There is always something lost in translation, and in the case of Dante Alighieri’s Divina Commedia (“Divine Comedy”), it’s the connotations of commedia versus comedy. Although commedia (short for commedia dell’arte) like comedy refers to a style of theatre that more often focuses on humorous subjects (or depicts serious subjects humorously), the former term describes a highly specific, nuanced form of dramatic representation that uses certain props (e.g. masks) and stock figures in order to make a moral point. Thus, while Divino is, “divine,” the culinary presentation you will experience is more “comedic” in the Italian rather than American English sense. The restaurant incorporates all the standard fixtures of fine regional Italian cuisine such as risotto with locally-sourced seasonal ingredients such as quail to produce a menu that in combination with classic fine-dining service delivers this simple message: painstakingly prepared food deserves to be performed rather than simply served to patrons.
Because of its formal darkly lit interior with black paneling and white tablecloths, Divino has a reputation in some circles for being “stuffy” or “old-school” (in the pejorative). Eh, perhaps. If you’re looking for a super-casual spot for homemade pasta, go to the Rice Village gem that is D’Amico’s Italian Cafe; if you want to be able to have a relaxing yet dignified dinner featuring one-of-the-kind dishes (in Houston), Divino is for you.
These interesting menu options, though not universally unique in their own right, nevertheless demonstrate Divino’s commitment to innovating tradition…just slightly. See, for example, their starter cheese plate, which in other Italian restaurants might justifiably only showcase Mediterranean cheeses, but at Divino incorporates fromages made from Texas purveyors. Another lovely hybrid of local and global is the insalata invernale con gamberi e cavolo nero, a warm salad of tempered kale, radish, pickles, pancetta, and shrimp from the gulf. Similarly, Italian-American classic eggplant parmesan morphs into eggplant fritters at Divino, where the thinly sliced aubergine are sweetened via the addition of golden raisins, then battered and fried, and dressed with puttanesca sauce and flakes of ricotta salata.
Imaginative carbohydrate primi include the risotto with gulf shrimp, whose strong pesto flavor and lemon toasted breadcrumbs make you feel as if you’re devouring a spring garden by the sea. The house special “Emily’s Goat Cheese Ravioli” bathe in sage butter and are garnished with pinenuts and parmesan cheese. The delicate petite portions of this and other pasta like the sumptuous Bolognese tagliatelle leave you lusting for more, which is why you should go ahead and order a secondi. The current star of this portion of the menu is the tender grilled Texas quail with blushing Morello cherries and polenta; however, because Divino changes its menu with the seasons, when it comes to entrees, one day you’re in, the next you’re out.
Vinophiles will be pleased with the well-curated selection of wines and should try to pop by Divino on alternate Wednesdays each month, when the restaurant offers a pop-up wine shop and tasting featuring choice varietals significantly marked down.