdoor cafes. There's something special about it. Being Italian, I like to go to France. And, the third place I would have to say it's got to be Italy somewhere. Tuscany. I like to go there. I've been there many, many times. Go on a wine tour to Tuscany. Go to the Brunello area and you go to these restaurants that just blow your mind.
I'm sure you can't get away from your restaurant empire for long, but when you do, where is your favorite place to visit?
St. Barths. St. Barths is the greatest place in the world. It's a French territory, they have Euros, so it's very expensive. But, you've got the weather, you've got the shopping, you've got the restaurants. It has beaches, it has people. It's just perfect. It's the perfect place to go. It's Nantucket in the Caribbean, but bigger and a lot more to it. We go a couple times a year.
Where are you traveling to next?
I go to all the cities I work in, but we've been thinking about what we are going to do for Christmas, and I don't know yet.