Matthew's Foray into Blogging

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Dolce Vita

I dined at Marco Wiles’s new pizzeria, Dolce Vita Pizzeria & Enoteca, on Friday. I was quite excited about it and I had high expectations, after having read Allison Cook’s and Robb Walsh’s gleaming reviews. The restaurant is situated in a quaint old two-story house at 500 Westheimer. Dolce Vita does not serve lunch, opening at five o’clock. They do not accept reservations, but, if one arrives early enough, this is not problematic. I escaped from work an hour early to arrive shortly after 6:00, and my dining companion and I did not experience any difficulty being seated on the second floor.

The menu is organized (to the best of my recollection) into antipasti, which include verdure, carne, pesce; formaggio, pastas, and pizzas.

The verdure antipasti include such offerings as roasted Sicilian cauliflower, sautéed mushrooms with mint and ricotta rosa, and shaved Brussels sprouts with pecorino cheese. My dining companion and I shared orders of the roasted beets with horseradish and walnuts and the celery root with citrus. The soft, earthy beets were cut in large dice and were adorned with walnuts, chives, and what appeared to be a finely grated cheese; I did not detect the pungency of horseradish. The celery root, which I do not believe I had eaten before, was julienned and tossed with citrus juice and olive oil, wedges of supremed orange segments, and parsley. My fellow diner and I had different understandings of what celery root was – I urged that it was the bulbous portion of the celery plant that grew beneath the ground, whereas my company thought it was the stalks at the heart of the celery. “This rather ugly, knobby, brown vegetable is actually the root of a special celery cultivated specifically for its root,” according to Sharon Tyler Herbst’s The New Food Lover’s Companion, (2nd ed. 1995).

We also ordered pumpkin and goat cheese fritto, which consisted of little spheres of pumpkin puree and goat cheese that were covered in a batter and then fried.

Pizzas include the Margherita, with tomato, basil, and mozzarella cheese; the marinara, with tomato, garlic, and oregano; the romana, with cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and anchovies, a pizza with leeks and pancetta with cheese; one with tomato, shaved fennel, and dried fish roe; and a selection of pizzas with assorted salumi,* among others. We went with the Margherita, among the most traditional of pizzas, and the Taleggio, with arugula, pears, and a strong-tasting taleggio cheese. I have made pizza with arugula on it, along with prosciutto, tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese, but I arranged the arugula on the pizza before baking it. The arugula on Dolce Vita’s Taleggio pizza was dressed with olive oil and piled atop the pizza, after baking it in a scorching hot oven. It was as though an entire salad was placed on the pizza bread. The crusts were nice and thin, and the pies were dressed sparingly. In Italy, I understand, pizza is more about the bread, and not so much about the toppings. However, the Margherita was slightly soggy in the center, from a slight excess of sauce and cheese.

I thought $11 to $20 would be a bit steep for personal-sized pizzas, but I figured they would be remarkable. However, these were not personal-sized pizzas. Rather, they were at least a foot in diameter. And they were quite remarkable.

A frequent complaint about Houston area restaurants is that the noise level is too high. Once Dolce Vita began to fill up, the din became deafening. We would have stayed for dessert, but it was impossible to converse due to the noise.

I generally do not order alcohol in restaurants, because the markup is exorbitant. However, my dining companion expressed an interest in sampling an offering from the lengthy wine list. Since wine by the glass is even more unreasonably priced than wine by the bottle, we had no option but to purchase an entire bottle. I suggested a Prosecco, and we selected the Prosecco Carpene Malvolti. We were both quite pleased with it. It also was the most expensive item on the bill, thus contributing considerably to the sizeable dent the meal put in my bank account.

Dolce Vita makes the best pizzas I have eaten in restaurants, in my limited experience dining out. The collection of antipasti was intriguing and creative. The only open for dinner thing and the noise level are the biggest drawbacks, for me.

*Salumi is the Italian word for any cured pork product.


  • Have you thought of an alternative career as a food critic (or whatever the correct term is)? :-)

    By Blogger Sphinx, at 9:05 PM, May 29, 2006  

  • The best pizza I have had in a long time is at the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater (no kidding!). They call it "Wild at Artichoke Hearts" -- it includes spinach, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, provolone, mozzerella, goat cheese and roasted garlic. quite good.

    By Blogger Ashley, at 9:16 PM, May 31, 2006  

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