There’s a little Italian restaurant in Gulf Gate that we’ve been hearing about for some time, but saved dining there for a special occasion – namely dinner with clients/friends, Jeff and Li Hutton, hailing from Toronto, who brought their daughter Karina and Li’s mom, Lala, visiting from China.
This gem of a restaurant proudly delivers authentic Italian recipes and desserts that will melt in your mouth. (Not a promise – a guarantee!) It’s a small venue, so I hate to even mention them on SarasotaFoodies . . . because then everyone will go there and we may not get a table next time!
Dolce Italia seats about 50 guests — maybe more, maybe less — and yet they manage to be rated #4 of 670 restaurants in Sarasota on Trip Advisor. Suffice it to say, with so few tables, Dolce Italia is cozy, and it doesn’t take long before our server arrives and owners Tiziana and Pippo stop by the table with a warm welcome. They owners are clearly out to please, and every bit at friendly as you’d expect from anyone hailing from the quaint island of Ischia, in the Gulf of Naples, Italy. (One of my favorite destinations in Italy! You can only reach there by ferry boat.)
First off, we order a bottle of Chianti, one of several well priced wines on Dolce Italia’s menu. I’m tickled when Jeff asks his daughter to bless his wine before he takes a sip — and she does, with a quick dip of her finger into his glass. I wonder who is the star at this table? Cute!
We all started the evening sharing the Antipasto All’Italiana, a wonderful spread featuring slices of salami, prosciutto and hams with red roasted peppers, provolone cheese and olives over arugula. It was enough for all of us to share, making it the ideal choice to get our appetites revved up for our main courses. Every bite tasted market fresh.
Seeing that we have a six year old at the table, our server, Alex, makes sure to take care of Karina first. She asks for an order of their spaghetti (no meatballs, please) and it quickly arrives at the table. Karina has spent the day swimming, first in the Gulf of Mexico, and then later at the pool of their new condo, so she’s worked up quite the appetite for a small girl.
“This looks yummy, ” she says as a bowl of pasta arrives at the table. She quickly grabs her fork and digs in.
“Is it good?” her mom asks.
“It sure is,” she answers, spaghetti slurped up to her mouth. “I love it!”
Dolce Italia has a nice menu selection, and typically Mart and I try to order from the standard menu if we plan to blog about a place. But then our server goes into a description of the night’s specials, and everyone of us is drawn in. Li and Lala decide to split a Caesar salad and the Linguine with Seafood special. Mart can’t resist ordering the same thing. And all three of them were happy with their choice.
The Linguine with Seafood arrives steaming hot with a fair number of Jumbo Shrimp (yes. . . that’s an oxymoron), mussels and calamari swimming in a light red sauce. The scent alone, as it wafted through the restaurant, had neighboring guests asking “What smells so good?” Mart said this dish tasted every bit as good as it looks, and even better than its aroma. It’s always a pleasure to find a chef who can deliver an understated, yet premiering, tomato flavor with shell fish. The sauce was light and fragrant and each shell fish was cooked just right. Magnifico!
Jeff just can’t resist the Sea Bass with Risotto special, even though he was wavering toward a pasta dish. But something about the description of the lemon caper sauce won him over. Fortunately, he couldn’t be happier with his choice. The sea bass was perfection, and the creamy risotto balanced the tang from the lemon and capers with an understated authority. I tasted it, and if you asked which ingredient was the star of the dish? All of them!
Being that I eat out often, I tend to order pasta as a side dish to a protein. But when our server Alex and his brother Matthew, suggested someone at our table try the signature pasta, the Trenne Dolce Italia, I decide I’m up for it. Am I glad I made that decision. How many times can I say “WOW” (in all capitals) before you know how much I adored this pasta. The triangle trenne pasta is home-made at Dolce Italia, and you can taste the pride and love in the preparation. Covered in a light pomodoro sauce with mushrooms and loads of mozzarella, the pasta was al dente, the cheese was ooohy gooey goodness, and the tang of the sauce set it all off. WOW! You’ve got to order this if you get a chance.
Dessert has our little miss Karina enjoying Dolce Italia’s ice cream topped with Nutella sauce and whipped cream. Those of us who didn’t burn more calories than we weigh, as Karina did earlier, decide to share an order of the Tiramisu and a Cannoli.
Three words for the taste. . .ex-cel-lent. The Tiramisu is wonderfully moist through and through, and the crust of the cannoli is break-in-half crunchy, just as you’d hope.
If you’ve ever been to Italy, you know no one makes a better cup of coffee than the Italians, be it an espresso or a cappuccino. And Dolce Italia honors their heritage with the final taste of the night, the cappuccino. It was so perfect that Jeff made me promise to include a photo in his cup of cappuccino on the blog.
So, Jeff . . . here you go . . . Your cup of cappuccino . . .
After our dishes are cleared, Pippo invites us to enjoy the friendly atmosphere and visit with each other without feeling rushed out the door. Some places could learn a thing or two from this guy.
How hospitable! Not only did we feel welcome to return again, but even again and again.