Second time’s a charm

The first time was underwhelming, but Bistro Divino dazzled on the return visit

Bruschetta at Bistro Divino.
Photo: Beverly Poppe

One rule I abide by as a diner is to always give a restaurant a second chance. Every business has an off day, and snap judgments based on one fair-to-middling experience can sometimes rob you of a genuinely great haunt.

A classic case in point proved to be Bistro Divino, a Northern Italian-themed eatery in the Holsum Design Center. Co-owner and Midwest transplant Rebecca Prephan comes from a family of nightclub and restaurant owners and helped open several successful lounges and restaurants in Las Vegas before opening Bistro Divino in May 2007.

Mexican-born Executive Chef Noe Alcala helped open Pink Taco, Diablo’s Cantina and Dos Caminos at Palazzo, and he’s constantly refining his menu based on customer input. And because of its convenient Downtown location, Bistro Divino enjoys a clientele of city employees and judges, as well as doctors and attorneys.

The intimate establishment is well-appointed, with white tablecloths contrasting with green walls and a stamped concrete floor. Paintings provide that Italian ambiance, and the lamps hang from the ceiling, casting a soft lighting over the scene. In the rear is a small, mirrored bar area with three stools, and when the weather allows, diners can sit on a covered patio. A rear patio offers space for live bands and wine tastings.

My first experience here, joined by two foodies, was reminiscent of a student practicing for a piano recital: The overall piece is pretty, but the wrong notes make you wince. Chef Alcala was off for the evening, and our server seemed inexperienced, drawing a blank when I asked for his menu recommendations.

The Details

Restaurant Guide
Bistro Divino
241 W. Charleston Blvd., 362-8200
Open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Recommended dishes: quattro formaggi, $15; pollo curry, $12; Divina pizza, $14; Caprese, $10.

Most of our entrees were fine. The group favorite was the Divino specialty pizza, topped with tomatoes, mozzarella, prosciutto, parmesan and plenty of arugula spinach. Quattro formaggi, cream sauce, brie cheese, Emmenthal Swiss, gorgonzola and parmesan over a bed of fettucine, is every bit as decadent as it sounds (it’s almost sweet in its over-the-topness), and pollo curry, chicken breast cooked in a Northern Italian-style curry cream sauce with grilled peppers and served over rice, is a nice combination of flavors. The texture was a bit greasy for my taste, but my dining companions loved it.

The rest of the evening was spotty. It was at least 30 minutes before we got our meals; we ordered the delicious caprese appetizer, but no bread with oil and vinegar, a staple of almost every Italian restaurant I’ve been to, was brought to our table. And one dish, a crudo panini with fries, had to be sent back because the fries were cold. When returned 15 minutes later, the panini had cooled and all but dried out, and the fries, while warmer, still didn’t pass muster. Worse, one of the desserts, lucca, a crepe filled with bananas and topped with chocolate hazelnut sauce and ice cream, was overcooked and nearly impossible to cut through with a fork.

It was an awkward evening, to be sure, but staying true to my rule, I returned a few days later. All I can say is, my rule, well, rules.

With Alcala in the kitchen, the dining experience couldn’t have been more sublime. This time we got our bread with oil and vinegar (our waiter explained that it normally isn’t brought out if pasta is ordered, but I politely explained to him that it should at least be offered by the wait staff), and the wait time was more than cut in half. Bistro Divino makes its pizza crusts and bread with flour imported from Italy, and I can only describe the consistency as perfect. Full of flavor, not too crispy, not too soft. It alone is almost worth the trip here.

This time, Alcala brought us a few things not on the current menu, including an amazing grilled-chicken salad featuring arugula, mozzarella cubes, tomatoes and a vinaigrette dressing. Alcala marinates his chicken in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, orange juice and thyme, and the combination of flavors is simple but robust. It’s quickly becoming one of his most requested items, and it’s easy to see why.

The meal continued with hearty bruschetta, toasted bread heavily adorned with tomatoes, basil and garlic, and a baseball-sized piece of bufala mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto. We could have gone home after all this and been happy, but we had to try one more specialty pizza. The Agrodolce—mozzarella, pecorino cheese, parmesan, roasted red peppers and caramelized onions—did not disappoint. We made sure to leave some of this for the trip home.

Our experience was topped with yet another item not on the menu: penne alla vodka with chicken and cherry tomatoes. The spiciness of this dish goes wonderfully with a glass of pinot noir.

I would have been remiss had I not given dessert another try. This time we ordered the tiramisu, probably the best version of this Italian classic I have ever had. It had not the slightest hint of heaviness, although due to my huge intake during the evening I could only manage a few bites.

It’s corny, but somewhat true—everyone deserves a second chance.

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Magazine's managing editor, having previously served as associate editor at Las Vegas Weekly, assistant features ...

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