Wine list is vast and food shows glimmers of excellence
AT A GLANCE
Divino Wine Bar
Where: 1590 Commercial Dr.
When: Open for lunch and dinner, Monday to Saturday
Overall: Rating 3
Food: fRating 3
Ambience: fRating 3
Service: Rating 3Price: $$
Restaurant visits are conducted anonymously, and interviews are done by phone. Reviews are rated out of five stars.
$: Less than $50 for two before tip and tax
$$: $50 to $100
$$$: more than $100
There’s a lot of energy, ambition and earnestness wrapped up in this restaurant that ventures into upscale dining on Commercial Drive. The intent is fine dining, but it’s more bistro, which is good because the charm of Commercial Drive is its proletarian nature.
But then again, Divino Wine Bar’s extravagant once-a-month Bordeaux and Burgundy dinners, featuring prized vintages, are sold out until September, and for $300 to $400 a meal, this is not the Commercial Drive I know.
“I think Commercial Drive has been waiting for this,” says David Fert, the manager and sommelier.
Who knows? Maybe it takes a newbie. Fert arrived in Vancouver last year, lured by a “beautiful girl from Vancouver” he met working as restaurant and wine director at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Austria.
Once here, he decided to check out Divino, curious about the “wine bar” aspect. “I looked at the wine list and said, ‘Sorry, this is not a wine bar.’ “
Before he knew it, owner Ted Grippo hired him. In turn, Fert hired Jefferson Alvarez who’s trained in some esteemed kitchens in North America and Spain. As a teen, he worked at Centro, one of Toronto’s crown jewels. He went on to work at Canoe, another stellar spot. He did stages at Morimoto (run by Japanese and American Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto), Susur Lee’s restaurants and at two-Michelin starred Restaurant Arzak in Spain.
This August, he’ll do a two-week stage at El Poblet, an avant-garde Spanish restaurant.
Divino’s wine list is deep and vast, with nice hits from small B.C. wineries, forgoing big hitters such as Mission Hill.
The food shows glimmers of the excellence the chef is striving for. He offers a five-course tasting menu with wine for $75 and will cook off-menu with some regulars. He makes his own cured meats for the charcuterie menu and changes it up constantly.
On my visits, cocoa-braised bison short ribs were exquisite; Arctic char, seared to a golden crust, was served with a lobster-studded potato salad (delicious); musk-ox with mushroom bread pudding was tender; tuna sashimi with spicy aioli could use a sharper presentation but featured good-quality, fresh tuna.
But not every dish sang. Arepa (a dish from Alvarez’s native country, Venezuela) was leathery and required much sawing with my knife.
But most disappointing, a dish of seasonal spot prawns were mushy. The heads hadn’t been removed. (If heads are on too long after they die, enzymes in the stomach turn the flesh mushy unless they’re treated chemically, as the Japanese do.)
Desserts vary. Pineapple ginger cake with vanilla gelato underwhelmed, but an apple strudel with gelato showed great pastry-making skill. It was served hot, and my partner and I waged war over it.
The room is casual (a TV in the corner is shorthand for that) and is filled with the ease of locals coming in for drinks or a meal. I really wish they’d remove the annoying footless champagne glasses from the tables; they sit, bouquet-like, with stems inserted in a base.
Fert is not only sommelier and manager, he waits tables as well, engagingly, and with quiet aplomb.
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