210401DVINO

A recent take-out order from D’Vino in Madison left Gazette restaurant reviewer Aaron R. Conklin enjoying, clockwise from top left, fried calamari, cannolis, chicken Parmigiano and shrimp scampi. An order of fresh bread topped off the feast.

It’s taken Dino Maniaci most of the last year to figure out the formula, but he’s finally found his stride.

Back in early 2020, Maniaci and his partner, Jason Hoke, opened D’Vino, a wine bar featuring charcuterie and an extensive list of cicchetti (think Italian tapas) in the space next to Woof’s, the bar the two have co-owned on King Street since 2006.

Thanks to the pandemic, that plan lasted a mere 11 days.

When the weather turned nice and made outdoor setting possible, Maniaci rocked a mixed-menu approach, serving both cicchetti dishes (crostini, fried eggplant strips, etc.) and Italian comfort- food dishes.

In the last month, he has pushed the cicchetti concept to the background and embraced D’Vino as an upscale Italian restaurant, highlighting several of the recipes he grew up enjoying as a child. It’s the right choice, and it’s paying off in some seriously delicious traditional Italian entrees.

Some of the cicchetti concepts have made their way over to D’Vino’s honed menu—such as the fried ravioli ($8.99) and fried calamari ($9.99). The latter definitively proves Maniaci and Hoke know their way around a fryer. The battered rings are crispy and sizable, accented perfectly with hoops of banana pepper for added kick.

You can also invest in a modest plate of arancini ($11.99), traditional battered and deep-fried rice in cheese balls that come to life when dipped in D’Vino’s thick and chunky marinara sauce.

The entrees also are steeped in tradition. Maniaci’s chicken Parmigiano ($24.99) features a tender breast in crisp breading, covered with marinara sauce and served on a bed of penne pasta. Presentation is important to Maniaci, and it shows: The dish looked magazine ready with an artistically placed spring of basil—even when arranged in a tinfoil take-out container.

The shrimp scampi ($24.99), meanwhile, proved a potent mix of garlic and pepper, soaked into the tender, medium- sized shrimp and clinging to the thick spaghetti pasta that accompanied it. Some scampi dishes lean on the garlic; D’Vino’s offering is far more complex. Black pepper lovers are going to cherish it.

D’vino’s interior is cozy, featuring small, booth-like tables and (you guessed it) more traditional touches. Oversized portraits of Maniaci’s Italian relatives, including his great-grandfather, whose visage overlooks the bar, give the place a baroque, family feel. A cute dog statue greets passers-by on the entrance steps, making sure nobody mistakes D’Vino’s door for a back entrance to the more raucous Woof’s.

On Fridays, Maniaci and Hoke stretch their culinary chops by offering even more family recipe dishes such as uMssels D’Vino, ($24.99), which leads with a roasted garlic wine sauce, or Pasta Con Vongole ($24.99), which perches clams on a bed of pasta with a similar wine sauce.

In a nod to Wisconsin tradition, Maniaci also repurposes the fryer to offer plates of fried perch and shrimp ($18.99)—or a combo of both, in case you have trouble making up your mind.

D’Vino offers multiple dessert options—twice as many as your typical Italian outfit—including the kinds of things you’d expect (cannoli, tiramisu, etc.).

But one of them stands head and shoulders above the others. It’s a plate of ricotta zeppoli ($9.99), which is basically deep-fried, soft-dough doughnut holes peppered with chocolate chips, sprinkled with sugar and accompanied by a heavenly raspberry dipping sauce. They’re soft, delicious, and honestly worth stopping in for even if you’re not hungry for a full dinner experience.

Assuming Maniaci and Hoke can make their formula work for a few more months (and with vaccinations now flying and warm weather ahead, that seems more likely than not), it’s not at all hard to see D’Vino becoming a key centerpiece in the recovering King Street entertainment picture, with concertgoers catching a show at the Majestic Theater across the street and making the Italian eatery a pre-or post-show stop.

Or, better still, don’t even wait for the music to return.

Aaron R. Conklin is a freelance writer based in Madison. He has written about food, theater and pop culture for publications such as Isthmus, the Wisconsin State Journal and Madison Magazine.

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