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Big on taste ; Small restaurant offers dishes that are huge, delicious

La Dolce Vita, a small restaurant in the Hertel Avenue restaurant strip, emphasizes Italian American food. The menu an optical nightmare if ever there were one, so tiny is the type that the server keeps magnifying specs at the ready -- is strong on the three P's: pasta, paninis and pizza.

Everything has a homey taste, but sometimes other nationalities enter into the presentation. The appetizer Sfogliatelle di Spinace ($9.99), for instance, sports three layers of phyllo dough to enclose a spinach and mozzarella mixture before the whole construction gets served with pesto cream and roasted red pepper sauce.

The Stuffed Banana Peppers ($8.99) are filled with a spinach mixture as well, but again they have a Middle Eastern ingredient: feta cheese is added. The Companion found his Lentil Soup zesty with black pepper, a spice you might not encounter so heavily in Italy.

Should you be in a pasta mood, though, you can go the traditional red sauce route with Spaghetti con Salsa Rossa ($11.99), well napped with hearty tomato.

Should you want to stray from the more familiar, you might go white (as I did) by ordering Pasta Concetta ($19.99) -- fettucine with plenty of sea scallops, shrimp and broccoli with sun-dried tomatoes thrown in for good measure. This is served with chardonnay cream sauce accented by a drop or two of pesto, not to mention hunks of Gorgonzola cheese. This was a rich choice and almost too big. The enormous portion could easily feed three or four.

In another menu section, most of the entrees center around meat or chicken. There's a Veal Roulade ($19.99) wrapped around red peppers and goat cheese, and Pork Tenderloin ($18.99) served in a red wine demi glaze with apples, raisins and mashed sweet potatoes.

The Companion's Chicken Parmigiana ($15.99) was another overwhelming portion. No cardboard taste or texture in this chicken breast topped with spicy marinara sauce and provolone -- the poultry was moist and flavorful. This whole thing, mind you, was served over spaghetti. Again, enough food for three or four.

There also is a dessert tray. Homemade cakes, cannoli, gelato -- all are fine, but you probably should follow our example and go for the homemade cookies.

Such cookies! One Mexican Wedding Cake and one Cuccidata (fig) cookie apiece for us. These two cookies, as everyone knows, sit unchallenged at the very apex of cookiedom.

A good way to end the meal.

e-mail: janiceokun@yahoo.com

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LA DOLCE VITA    

3 stars (out of 4)    

WHERE: 1427 Hertel Ave.; (446-5690; www.iloveladolcevita.com). Homey Italian/American restaurant that serves a wide variety of home-style food. Credit Cards: American Express, Mastercard, Visa.    

FAVORITE DISH: Sfogliatelle di Spinace    

NEEDS WORK: Food is of good quality.    

PRICE RANGE: Dinner entrees from $15.99 include pasta or vegetable.    

HOURS: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.    

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes    

PARKING: Lot next door    

RATINGS: Stars reflect the overall dining experience at the time of The News' visit -- including service, ambience, innovation and cost -- with greatest weight given to quality of the food.

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