The Sweet Life

With a full menu of Italian favorites, Dolce Vita is a neighborhood fave

Local neighborhood restaurants—especially successful ones—play an important role to both the economy and the well-being of the area where they're located.

Often the staff lives nearby. People don't have to travel far to get a meal thereby leaving a small carbon footprint. I'd venture to say that crime rates might be lower near busy restaurants. Most importantly, positive relationships are established between the owners and regular customers; between owners and other nearby businesses. And while the last may be hard to put to paper, the impact is vital.

The food doesn't have to be knock-your-socks off good but it does have to satisfy that craving for a good omelet or a couple of tacos or a slice of pizza.

Dolce Vita seems to be that kind of restaurant for folks in the Broadway and Pantano area. Indeed, on the night of our visit the staff seemed to know customers by name and from what we observed they knew the little things that the diners wanted even before they sat down. That's good customer service. That it is all done with sincere smiles only adds to a pleasant time.

Crusty bread, which comes from the La Baguette Parisienne Bakery a few doors down, is brought to the table almost immediately followed by a small ceremony. A cruet of rosemary/garlic infused sits on the table. Servers pour a bit of this on the plate and if you so wish add a grind of black pepper. The oil might've worked better in a small bowl but this a nice little start to the meal both from a taste point of view and as great hospitality.

Wines are old world; the kinds of wines one expects at a good red-sauce joint.

Portions are huge even with the starters. The calamari ($10), for example, is the size of entrée orders in many other places. The eggy coating was crispy and light and the squid was tender. The marinara sauce on the side was tomato-rich with just a hint of garlic and a perfect texture.

The antipasto insalate ($13) is enough for four people. Big bites of leafy greens were topped with full assortment of meats including salami, Mortadella, prosciutto and capo. Several thin slices of provolone, bright, red tomatoes and pepperoncini rounded out the plate. We opted for the red wine vinaigrette that was smartly served on the side.

Dinners come with a choice of soup or salad.

The chicken Florentine soup held numerous chunks of white-meat chicken, threads of spinach, tiny squares of flat pasta and a mix of other veggies in a golden broth. Delicious!

The salad though was merely passable. The house feta-garlic dressing was recommended but we found it a little bland.

We weren't found of the complementary bow tie pasta salad that comes with every dinner either. While the large farfalle pasta was perfectly cooked, the dressing was way too garlicky.

Our pasta dish was meat ravioli ($15) with meat sauce. We threw in an order of meatballs for good measure. It was hard to tell how many ravioli there were under the thick, rich meat sauce. Filled with a finely, ground meat and tender pasta the dish satisfied; the meatballs, not so much. They tasted OK, but were too mushy.

The non-pasta entrée, veal piccata ($20), actually came with pasta and batter-fried zucchini rounds. In typical Italian restaurant style, you get to choose not just your pasta and the sauce as well. We went with penne in the olive oil/garlic sauce. The tender veal consisted of four medallions in a breading that resembled the batter on the zucchini rounds. But because the veal had been pan-fried and the zucchini deep fried the textures were different. The zucchini had a bit of a crunch; the veal melted in the mouth. The wonderful lemon sauce was loaded with big, plump capers. Tangy and buttery, the sauce added zing to the mellow veal.

The penne was perfectly al dente and the sauce had just enough garlic. The zucchini was good, but almost unnecessary. What made the zucchini work though was that it probably had been made in house as opposed to prepackaged stuff found elsewhere.

We decided not to try lunch and opted for a pizza on a Friday night instead. There was a huge party of more than 20 people in another part of the restaurant. In spite of the crowd, service didn't suffer due to the teamwork displayed by the staff.

Pizzas range from $8 for a 10-inch pizza to $14 for a 14-inch pizza with toppings ranging from $1.25 to $1.75 depending on the size of the pizza. Gourmet pizzas with various mixed toppings are also available.

The pizza was so much like my nana's pizza that I thought perhaps she'd come back just to make me one more pizza. Granted it wasn't rectangular in shape like hers was, but the dough was pillow-soft and flavorful just like she used to make. There was just the right amount of sauce. Plenty of good-sized fresh mushrooms cut in half and small knobs of spicy sausage were blanketed with oodles of melted cheese. This wasn't a modern, artisanal pizza by any means but a throwback to the days when pizzas were homemade and truly rustic. The large pizza was big enough for four so we took some home and enjoyed it cold for lunch the next day.

Tiramisu ($5) is only dessert made in house; the others are from the above mentioned French bakery. We ended up taking one dessert home on each visit. Sadly the tiramisu got a little topsy tury on the way home but the near disaster didn't affect the taste. This was a delightful rendition. Well-balanced, the liquor flavor didn't over power and the creamy filling was light and rich at the same time. The lemon cake ($5) from the bakery should've been called lotsa lemon cake because every bite popped with a bright lemony flavor.

Dolce Vita probably isn't a restaurant I'd travel across town for but if I lived in the neighborhood I'm sure I'd be a regular (especially for that pizza, eh Nana?)

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