in a storefront on a strip mall, El Divino stands at the intersection
of Chrisler and Altamont avenues, not far from exit 6 on I-890.
There are many diverse stores in this plaza, but this is the
only one thatís busy in the evening. Because the bar is popular,
the sidewalk was teeming with smokers when we arrived.
portions and familiar menu items reinforce the restaurantís
image of Italian family dining. There are Italianesque chains
that attempt to feel homey by surrounding guests with cans
of crushed tomatoes, jars of peppers and macaroni, or posters
of Mastroianni and Loren, but nothing works like a small sketch
of Frank Sinatra: something youíll find on the El Divino wall.
Chip Morrisonís make-it-from-scratch policy begins with the
first helping of bread. Itís a big hunk from an Italian loaf,
served alongside a dipping sauce so popular that the restaurant
bottles and sells it (along with a prized marinara).
servers hurried good-sized plates to and from tables. Ours
paused to describe specials and discuss the menu. Because
we paid a midweek visit, we were eligible for the Tuesday-through-Thursday
$10 special, which gets you chicken or eggplant parmigiana,
vodka rigatoni, or pasta with meatballs or sausage.
entrťes have a soup or salad option, and so it was with salads
that most of my party began the meal. Fresh, chilled greens
and homemade dressings made them better than average. If you
donít get a salad with the meal, itís $6; you can order a
Caesar salad for $9, or a large, cheese-and-pepper enhanced
Italian salad for $10.
include shrimp, either with cocktail sauce or wrapped in prosciutto,
fried calamari, clams casino, and sausage-stuffed mushrooms
($10-$13). Thereís a selection of soup and salads, including
a bowl of greens and beans thatís made to order ($9 or $12).
of greens and beans with the option for homemade sausage pushed
me over the edge. ďWe make this from scratch when itís ordered,Ē
warned the server. That was fine by me, and I asked for the
smaller of the two sizes. What emerged post-salads was the
larger serving. This was not exactly a hardship, because any
dish with the garlic presence this one sported is impossible
to stop eating.
of the day was an old, reliable vegetable beef, but it bore
the unusual characteristics of a thin, beefy stock with plenty
of mushrooms. The flavor enveloped the palate nicely.
near a ceiling-mounted speaker that was blasting a radio station
when we came in, but, before I could complain, a staffer decreased
the volume to talk-over level. Shortly thereafter, he inexplicably
raised it again. Then he lowered it again. He eventually achieved
the audible level he sought, but the journey was annoying.
Music aside, the restaurant generated enough conviviality
with the people assembled therein. No one was hollering from
table to table, but each party seemed to be having a good
enough time that conversation was flowing, and this forced
ours to take no exception.
out requires my family not only to come to terms with an array
of menu items but also to enjoy our time together. At the
end of a busy day, when we canít have a peaceful evening meal
at the home dinner table, dining out allows us to catch up
and make plans. Sometimes, too, the conversational subjects
at home and at a restaurant are surprisingly similar.
not planning to eat all of that?Ē my wife says, and
so Iím forced to confront my portion size. In the case of
my chicken parmigiana, it would not have been too much had
in not been preceded by salad, fresh bread, and beans and
greens. It was a classic cutlet, breaded and fried, topped
with sauce and melted cheese, served alongside a large nest
of angel hair pasta.
Susanís entrťe was a special: stuffed sole ($18). The stuffing
included a generous helping of shrimp in with the breading,
and the accompanying vegetables (a delicious combo of Brussels
sprouts and squash) were the tip-off that this was handmade
knows by now that thereís no buzz potential in a dish called
vodka rigatoni; I often add spirits to the meal at home and
call her into the kitchen to witness the resultant flame-show.
She enjoyed the unfamiliar (to her) combination of cream and
tomato that gives the sauce its color and flavor. It was,
again, a classic and nicely done.
dishes include linguine with clam sauce ($18), tortellini
and chicken Alfredo ($18), chicken or veal Milanese or Marsala
($16 or $18), lasagna ($14), filet mignon ($29) a NY strip
steak ($24) and seafood scampi or Fra Diavolo ($26 each).
there are specials. When I spoke with Morrison a couple of
days after our visit, he was preparing Cornish game hen stuffed
with sausage and cranberries, and osso buco in a port wine
kitchens have become rare, thus making El Divino all the more
unique. You wonít pay a fortune and there will be leftovers;
itís what dining at home is supposed to be about.