Everything about Dolce is a mixture of classy and casual. The environment is wonderfully cozy. It’s a single room, with the bar near the entrance and an open kitchen providing the constant flicker of the brick pizza oven and the intermittent audible sizzle of skillets. A large chalkboard announces the evening’s specials and selection of beers on draft. Simplicity and style are evident in the exposed brick wall aesthetic and clusters of Edison bulbs in oversized jars that act as chandeliers.
That same mixture of creating an approachable take on upscale Italian carries through into everything that we sampled from their menu.
The Mushroom Toast from the Small Plates menu is the perfect way to settle into a winter meal. A variety of oven-hot mushrooms lead the flavor in a light sauce with a hint of thyme that almost gives it a truffle flavor. The crunch of the toasted baguette is an excellent textural counterpoint. A mild garlic thread runs underneath everything, tying it all together in a bevy of delicate decadence. Microgreens sprinkled over the top add a lilt of bitterness to this creamy starter.
Watching pizza after pizza land at the tables around us, there was no question as to what the second course was going to be. With classics like the Tomato Basil pizza and inventions like the Blueberry pizza—with honey instead of marinara sauce—half of their menu is pizza options. We opted for the Benton’s Bacon pizza, with spinach, asiago, and garlic oil. Benton’s bacon is intense. It’s from Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Tennesse, slow cured and hickory smoked for 48 hours. When it lands at the table straight from their 800-degree brick pizza oven, it’s the perfect combination of smoky meat, bright tomato sauce, and crunchy thin crust tastiness.
Moving to the other side of the menu, we wanted to take a tour of their pasta selection. The Wild Mushroom Ravioli balances the deep warm flavors of roasted wild mushrooms enrobed in pillowy pockets of fresh-made pasta. Shreds of artichoke introduce a bright acidity, and both ends of the flavor spectrum—light and dark—swim in a pool of creamy alfredo sauce tinged with lemon zest. This was definitely Eliza’s highlight of the evening.
From the bold flavors of the ravioli, we moved to the Speck Pappardelle. A wild tangle of thick long noodles with sublime chunks of speck—Italian smoked pork— dotted throughout. This is another pasta that hinges on a creamy sauce, accented by shallots and thyme. It’s more subtle than the ravioli dish, but just as warming and soothing. There’s a home-style comfort food feel that settles the senses and invites some slow sipping from their curated wine list. Regardless of the dish, it’s clear that Dolce relies on fresh, high quality ingredients in imaginative combinations that linger in its patrons’ minds long after. It’s a technique that surely convinces first-timers to become regulars.
Our final pasta of the evening was the standout for Jake. With just the name alone, the Spicy Garlic Shrimp Spaghetti lets you know that it’s not going to hold back in the flavor department. The spaghetti noodles perfectly absorb San Marzano tomato sauce flecked with red chili flakes and white wine. The shrimp provides not only a delectable fresh seafood element, but an excellent textural counterpoint to the pasta. Shreds of fresh hydroponically grown basil from right down the street at Hoppy Greens are the imperative flavor element, injecting zest and enhancing the rapidly building red chili spice of the dish.
For dessert there’s a wide range of creamy, cool gelatos or the house specialty, the pot de créme. In a petite dish, there’s a base of caramelized condensed milk; chocolate is melted down and poured over the caramel and it’s crowned with a miniature caramel malt ball and a tiny sprinkling of sea salt. We dug our spoons to the bottom to make sure we got the brisk caramel sweetness against the decadent deep chocolate flavor and the crunch of malt. It’s a mouthful of sweet and savory, made in house, and it’s first come first served. It always goes pretty fast.
Dolce is located at 15 W. Quincy Street in Westmont, 630-663-0401, dolceswestmont.com.