Monday, September 29, 2014

La Dolce Vita Tasting

It's been years since I've dined at La Dolce Vita in Cleveland's Little Italy neighborhood. I believe three, to be exact. I had a work meeting there, and to be honest, wasn't too terribly impressed with my salad and pasta during that meal. I think that I left there saying "Eh, it was alright, but not worth going back to in a hurry." I thought that I must have been missing something, because Clevelanders had spoken highly of the Murray Hill establishment.
Well, I finally made it back in to La Dolce Vita. The restaurant's public relations team contacted me a few weeks ago, to see if I'd be interested in coming in for a tasting menu. I was curious. It had been years at this point, and I've continued to hear praises for the restaurant since my first visit. It was time for a second try.

First of all, I absolutely love the use of fresh tomatoes as decor around the restaurant. They greet you from every corner, and adorn many tables.
Chef/Owner Terry Tarantino is clearly a fan, as he should be. These locally-sourced tomatoes that he gets from a "secret" farm down Akron-way are some of the best Ohio tomatoes that I've tasted since moving here. We had a chance to try them as Terry greeted diners with a small plate of complimentary freshly-tossed tomato salad. By "freshly tossed" I mean that he was literally walking around the dining room with the big metal bowl, blending together the ingredients and plating them.
The phrase "Keep it simple, stupid." ran through my head as he was describing what makes his version so outstanding. Use only 1/4 vinegar, and 3/4 oil. Most restaurants/home cooks do the opposite. Also, keep that balsamic far, far away, in his opinion. I've tried twice, at home, this week, to recreate his tomato salad. Unsuccessfully, I might add.

While this simple plate of tomatoes (with feta, olives, and red onion) remained a highlight of the meal for us, we were not disappointed by the many dishes that followed.

We had his famous Pesto Omar.
Eggplant Del Giorno.
Risotto del Giorno.
A flavorful dish with chicken wrapped in prosciutto, that made even this chicken-hater dig in.
One of our other favorites of the meal was the pasta with Gorgonzola sauce that was served as a side to the chicken. Wowza.

As if we weren't stuffed enough, a small plate of fresh blackberries and ricotta appeared at the end of our meal. A combination that I would never think to do, and something that Terry loves to serve to friends and family. I can see why.
Again, so simple and pure. The food at La Dolce Vita is not complicated or flashy, much like the owner himself. He speaks with pure passion for quality ingredients when discussing his cooking style. Quality ingredients do the talking for themselves. Terry prides himself on shopping at the farms and markets himself, and building trusted relationships with his vendors.

I left the meal full, comforted, and with a much more lasting impression than my first visit. At La Dolce Vita, the food is meant to do that, in a relaxed neighborhood-vibe. As if you're family. Watching Terry work the room, sitting down at many tables, shaking hands, making menu suggestions, and pulling out bar and kitchen favorites to share, it was exactly what an Italian restaurant should feel like.
Now, everything that we had is not currently on the menu, or in the same form. Terry shared with us his plans to change about 2/3 of the menu, after some inspiration his hit from looking back on his time spent in Italy.

Change is good, but at the heart of it, La Dolce Vita will remain the same. After 25 years in business, why mess too much with it...

If you've never been, or it's been a while, I encourage you to visit the corner restaurant right in the heart of Little Italy.

La Dolce Vita
12112 Mayfield Road
Cleveland, OH 44106

Disclosure: I was invited, with a guest, to attend a private tasting dinner at La Dolce Vita. All food and wine was complimentary. All opinions stated are 100% my own.