Within the limits of the neighborhoods of Mantilla and Calvario, on the outskirts of Havana, sits Divino, a private restaurant that is part of an agro-ecological and community project within the Finca Integral La Yoandra.
In colonial times this area was called Finca La Carbonera and African slaves worked there. There were also stone quarries and tile factories, where permanent labor was provided by slaves. It is even said that slaves were subcontracted by their owners for the constructions of mansions within the city walls of Havana.
The restaurant is located on the terrace of the country house, between columns and arches and among the beauty of the natural environment. In its basement, they have a wine cellar with an exquisite selection, including Margaux, Brunello di Montalcino 1997, Vega Sicilia Único de Ribera del Duero, Chablis, and Dom Perignon champagne. The restaurant is filled with an extraordinary and unique collection of antiques—objects, documents, and photographs related to beverage and liquor brands—including tools, souvenirs, Coca-Cola made in Cuba, and ceramic beer bottles brought to the island in galleons. In short, it’s a trip through the history of drinking on this Caribbean archipelago.
Divino’s specialty is its wood and charcoal cooking, dating back to the African slave days, and including organic food, much of which comes from the La Yoandra estate, worked and preserved with excellent cleanliness, a guarantee of food safety. It is no coincidence that Bertha, the great-granddaughter of Africans who were taken to a town in Matanzas called Santa Ana, has been the house cook for many years and now is the restaurant chef, which gives a homemade touch to the culinary preparations.
The menu is unique, with Cuban and international dishes, and some options designed for the local customer (at more affordable prices) while also providing an interesting experience for foreign tourists. The price-quality ratio is good, although not perfect. Assortments of appetizers range between 5 and 6 CUC, and include pork rinds, croquettes, stuffed tostones, crab empanadas, fried pork masitas, and cheese cubes, among others. For 16 CUC one can select a picadera that includes a bottle of white wine. This section of the menu is attractive, because in Cuba there are not always well-thought choices for light eating paired with a drink at such a pleasant place. The different breads are handmade on site and baked in their ovens, and the homemade ice creams —passion fruit, mamey, guava, vanilla, and peanut, among other flavors— are made in their small factory.
The pork loin is smoked naturally, with red mangrove that gives it a very special and unique aroma and flavor, and it’s macerated with sour orange, salt, cumin, and ground pepper and served on a thick wooden board decorated with a “Cubanized” peperonata, since the locally produced onion, pepper, and tomato result in a more pronounced fusion of flavor than the original recipe. On this occasion, the meat had a certain dryness from the loss of its own juice due to over-exposure to the oven’s heat. Shrimp with garlic is served in clay pots, dipped in olive oil perfumed with abundant garlic carved in small rounds, honoring this classic condiment of Cuban cuisine. Despite being over-cooked, the shrimp is a good option. The salads with natural farm-grown vegetables, and bright colors, freshness, and textures, are unforgettable.
It’s my opinion that Divino can take more advantage of what they produce on the farm and also be more creative, thus granting more coherence and charm to the place’s slogan: “Where the earth tells its story.” For example, the natural juices are unremarkable, and even the lemonade was prepared with lemon concentrate.
The farm where Divino is located was granted a prize for excellence by the National Urban and Suburban Agriculture Group of the Ministry of Agriculture. Its owner, Yoandra Álvarez, has also developed several community projects, the best known is La Casa del Campesino, a nineteenth-century style hut visited daily by elderly neighbors for free lunch and healthy entertainment and according to their tastes.
On a farm tour, one can see native plant varieties as well as others that were brought to Cuba —such as yucca and plantains, which arrived with the African slaves— all with their identification cards. There’s also a relic, an original cart moved from the city of Bayamo, in which slaves and sugar cane were transported centuries ago.
Divino doesn’t yet meet the standards of haute cuisine or excellent service; however, one can enjoy Bertha’s unique seasonal blend and cooking, the humility of its servers and the friendliness of its owners. There we discover much more than a cocktail, a good wine, or a good meal. We discover our own values, anchored in the strengths of Cuban rurality and an intelligent and efficient marketing strategy.
If you want to get out of the city, see the greenery of the countryside, enjoy the aromas and flavors closest to the earth, go to Divino, in the neighborhood of Mantilla, where the most famous Cuban contemporary narrator, Leonardo Padura Fuentes, was born and still lives.
Dining room: 8.5