Divieto Ristorante – Estero’s ‘Little Italy’

Photo credit to Divieto Ristorante.

Divieto Ristorante transports guests to another time and place.To truly appreciate the experience, one must engage in a bit of history lesson. The setting is 1920’s Little Italy. Dire poverty had induced mass immigration, and by 1920, more than 4 million Italian immigrants had come to the United States. Many of them settled in Lower Manhattan. “Little Italy” had its own culture,customs, cuisine — and crime. The infamous Italian-American Mafia rose to power through the illicit liquor trade. “Divieto” is Italian for “prohibition.”

It was in Little Italy where a young, Sicilian immigrant named Filippo Farina started in the restaurant business, says our storyteller, Divieto Manager Andres Aragon, recounting the founder’s tale. Filippo, who learned to cook in his Nonna’s kitchen, added American culinary influences to old family recipes while working at his uncle’s trattoria. The young chef’s cuisine drew an eclectic crowd of local politicians, artists and even a few Mafia bosses. It was the heyday of societal rebellion: flamboyant flapper parties and women marching in the streets for suffrage.

This explains the striking entry at Divieto: a floor-to-ceiling poster of bathing beauties in black and white, daring to sport two-piece bathing suits. The genre is reinforced with a checkered, black-and-white tile floor, dark wood paneling, red velvet curtains and a bronzed-metal tile ceiling. The music is soft, the lighting dim — just the way the political powers of Little Italy would want it. This place is classy yet relaxed.

But devoid of good food, no amount of stage presence will make a restaurant successful. Fortunately for Divieto, its classic Italian-American dishes are done well. The showstopper is the Ruota di Parmigiano, a fettuccine alfredo dish prepared inside an imported wheel of aged Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. This 90-pound wheel can make 6,000 dishes!

The staff at Divieto is professional yet personable. Aragon started with Divieto’s original location in Miami at age 17 and relocated to help open the second Florida location at Coconut Point Mall.

“If you do it right, the word will spread,” he says. “If you don’t do it right, the word will spread twice as fast!”

General Manager Gustavo Balestrini says his staff was trained to “do it right” for seven weeks before opening. The evidence is beautifully presented dishes, accommodating service and an enjoyable atmosphere. Although most dishes are classic Italian, some surprise with the addition of ingredients like candied walnuts, goat cheese, or capers. The menu offers diversity with creative appetizers, gourmet salads and elevated pizzas. There are 14 pasta dishes on the menu, along with “pesce” (seafood),“pollo” (chicken) and “carne” entrees like Veal Scallopini and Pork Shank Ossobuco.

Additionally, Divieto offers outdoor seating on the terrance, private dining rooms for large parties and a VIP Room for groups of less than 15. The bar is located in the rear and offers a selection of international wines and house cocktails. For those who wish to watch as their meal is prepared, there’s seating along the open kitchen.

OUR FAVORITES

01. CARPACCIO DI MANZO

Premium prime rib is shaved thin and topped with fresh mushrooms, arugula and parmesan cheese shavings, then drizzled with truffle oil and sprinkled with coarse salt. The Carpaccio — Divieto’s most popular appetizer — is served with toasted focaccia bread.

 

02. JICAMA TACOS

This starter comes to the table looking like miniature tacos, but the “tortilla” is actually thin-sliced jicama — a Mexican root vegetable that tastes like a sweet turnip. The homemade surimi filling is made with crab meat, diced cucumber and a serrano pepper mix with creamy mayo. This healthy “taco” is topped with avocado and finished with microgreens. Dip it in house-made soy sauce for a flavorful treat.

03. FRUTTI DI MARE

This succulent pasta dish pairs classic marina sauce with harvests from the sea. The Frutti di Mare includes a mouthwatering medley of mussels, baby clams, calamari and shrimp over a bed of fettuccine (or risotto, if you prefer). It’s light yet savory with a hint of spiciness.

 

04. FIOCHI DI PERA

Mini pasta pouches are stuffed with Italian cheeses, along with the magic ingredient: pear. A bit of pear in the center gives a subtle sweetness, balanced by a hint of blue cheese in the creamy alfredo sauce, made from a satisfying blend of mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta and Pecorino Romano. The pasta is topped with candied walnuts and served with a salad of fresh arugula, cherry tomatoes and matchstick pears. Excellent flavor and texture!

05. RUOTA DI PARMIGIANO w/ CHICKEN

The Divieto experience is incomplete without experiencing the Ruota! A trained Ruota maker wheels the aged Parmigiano Reggiano to your table, first offering some cheese shavings as a sampler while you watch the preparation. Warm fettuccine noodles are placed into the imported wheel and tossed until coated with freshly melted Parmigiano Reggiano. For further savoriness, guests may add blackened chicken, shrimp, steak or salmon.

06. TIRAMISU

Divieto Tiramisu is “just like Nonna made”! This classic Italian dessert is made with spongy lady fingers, dipped in espresso, amaretto and Kalhua, then layered with mascarpone-vanilla mousse. It’s excellent with a cappuccino or Caffe Espresso. The decadent Caffe Godiva is a dessert in itself, made with Godiva liquor and topped with chocolate-drizzled whipped cream.

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