Local Spotlight

Date Night at Dolce Vita Pizzeria & Enoteca

When it comes time for date night, I want two things, and two things only: good food and flowing wine...Wait, and my fiancé, I guess. Okay, three things and three things only...

Back home, our usual date night took place at one of the hole-in-the-wall Italian joints that are everywhere in NYC. So the first thing we looked for when we moved to this fine city was something like that. Dolce Vita Pizzeria & Enoteca was one of our first stops and has been a favorite ever since.

And rightfully so; this restaurant oozes romance. Housed in a quaint, two-story vintage home, Dolce Vita gives off a warm, intimate vibe. The creaky staircase, funky chalkboard cocktail menu and dim lighting only add to the feel.

Last Friday night, we decided to give this date spot a much-needed visit. Even at 9 p.m., the restaurant was packed, so we put our name down and headed to the double-sided wine bar for a cocktail while we waited for the first available seating. Barely ten minutes later, after only a few sips of our pear-puree martinis, the hostess came by to bring us to our table outside. It was a gorgeous night, making the vine-enclosed outdoor patio even more alluring.

After cocktails, we knew it was time for wine (my favorite part of the day). Perusing the menu offering fine Italian wines by the glass and bottle, we settled on a bright 2010 Toscolo Chianti ($32). With subtle notes of cherry and licorice, the light red would pair nicely with whatever we decided on.

Next we moved on to the good stuff: the dinner menu, which I have to say I am absolutely obsessed with. There's the selection of small plates, with everything from Verdura (veggies, $5 each) and Pesce (fish, $8 or $32 for all) to delectable boards of Carne (freshly sliced cured Italian meats, $9 or $38 for all) and Formaggio (selection of imported cheeses, $6 or $22 for all). Then there's the heartier choices like perfectly cooked Pastas ($12) and handmade, wood-burned Pizzas ($9 and up). It's everything I dream of. Oh, and did I mention you can add a fried egg to any pizza for an extra $2? Joy!

Wanting to try new things each trip, we ended up with the Mozzarella in Corozza ($6 from the Fritto, or fried small plates, selection), Shaved Brussels with Pecorino ($5) and one of the specials, a pizza with portobello, pancetta and bufala mozzarella ($16).

The small mozzarella appetizer was a perfect portion (we did have an entire pie coming our way). Two battered and fried disks of milky mozzarella came covered in a fresh, bright marinara. The addition of briny, lemony capers brought a unique kick, making it almost like a Spiedini alla Romana, the traditional fried bread and cheese dish typically served with anchovies.

The fritto paired wonderfully with the almost slaw-like shaved sprouts rounded out by crumbles of nutty, buttery pecorino and a bite from cracked black pepper. Taking note of the salad's pairing qualities, I made sure to save some for the pizza.

The pizza came out piping-hot and scorched in all the right places from the restaurant's 800-degree wood-burning oven. Much to my appreciation, the oven brought a rustic, smokey essence to the crust, which dipped and peaked across the pie. Dolce Vita takes an authentic Italian approach to their pies, focusing on pure flavors and keeping the crust crisp and chewy by going lighter on the sauce, top-notch cheeses and mouthwatering, quality toppings.

Milky bufala mozzarella was scattered across the pie, bringing a smooth creaminess to every bite. The meaty, soft portobellos and the hot, crispy pancetta added the perfect punch. All of this was rounded out by a light, fresh marinara. We drove through the pie, alternating between plain bites and spooning on the tart and nutty shaved sprouts.

I couldn't finish it off, but my fiancé was more than happy to try. Realizing we were right up the street from the recently opened beer bar The Hay Merchant (score!), we skipped dessert in favor of a few brews at the local hot spot. Date night lives on.

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Brooke Viggiano is a contributing writer who is always looking to share Houston's coolest and tastiest happenings with the Houston Press readers.
Contact: Brooke Viggiano