The team behind Milan’s Al Valentino opens fine dining outpost Il Divo on the Upper East Side.
1920s-themed images dominate the walls.
At the Upper East Side’s new Il Divo, the walls tell too many stories to count. The back section of the restaurant is absolutely covered with black- and gold-framed, 1920s memorabilia: vintage New Yorker covers, an ad for the Grand Hôtel de Paris, a black-and-white photo of Village Cigars at Christopher Street and multiple movie posters and autographed portraits of the famed Rudolph Valentino. Owner Antonio Sinesi immediately begins telling me Valentino’s story: He was from the same part of Italy as Sinesi’s parents, became a famous actor and was beloved by the ladies. “He came to New York, and his dreams came true,” Sinesi says.
Valentino inspired the name of the Italian eatery—“divo” is the male equivalent of “diva” in Italian—and his face is everywhere, but Sinesi is the real star of this show. He curated all of the framed imagery, some found through Italian auctions, and says he really tried to show off that this is his place.
Wild berry salad, pastry cream and almond crumble
And his place is incredible. From the flourish of a napkin over the lap to the gentle crunch of rice and tomato croquettes, every touch seems deliberate and perfectly executed. Sharply dressed servers greet some patrons by name, and the music and lighting are warm but noninvasive. The overall mood makes me half expect to see Frank Sinatra and Sophia Loren relaxing at the next table.
The menu’s structure comes from Sinesi’s longtime Milan restaurant, Al Valentino, but it contains many NYC crowd-pleasers. In a city where red tuna crudo is near-universal, this one is as good as it gets with an acidic sauce, fresh greens and fried chickpeas. “We like to play with the acidity of tomato rather than the lemon,” says executive chef Matteo Limoli of this starter. For a more unusual take on tuna, a slice of roasted bell pepper comes stuffed with tuna and capers.
Il Divo on the Upper East Side
In the pasta course, agnolotti get a rustic treatment with a flavorful sea bass sauce, but a surprise of lemony ricotta bursts from within. The spaghetti appears simple but is made with 12 eggs and a fresh tomato sauce. “We don’t cut corners,” Limoli says.
Despite these amazing pastas, my favorite thing on the menu is a cod livornese. The juicy but delicate fish is able to stand up to the salty olives, capers and sauteed Brussels sprouts.
For dessert, diners must make the difficult choice among options such as dark Coeur de Guanaja chocolate mousse with caramel and meringue, and creme caramel with red fruits and orange syrup. Limoli also puts a regional spin on a classic with his Tirami-south featuring hazelnuts and liquorice powder. “The kitchen of Italy is very diverse,” Sinesi says. “You can feel like you’re in different countries.”
He comes over as I’m finishing the meal to make sure everything was excellent (it was) and reflect upon his journey. He started bussing tables in 1967 but always dreamed of owning his own restaurant. “This was my fortuna. I love my job, will work until I’m 90,” he says. And just like his hero, Rudolph Valentino, “I came to New York; this is my dream. This place is proof dreams come true.”
Roasted bell pepper stuffed with tuna and capers
Where to Sit
Framed iconography surrounds a nook in the back. You’ll have privacy and no shortage of conversation pieces.
What to Sip
A crisp, clean prosecco is the best way to open the meal.
What to Share
One of two pizzas, the truffle is topped with mozzarella cheese, white truffle paste, ground pepper and black truffle.
1347 Second Ave. at E. 71st St., ildivo.restaurant
Starters: $23-$31; entrees: $19-$59; desserts: $11-$17
Photography by: Il Divo, Photos by Ag. Pravda Collective/Raoul Beltrame