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Aug 19, 2006 06:19 AM

Dinner at Divino - A Mixed Blessing

This past Wednesday evening two of my friends and I finally went to Divino, the new incarnation of the Ralston Ave location in Belmont that was previously Bellago and (for those with longer memories) the Lemon Tree. Michael Bauer gave the place a pretty positive review last weekend.

Our visit was proof that even a good Bauer review can be a curse, if the management isn't prepared for the consequences.

It all started with the reservations. We had originally booked a table for 7:15, but when I realized I'd be on a later train, I had my friends call the restaurant at around 6 to let them know it would be 7:45. They were surprised to hear that there would be 'no problem' for us to be late. We quickly found out why. Earlier tables were still waiting to be seated. People were literally lined up out the door, and were being placated by glasses of wine.

Obviously, Bauer's review had done wonders to fill the place to capacity, but it appeared that a combination of poor planning and greed had resulted in massive overbooking. We waited more than an hour to sit down. And it also became clear that reservations didn't matter. They filled tables as they became vacant, with no regard as to who was there first.

The number of wait staff was not sufficient to handle such a large crowd. After we were seated, it took another 15 minutes to get our (mediocre and overpriced) wine, and appetizers on the table. We had a nice baccala and an heirloom tomato bread salad that suffered from too much olive oil and not enough vinegar. And when it was time for our main courses, our hapless and harried waiter came out with our dishes and realized that he hadn't cleared off the appetizer plates. We had to pile our own plates neatly, so he could whisk them away - on the shelf of the (unmanned!) reservation desk, on top of the phone book. We weren't impressed with that move.

The mains were more successful than the appetizers, but also uneven. One of my dining companions had a rustic pappardelle with a lamb ragout, which he called good but basic, and my other friend had a veal scaloppini with mushrooms that she described as OK. I lucked out with the fish of the day - a huge piece of halibut in a light but flavorful tomato sauce with olives and capers.

We didn't consider dessert, since it was almost 10 pm by the time we finished our meals. By then, of course, the place was less than half full.

We decided that we would probably go back...but not for a while. The kitchen is promising, but Divino has a lot to learn when it comes to coping with success.

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  1. What a difference a week makes! We went last Friday night (before the review) and the place was 1/2 empty most of the time we were there. No waits, of course, and service was very good. (But then, the waitstaff didn't have much to do.) Our food experience was better as well. Among the four of us, we had the panzanella, a mixed green salad, and a Caesar. The panzanella was the only miss of the group -- ironically, because it had too much vinegar (and I'm someone who could drink vinegar out of the bottle). Our entrees were the risotto of the day (saffron, with a drizzle of a fresh tomato sauce -- perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious), a pasta (penne?) with sausage, mussels (from the appetizer section of the menu),and a meat entree I'm forgetting. Plus the kitchen happily accommodated my mom's request for a lighter pasta dish than anything that appeared on the menu -- they asked her what she felt like eating (a light, tomato-based sauce) and they ended up making a simply sauced linguine, with some fresh tomato bits. Sort of a cross between a marinara and pasta pomodoro, but just what she wanted. Again, mine (the mussels) was the only one that wasn't a hit, but that's only because I like relatively small mussels that are on the "firm" side, and these were big, fat plump guys. (I need to learn my species one of thse days.) The broth was very tasty (nice to sop up with the bread), so I'm sure if you like this type of mussel, you'd be very happy with the dish.

    After seeing the Bauer review two days after dining there, I was worried about precisely the sort of problem the OP describes. Hopefully things will sort themselves out soon, because I had definitely planned to return.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mspea

      It doesn't at all surprise me that the risotto was a highlight, given that Divino is the new restaurant owned by the same folks as Bacco in SF (which happens to have some of the best risotto in SF, IMO)..

      check out this prior post with the info:

      I want to try Divino, but will give it some time to work out service kinks. Service is wonderful always at Bacco (and I have never, ever had to wait past my reservation time), so I imagine they will get it together. I am surprised to hear the OP say the wine was mediocre and overpriced: the all Italian wine list is a highlight of Bacco, I was hoping for something similar at Divino. Perhaps it was just not a good choice of bottles? (and if the servers were overworked, I could see it being problematic getting their recommendations, as I do at Bacco quite a bit)