I must confess, I have never been one for Italian food. Much to the dismay of my pasta-loving girlfriend, who enjoys any combination of carbohydrate and red sauce, I’ve never been a pasta guy. Perhaps I am haunted by all the minimum wage paychecks I blew taking dates to Macaroni Grill throughout my teen years, because for a 16-year-old, Romano’s Macaroni Grill as the height of luxury.
I have been through the floors of Eataly in LA. I have purchased canoli in Little Italy in New York. I have had good pasta, expensive pasta, ragu pasta and tourist trap pasta (it’s like ragu pasta, but you just add “That’s Amore” playing on loop as you eat it). Despite my world pasta travels, I never wavered, until a recent expedition through Montrose. I was converted by Divina Cucina. The family-run Italian restaurant in the shell of a former fast-food restaurant was exactly what I needed to bring me into the pasta fold.
From the outside, Divina is an unassuming storefront, with an arrowed path that once acted as a drive through still running the perimeter. Inside, the muted exterior is quickly forgotten as the bustling and clanking of wine glasses and amber glow eases you into the dinner adventure upon which you are about to embark.
Every staff member I interacted with was warm and kind, not in a Chick-fil-A, polite-but-rehearsed manner, but more like the uber-hospitable relative who wants you to be as comfortable (and full) as possible. On the particular Friday I was there, the dining room was slammed with patrons. I was blinded by hunger and a need to take in as much information about the restaurant as possible for this article. I hit my waiter with a barrage of questions and laid out my next three courses to him before he could even take our drink orders. My waiter was nothing but kind, finding humor in my temporary insanity. Despite the packed house, our drinks never had the chance to be empty, the house-made bread served before our meal was replaced nearly as quickly as we finished it. I ordered two entrees which both landed in rapid succession. Of the five or so team members that checked in on our table, each one was more enthused and happy to serve than the last. From the two plain clothes managers, or husband and wife duo who complimented me on my two entrees, to the waitress who brought over my crème brulee at the end of the meal and reveled with me in its beauty, I cannot say enough about how kind and welcoming the team was. To the naysayers who may think that I exploit my title as dining columnist to get special treatment, no, I cannot just tear away my glasses like Clark Kent and slam down a copy of the Pasadena Weekly and be met with splendor and riches. I pay for my food. I do not mention that I am writing about the establishment until I have paid my bill.
After warming up my palate on their homemade bread and olive oil — harkening back to my macaroni grill dates — I started my five-course expedition with the bruschetta con pomodori ($8.95) toasted peasant bread topped with tomato, basil, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Good bruschetta is a delicate dance of finding the balance between crisp bread that does not get too soft and rounding out the acidity of the tomatoes; this one Divina nails.
For our entrees, my partner got the gnocchi a piacere ($17.25), handmade potato dumplings with your choice of sauce: marinara, four cheese, alfredo, pesto or pink sauce. In their humble quest to be one of the friendliest staff they allowed us to split the plate and have two sauces. We went with classic marinara and pesto which was the best decision for the dish. Pesto gnocchi with no protein or vegetables of any kind can become overwhelmingly rich after just a few bites, but not at Divina. The combination of both sauces (albeit, eaten in separate bites) was the perfect taste test of both, and showed off the quality of the perfectly chewy pillows of potato pasta.
As I was not converted to loving pasta just yet, I went with the ravioli tre colore ($21.45), handmade chicken ravioli in ricotta cheese and tomato sauces. The tender, pillowy pasta was not only enough to create a pasta convert, but I’ve been thinking about it (and talking about it) for days since like some sort of proselytizing ravioli enthusiast. The handmade pasta sheets had the perfect substance and delicate flavor to envelop the creamy filling. The blanket of rich, flavorful sauce was the ideal balance to the filling, creating a well-balanced and supremely satisfying dish.
My significant other will be glad to know I’d be happy to revisit Divina Cucina. I enjoyed the ambiance, hospitality, and, as if I’m a visitor from a pasta-free planet, I’ve been raving that “ravioli is so good!”