TODAY’S POINT OF BALANCE: On this beautiful Memorial Day, DON’T FORGET to enter my giveaway from From The Blue Bag! You have until the end of day on Thursday and all you have to do is comment on this post!
Remember that restaurant.com purchase I made back in February that I bragged about for about a month? I’m STILL working my way through that ridiculous purchase of eight million gift certificates. To kick off our Memorial Day weekend, Hans and I were looking for a great al fresco dining option. Upon perusing our gift certificate collection, I knew exactly where Hans would pick: La Dolce Vita in Little Italy.
From their opentable.com page: Welcome to La Dolce Vita Bistro – “The Sweet Life,” a restaurant and bistro created to recapture the bell-époque charm of “The Italian Drug,” opened here by Dr. Anthony Caruso in 1914.
From their Facebook page: La Dolce Vita is devoted to providing a relaxed and friendly atmosphere for everything from eight course dinners to coffee and Calvino. We strive to prepare the perfect meal, or the perfect cappuccino, and let you enjoy it at your leisure.
I made reservations midday for that same evening on opentable.com. In the online reservation, I requested a table outside along Mayfield Road. When we were running a bit late that evening, we called to let them know we were on our way. Even though we were tardy, the hostess held our table for two. The spot on Mayfield allowed for some great people watching as they drove or walked by on the lovely Spring evening.
You may remember from my previous review of La Strada, that restaurant and La Dolce Vita are both owned by Terry Tarantino. Mr. Tarantino was at the restaurant that evening and came up to our table right after we ordered to say hello and to check in. I always appreciate seeing an owner being present to keep an eye on the operations.
While Hans parked the car, I snagged our table. As we read the menu options, our server presented us with what seems to be a standard plate of bread and butter:
Hans is a BIG fan of the bread at La Dolce Vita: probably because it’s nothing overly complicated, which is a great thing. I’m sure it’s nothing more than a simple recipe for a doughy piece of goodness. There’s a lot to be said for simplicity though: I snagged one piece before he demolished this plate… and another!
To start, we split a small Veniziia pizza, with spinach, veal sausage, roast red peppers, fontinella cheese:
I love a pizza with a nice mix of toppings and a crust that can stand up to those ingredients. The crust on this pizza wasn’t necessarily a thin crust, nor was it a traditional thicker pizza crust either: it had a great crispness to it. It gave a hearty foundation for the well paired assortment of veggies, meat and cheese. I appreciated that the pizza wasn’t overloaded with the fontinella cheese, which allowed the other ingredients to have a voice. I would have liked to see crumbles of sausage instead of the pre-cooked slices, but I admit that I had 2/3 of this pizza myself! So much for sharing!
I’ve been seriously craving veggies like it’s my job lately. For my main, I ordered the Grilled Vegetable Platter from the entrée menu:
There’s a lot going on there, even for a simple veggie platter. Let’s break it down, shall we?
- The marinara sauce: Very fresh with a strong, high-quality tomato taste, but could have used a bit more pepper for me.
- The polenta cakes: Unless I dunked a piece in the sauce or combined a bite with some of the veggies, these were nothing to write home about. It wasn’t worth finishing the first one I started to eat, especially after I ran out of pairing options.
- The grilled pita: I normally would be all over a piece of grilled bread. Unfortunately, I am more and more like my mother every day as I cannot stand soggy food. The pita pieces could have benefited from being served in a separate bread basket. While they look fine from above, all of the pieces absorbed some of the sauce/veggie liquid. While I tried to salvage what was left, the pita itself didn’t have any flavor, even after being grilled. Those pita triangles had the same fate as my second piece of polenta.
- The veggies: I’m noticing with my eating habits, I don’t handle an abundance of oil well, so I requested the chef go light on the oil when preparing the veggies. What was presented was perfectly seasoned, not overly oily, fresh and delicious. I really liked the assortment of veggies, which included eggplant, zucchini, corn, tomatoes and a mystery green at the very bottom (escarole, perhaps?) Considering I was craving the greens, this was good for me.
The main issue I had with my plate was its temperature. The food wasn’t cold by any means, but it wasn’t scorching hot either. I know it’s hard to keep grilled items like this super hot for a long period of time. That changed the dynamic of the plate and I feel I would have enjoyed this more if it was hotter. Overall, I did get what I wanted: a plate full of veggies with lots of dunking sauce for that pizza!
When Hans picked this restaurant, I knew exactly what he would order: the gnocchi with La Dolce’s Felline sauce, made with gorgonzola, tomato cream and pancetta:
Really – how do you go wrong with that combination of ingredients? The first time Hans had this last summer, I had to keep him from licking the plate clean. I managed one quick bite before he ate the entire dish. I remembered the richness of the dish, but something was off. I realized it was the same problem I had with my entrée: it was warm, not piping hot. While I could have some forgiveness to my dish’s temperature, the cream-based sauce just wasn’t the same. Hans said he still enjoyed it, even if it wasn’t quite as good as his first time. But is it ever, really?
LONG STORY SHORT: It was a beautiful evening with some fairly solid food. I always enjoy spending an hour on the street in Little Italy during these months, but I maybe too thrifty for my own good. I didn’t even order wine and we ended up dropping over $40, even after the $25 gift certificate. Perhaps we paid for the scenery that evening, but I always wondered if I was the only one who felt the restaurant was a bit overpriced. I know we will return to La Dolce Vita in the future, but I’m interested to venture out of my comfort zone of the corner of Mayfield Road and Murray Hill Road to see what the rest of the neighborhood has to offer.