One step inside from the bustle of Melrose takes you into Dolce, a trendy Italian restaurant with a cozy dark decor and some fantastic people watching. Known for its ambiance, tasty Italian classics, and hip crowd, Dolce is perfect for a romantic date, or a pre-club meal. From the traditional Pesto Gnocchi and Osso Bucco to the more fusion-based Tuna Tartare and Mango Bruschetta, Dolce's menu caters to all tastes and appetites. Drink options include a full wine list, including selections by the glass, as well as a large selection of cocktails. It is certain that Dolce's decor and ambiance are the restaurant's main appeal, but the menu is laced with undeniable treasures.Read More ...
Only moments after stepping into Dolce Enoteca e Ristorante, I quickly decide this experience is going to be almost completely about the atmosphere and crowd. Even late on a Wednesday night the bar is lined with unusually beautiful twentysomethings who love martinis and who know the true Hollywood weekend is really during the week. As Dolce is just a few minute's cab ride from some of L.A.’s most elite nightclubs, one can only assume that many of the present patrons could be spotted later on at hot spots like Area, Privilege, and Les Deux, the last of which is owned by Dolce’s creators.
Opened in 2003 by Mike Malin and Lonnie Moore of the Dolce Group, along with notable investor Ashton Kutcher, Dolce was received warmly by celebrities and foodies alike. The establishment has since undergone a number of changes, including the appointment of new Head Chef Christopher Tunnell, who worked with Malin and Moore during Dolce’s development process. Dolce also spawned two other restaurants of the same name in Reno, where Tunnell began, and Atlanta. As one of the first of the Dolce Group's many lounge-inspired, high-end restaurants, the evolution of Dolce has set a precedence for others of its kind.
Despite the main dining room’s undeniable bustle, Dolce’s dim lighting and tranquil black interior has a certain calming effect on guests. The fire-lit bar, cozy black leather booths, and rich mahogany paneling are aesthetically comfortable yet hip. A sizable glass case of Italian, American, and French wines is prominently displayed, complete with a library-style ladder for the sommelier. Designer Dodd Mitchell’s use of Feng Shui conflates eastern sensibilities with western materials, even incorporating unique accents such as a pronounced gothic chandelier. I am so mesmerized by the interior that I almost forget that I am also here for the food.
Though we are not promptly seated, we are easily satisfied by Dolce's “flirtinis” and people-watching. While most of our fellow diners order cocktails, there are a number of wines offered by the glass. When we are finally brought to our table, our charming server, clad in a jewel-encrusted tie, attentively passes out menus and offers plates of salami and ricotta, as well as a slew of helpful suggestions.
There are three Prix Fixe options for parties of nine or more, ranging from $50-$75 per person, but we have been told the portions are large, so we opt to order à la carte. When I order the Veal Milanese, the waiter winks and says, “best thing on the menu,” before he quickly recedes toward the kitchen. Throughout the night he is attentive, yet does not hover or crowd us.
We start with the Pesto Gnocchi, which seems to disappear into thin air. The gnocchi are impressively light and the pesto is comprised of the perfect amounts of salty parmesan and pungent garlic. The pesto is left somewhat chunky, emphasizing its freshness and providing a contrasting texture to the smooth gnocchi.
Next our Mango Bruschetta appears, which is also a rich tapestry of textures and flavors. The slippery sweet mango salsa hits the tongue first, followed by the contrasting prosciutto, which is salty and crisp. Once the salsa dissolves, our mouths are left with the perfectly chewy ciabatta, which has been grilled to match the crisp of the prosciutto. It is a unique evolution of flavors, often seen in Italian appetizers, but not often made with such ingredients.
Our main courses arrive in perfect time, revealing an array of dishes suitable for all tastes. For my adventurous fellow diners, the Pumpkin Ravioli with butter sage reduction pairs a rich, yet subtle coating with the slightly sweet, slightly savory pumpkin.
For my meat-loving companion, the Filet Mignon (which the waiter and I practically have to beg him not to order well-done) is drizzled with a sauce quietly flavored by porcini mushrooms, and accompanied by perfect lobster mashed potatoes. The filet is juicy, and not overpowered by its sauce, and the lobster is infused into each bite of the textured potatoes. Even Mr. Well-Done enjoys it.
For the health-conscious friend in the bunch, the Daily Salmon will do. The kitchen is happy to accommodate his desire for steamed vegetables and no sauce on the salmon. When I implore him to at least order sauce on the side, citing that it is in the name of absorbing culture, he insists, “This isn’t culture – it’s Hollywood,” reminding me of exactly where we are.
Across the way, I am tempted by my friend’s pick: Tuscan Ribeye – a tender portion of meat with a bell pepper sauce that does not overwhelm the taste of tomato, accompanied by perfectly crisped rosemary potatoes. But these other dishes all seem to be a side-note once I’ve tasted mine.
I’ve ordered the Milanese Risotto – a saffron risotto topped with an almost creamy osso bucco. The veal shank is roasted for several hours with mirepoix and a demi-glace stock until it is, in the words of Chef Tunnell, “to the point where it can be cut with a fork.” The risotto, which is generously infused with saffron flavor, is plump, yet still textured enough to almost match the firmness of the “meltaway” veal. It is no wonder that this is Dolce’s signature dish.
Dolce's menu was revamped in April 2007 to include more dishes that appeal to the masses (including a BBQ Chicken Salad, Penne Arrabiata, and Crispy Calamari); however, new elements of fusion (i.e.: Tuna Tartare, Mango Bruschetta) and old classics like osso bucco keep the menu edgy and sophisticated. It is clear that Tunnell and company have an understanding of their patrons’ needs, as seen in the varying menu options, as well as a full cocktail service.
So while the experience of dining at Dolce cannot be separated from its Hollywood atmosphere, there is certainly great food to be found. True, the ambiance and crowd are a distinguishing factor of this establishment, but they do not overwhelm the experience of the cuisine. Perhaps the menu has been simplified since its earlier days, but as Tunnell asserts, some of the best Italian recipes are quite simple, and should be able to be enjoyed by many. And with such an attractive décor and overall vibe, it is no wonder that the masses certainly come.
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