April 29, 2019 | BITE: My Journal
Il Divo: Dinner with the Gentry

I can watch the Second Avenue traffic through the glass wall behind our table.

           Sitting at this tiny table in Il Divo, celebrating Valentino and eating tagliolini, I feel transported from my everyday existence. Sweeping through the velvet curtain is like entering another world. I try to imagine Il Divo nested across town on the Upper West Side and I cannot. It’s too proper, too charmingly faux vintage, with striped wallpaper by Ralph Lauren evoking the look of an Upper East Side apartment.


Il Divo is a small room with seats for 50 and when it’s full, it’s very full.

Reading the names of the dishes in Italian on the menu excites wonderful memories of summers in Tuscany.

           There are crystal vases on the étagère next to us, and collectibles inside, like the oyster forks with miniature playing cards on the handles that I covet. But it is not comme il faut to contemplate theft on this side of town.

           “I’m Christian, the manager,” says Christian the manager, slipping into our tight little space against the window. “How is everything?”

“Domestic lamb chips,” the menu says. Three of them served with potato chips for $49.

           “Wonderful,” we assure him. “We're sharing the lamb chops,” (‘marinated in citrus and rosemary’ according to the menu.) “The vegetables are very good too,” says my niece Dana. At $48, it’s an extravagent choice, served with potato chips.

           “But the music is too jumpy for this elegant room,” I announce. “You need soft jazz or Frank Sinatra.”

Photographs of Rudolph Valentino, Il Divo, cover the back wall.

Insalata meneghini: asparagus, orange, arugula, taggiasca olives and raspberry dressing.

           “It’s Pandora,” he says of the insensitive music system that seems to play what it chooses. He smiles. A minute later, there is Sinatra singing “Fly Me to the Moon.”

           Not everything is as brilliant as oyster forks with the King of Hearts on top or instant Sinatra. But this is my third dinner at Il Divo and most everything is good or very good and feels special because the room is so charming, the clientele somewhat upper crust, and the back wall is covered with photographs of Valentino.

A restful pause for the staff between waves of Upper East Siders claiming tables.

           Owners Antonio Sinesi and Claudio Della Monica of Al Valentino, the fashion world’s Milano hangout, could not transfer the name to New York, so they came up with Il Divo. Chef Matteo Limoli, late of Il Mulino Tribeca, runs the kitchen.

At the table next to the bar expect intimate collisions and overcoat whiplash.

Red tuna ceviche is a $27 antipasti but two of us will share it.

           The first night I came our table got excessive abuse from the crowd three deep at the bar, but I was pleased sharing red tuna ceviche and the meneghina salad, a toss of asparagus, orange and arugula with taggiasca olives that salted the raspberry vinaigrette.

Roasted sea bass fillet in a Chardonnay sauce comes with zucchini salad.

           I choose gnocchi drowning in a rich gorgonzola cheese sauce as my main course for just $19 from a roster of pastas priced up to $59 (for the lobster noodle special). We’re sharing, of course, as always. My companions are eating roasted seabass in a chardonnay sauce with zucchini and wonderfully fatty stewed veal cheeks alongside broccoli sautéed with anchovy.


Stewed veal cheeks are served alongside sautéed broccoli with anchovy sauce.

Wild berry Macedonia with pastry cream and almond crumble will be a dessert for three.

           My friends are thrilled to find this spot so close to their East Side digs. They are ambivalent about dessert – most everyone is these days regardless of zip code -- but I insist, choosing the wild berry salad with pastry cream and almond crumble.


Eggplant parmesan “as a tradition” the menu promises poetically. Eggplant fans will know what that means.

Rice and tomato croquettes remind me of suppli bought years ago in the train station at Rome.

           I return with another set of East Siders who order “a perfect Manhattan twist, ” perfect, of course, and Pinot Grigio by the glass. The table against the windows is more sheltered. We’re trading plates tonight so I get to taste my own rich eggplant parmigiana (“as a tradition,” the menu says), the rice and tomato croquettes on cauliflower purée, and burrata with mixed greens, grilled peppers in bagna cauda, and crunchy croutons.

A mix of greens, grilled peppers, croutons and bagna cauda accompany creamy burrata.

Bacon-wrapped scallops sit in chickpea bisque with microgreens and fresh ricotta cheese.

           There are three scallops wrapped in caramelized bacon, and cod Livornese style to share also, plus my own ricotta-stuffed agnolotti with branzino and seafood sauce. I’m no longer surprised that dinner here averages $100 a person.


Sauteed Brussels sprouts come with the cod Livornese-style, with fresh oregano and olives.

I’m not a kale lover, but I feel a craving for salad. Here it’s kale with pinoli, raisins, red onion and grana.

           My niece and I are rarely alone at dinner, so I find it a treat being just two last week. I’m not a kale fan but pine nuts, raisins, red onions, grana cheese and balsamic dressing are good camouflage for the normally dreaded green. Steamed spinach, grim and serious, obscures the sweet lushness of buffalo mozzarella.


The pasta special of the day is lobster tagliolini, priced at an ambitious $59.

On an early spring evening, you get a view inside Il Divo while you contemplate the bar crowd.

           But the rich creaminess of lobster tagliolini and the lamb chops put me in a happier mood. I decide not to be upset that the pasta is $59 and the three chops $49 since it is already clear that with cocktails and wine, dinner will cost $100 each anyway. The food may not be great but it’s good, and the servers smile a lot as they stop by to check your blood pressure. I like feeling I’m a tourist on vacation in this quarter. I’m sure if I drank more, I’d be a pleasanter person.

Our taxi from the wilds of the Upper West Side delivers us to the urban charm of Il Divo.

1347 Second Avenue at 71st Street. 212 380 8164. Starting May 5, open Monday through Saturday from noon to 11 pm. Bar opens at 2:30 pm. Outdoor seating coming soon.

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