For many, the first glimmerings of adult romance occurred at the mall, where a stroll among the stores preceded a sit-down meal at an Applebee's or a Friday's, a step up from the usual food court fare and a signal of seriousness. Steinway Street isn't a mall, nor is DiWine in any way similar to a chain restaurant, aside from also serving food to customers. Nevertheless, as we walked through the crowds window-shopping at Victoria's Secret and The Children's Place, and turned onto 31st, we were awash in our own mall-date memories. Then we saw the private booths stuffed with pillows, adorned with woven twigs shaped like disco balls, and draped in gauzy curtains at the center of this Astoria winebar. And we were glad to be grown ups.
The menu offers 12 small plates for sharing, almost double the number of entrees. So we skipped the herb seared tuna ($20) and filet mignon ($26). As the name suggests, the focus here is on wines. Many are offered by the glass for $8, by the bottle for $32; there's also an oft-changing seasonal selection as well as beer and cocktails. During Happy Hour, Sunday through Thursday, from 5 to 8, drinks are buy two, get one free.
Chicken fresca ($9), the first of our three sharing plates, reminded us of an oversize wedding canape. Piled atop a round of toast were brie, a Granny Smith slice, walnuts, and a scoop of chilled salad made from nicely seasoned pulled chicken. Too big for one bite, too precariously piled for satisfactory, get-it-all-on-the-fork cutting. Still, this appetizer was refreshing, if a bit awkward to eat.
The crackling calamari ($11) were fried, then covered in fiery peppers and capers. The toppings simultaneously enhanced the squid's flavor while significantly dampening its coating, in part due to the hefty portion: we simply didn't have time to devour everything before the inevitable de-crisping set in.
Dates and devils ($9) came in two separate plates, one for the deviled eggs and one for the pecan-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon—in the running for best thing we've eaten all year. The deviled egg's pungent yellow pipping started sweet and finished sour, thanks to the mustard mixed in; good but nothing extraordinary. The bacon-wrapped dates, though, had every food characteristic you could ask for: smoky, fatty, salty, crunchy, sugary, and chewy. Absolute deliciousness.
The Newtown pizza ($13) comes topped olive oil-infused ricotta, spinach, walnuts, and roasted garlic. It wasn't too soggy, as sometimes happens with white pies, nor was it too crispy, as sometimes happens with brick oven pizzas at places that don't specialize in them. (Incidentally, any Queens historians know why ricotta, spinach, walnuts, and garlic connote Newtown?) In addition to the more exotic offerings like Maine lobster-leek ($16), you can make your own by selecting from standard toppings like olives and mushrooms ($12, with three toppings).
Budding restaurateurs take note: it's all about the lighting. Here, the setting sun further burnished the browns and golds, a glow that offsets the Edison lamps above the bar. A melange of materials, from plastics to velvet to wood, adorns the space. With its polished concrete floor and high ceilings, it can be loud, especially if you're not a fan of, say, early White Stripes or Fleet Foxes, but it is undeniably lovely. If we lived in Astoria, we'd be regulars. DiWine is best for: a date whose inhibitions you want to loosen over plates of satisfying finger foods.
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