Bring the kids, and keep it casual Restaurant: You will find a lot to like, if you can stand the noise, at the new, rotunda-shaped DiVivo's in Little Italy.

September 08, 1996|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Anyone who thinks that nothing much ever changes in Little Italy ought to take a look at the corner of President Street and Eastern Avenue.

A building has sprung up there that's like nothing ever seen in the neighborhood. Oh, it sounds modest enough: DiVivo's Pastries & Cafe. From that I don't think you'd extrapolate a glassed-in rotunda with a huge faux tree growing at its center (a shade tree with pink dogwood blooms, no less). There are murals of Italy. There are columns and soaring ceilings. There is very little to absorb sound. The effect is something like eating in the foyer of a magnificent train station (except for the tree, of course). Only noisier.

Noise aside, there's nothing much wrong with DiVivo's; and a lot of things are very right (including the restaurant's own parking lot in back).

zTC The owners have wisely decided not to compete with all the other restaurants in Little Italy serving white-tablecloth dinners. Here's where to go (and take your kids) for pizza, pasta, sandwiches on freshly baked focaccia and extravagant Italian desserts.

You could start with a satisfyingly sturdy bean and escarole soup, plump mussels in a white wine sauce sparked with garlic, or a cold antipasto of grilled vegetables and superb calamari in vinaigrette.

Salads are interesting and good, with dressings like lime and creamy bacon as well as the more usual choices. And with the fine breads baked on the premises (especially the whole grain), they make a complete meal.

Our pizza from the wood-burning oven was almost wonderful, with its plum tomatoes, fresh basil and good cheeses. It just needed to cook a bit more to get nice and crusty.

Much of the menu is taken up with seafood pastas -- chunks of salmon over farfalle (bowties), for instance, or fat shrimp tossed with fettuccine. The pastas are highlighted by, but not drowned in, rich cream sauces with chunks of fresh tomato, peas or mushrooms.

You'll do best if you stick to the casual fare. The swordfish special was uninteresting -- thin and overcooked fish, with a pleasant but undistinguished herb butter, mixed vegetables and new potatoes that were a bit mushy.

Desserts take up three pages of the menu -- gelato and frozen mousses, sundaes, all the usual Italian specialties and beyond. Here the light-fare concept disappears. Take, for instance, the cream puffs filled with pastry cream and covered in chocolate mousse and chocolate sauce. Hazelnut chiffon cake is layered with hazelnut cream and gilded with almonds. Tartufo is filled with chocolate and vanilla egg cream, rolled in nuts and covered with sweet, dark chocolate.

Don't forget that DiVivo's is a bakery as well as a restaurant, so after dinner you can stroll over to the glass counters and purchase all sorts of pastries and cookies that aren't on the menu. Me, I'll settle for a loaf of that whole-grain bread.

DiVivo's Pastries & Cafe

Where: 801 Eastern Ave.

Hours: Open 11 a.m. till midnight Sundays through Thursdays; till 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Prices: $3.95-$18.95. Major credit cards

Call: (410) 837-5500

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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