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Review Wed Jun 10 2015

Newly Opened Dolce Italian Astounds with Simplicity

rsz_dsc_0250.jpgWhen it comes down to it, there are only two characteristics absolutely crucial to a restaurant's success: impeccable food and flawless hospitality. Liquid nitrogen and modern décor won't negate an absent server or lukewarm entrees lathered in salt and grease. The perfect restaurant experience is a fluid symphony of chaotic elements, and if not executed perfectly, the diner will remember (and write about) every flat note.

As such, Dolce Italian in Chicago is an ensemble worth your time. Its sister restaurant in Miami recently won first place on Bravo's new show Best New Restaurant, and for good reason. The series' first season, hosted by Tom Colicchio, featured 16 restaurants competing against each other on best dish, décor, service, and overall concept. Dolce won for its hospitality and consistently beautiful food.

rsz_dsc_0248.jpgrsz_dsc_0255.jpgrsz_dsc_0259.jpgThe food at Dolce excels because of execution. Ingredients are surprisingly rustic and modest--no foie, no pork shank, no crispy chicken skin. And yet, Dolce elevates that simplicity by elegant plating, purposeful accoutrements, and complex flavors. The burrata bruschetta is a prime example. A stretchy mass of homemade cheese, on top a chunky mixture of smoky eggplant and sweet tart tomatoes. Combined with the savory speck and the sharp brine of the capers, this appetizer set a high note for meal to come. Even the salad, with avocado, radish, hearts of palm, and white balsamic, surprised the palette with bits of fresh mint. The house special--grilled octopus with chickpeas, farro, and pistachio vinaigrette--was stunning in both flavor and texture. The char and chew of the octopus, the starchiness of the chickpeas and farro, and the sour sweet vinaigrette made for a unforgettable dish.

The primi section of the menu boasts many delicious pasta combinations, including lobster mezzalune (with artichokes and lobster sauce), ricotta cavatelli (with lamb ragu), and ravioli di ricotta (with eggplant al funghetto and smoked mozzarella). The sweet pea tortelli was particularly memorable--al dente skin, a smooth buttery interior, topped with garlic cream, lightly fried sweetbreads, and tender pea shots. The delicate plating and complex marriage of flavors makes it easy to see why Dolce won Best New Restaurant.

For secondi, I opted for the Whole Roasted Branzino and Rack of Lamb, although the Veal Milanese is also a popular option. The fish was meltingly tender, although the skin could've used a harder sear for maximum crispiness. The lamb chops were decent, but the stars of the plate were the exquisitely grilled artichokes and fresh fava beans. I recommend skipping the secondi courses altogether as the other sections are respectably portioned, and in my opinion, more reflective of the restaurant's aptitudes.

rsz_dsc_0267.jpgAnd for dessert, skip the vanilla meringue cake and hazelnut torta, and get the coffee semifreddo and ricotta zeppole. You will not regret the decadent expresso ice-cream, covered in a chocolate shell and sprinkled with candied orange. The ricotta zeppole--lightly fried donut holes filled with ricotta and chocolate chips--was light and not overly sweet. I normally avoid post-meal beverages, but the St. James Flip (amaro, sherry demerara sugar syrup, and egg) and Cafecito (botran aged rum, port demerara, expresso, and cream) are worth the boozy finish. I'm not too fond of desserts, but clearly, Dolce convinced me otherwise.

Overall Dolce is the kind of restaurant every restaurant should emulate, one where every dish impresses and service is so coordinated, it's almost unnoticeable. Dolce honors Italian cuisine in a way that actually respects its simplicity (as opposed to using it as an excuse for boring food) and more importantly, the food is just darn good.

Dolce Italian Restaurant
127 W. Huron St. at LaSalle
Chicago, IL 60654
312-754-0700

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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