Argentine cooking consists of bold flavors inspired by European and Arab cultures. Immigrants from across the Atlantic were drawn by Argentina’s expansive countryside where they found livestock and agriculture thrived. So, Argentine cuisine is a well-rounded playground of meats, seafood and vegetables.
Although it’s difficult to find a more decadent, mouth-watering list of carnivorous specialties—asada (barbeque beef), schnitzels (breaded and fried meat), empanadas (meat in a pastry), chorizo and morcillo (sausage)--what attracts me to Argentine dining is not the food itself, but the communal warmth integral to every meal.
The Argentinean legacy of fellowship and gastronomic abundance is what Divino Lounge and Restaurant attempts to offer diners. Located on Wisconsin Avenue, south of East West Highway between Hampden and Montgomery Avenue, Divino is a long, dark space, split between a cozy bar and sit-down restaurant. It’s brightened by the open kitchen which operates quietly and without fanfare in the center. The restaurant has a distinctly international flare, thanks to chivalrous service and a slightly formal vibe.
On a Sunday evening, we found Divino Lounge to be quiet and not crowded. I’m told the bar gets busy later in the evenings. On Wednesday, Divino Lounge offers tango lessons by a local expert.
Divino is a bit like a fish out of water for its relaxed and unhurried atmosphere. As is custom in South America, Divino encourages guests to savor and fraternize: You must take your time, settle into the comfortable couches, and relish the company of your fellow diners, faces glowing by candlelight.
And that’s what I most appreciated about Divino--how easy it is to converse there. It’s the perfect place to go when you want to experience meaningful conversation. It’s quiet without being dull. The service is polite and unobtrusive—if you’ve finished your bread, another roll is placed on your plate. If you drink your water, it’s immediately refilled. If you want to proceed at a slow pace, it’s your right to sit there all night. No one will hurry you. It’s easy to settle into this leisure pace and truly revel in the moment.
So, Divino is probably not the best place to grab a quick bite unless you’re sticking to tapas.
The tapas portions were large enough that four people could share a bite each. The highlights were the baked eggplant with goat cheese and the spicy chorizo. They also serve empanadas stuffed with meats, plates of Iberian cheeses and hams, shrimp and calamari.
Divino’s “executive lunch” special sounds like a bargain—three courses for $12. Add $3 for a glass of Argentine beer or wine. For your appetizer, try the provoleta, grilled provolone cheese, for an Argentine delicacy.
For dinner, Divino has a few dishes worth noting. Although better known for their beef, the Patagonian coastline of Argentina provides a bountiful array of seafood. Divino's grilled salmon is tender and seasoned lightly as is the tradition in Argentina.
More memorable is their variety of made-to-order paellas, especially the seafood version. Divino Lounge also offers vegetarian, squid ink, meat, chicken and sausage paellas. You can order the paella for one or more people, but regardless, you must allow thirty minutes for the dish to cook. The paella arrives in a pan and contains quality ingredients. For example, the seafood version had generous helpings of shrimp, scallops, calamari, mussels and clams. The short grain rice was firm and had absorbed the aromatics of the dish.
A festive feature from the Divino kitchen is tradicional parrillada, a portable grill covered with several kinds of meats—short ribs, blood sausage, chorizo, skirt steak and sweetbreads. They also offer a seafood version. The grill keeps the meats hot as you make your way through them (watch that they don’t overcook). Argentine beef is different from the more-marbled American cuts at local steakhouses. They are leaner—think fajita style—a bit salty and accompanied by a garlicy chimichurri sauce, mixed green salad and the option of papas fritas or mashed potatoes.
The food isn’t earth shatteringly good; I would say it’s acceptable at best. There are many better South American restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area. There wasn’t even one dish that knocked my socks off, yet, I still enjoyed myself and was satisfied with my meal. The Waverly Garage, a public parking lot behind the restaurant, is a plus.
Divino Lounge is a fine place to meet up with friends this winter, nibble on Argentine specialties, and slowly make your way through a pitcher of sangria or bottle of Malbec.
Divino Lounge is located at 7345-B Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda. (240) 497-0300.