Tim and I hadn’t had a date since sometime in July, so when my mom was in town last week, we quickly made plans to take advantage of free babysitting. Last Tuesday afternoon, we excitedly considered our options for a nice meal out. We haven’t been to the scrumptulescent Five & Ten in a really, really, sadly long time. But we’d also been deathly curious about a relatively new Italian place downtown that’s been getting good reviews (via both printed media and word-of-mouth). We’d even looked at the menu one night while passing by — and it looked incredible. The night’s lineup reminded me of a restaurant I went to in Little Italy while once in Manhattan — a far cry from the Americanized-Italian places that have been our only option in Athens thus far when the craving for olive-oil-doused carbohydrates has stricken (I know — Bischero tries hard — but it’s gone downhill since the ownership changed, and the past two meals we’ve had there have been disappointing, so we boycotted).
La Dolce Vita is located on the second floor of an early 20th-century building overlooking Broad Street. The space offers high potential for quaint Italian charm, but I must say that our first impression was that they ever-so-slightly missed that mark. They tried — but the plaster-coated brick walls were just a touch too primary-yellow, and the places where the plaster was peeled off and the underlying brick exposed just a touch too perfectly shaped. They could have gotten away with a whisper, but instead went with a raised voice. The server was very friendly, attentive, and entirely alone in his venture: he was the sole server on a night that eventually sat 6 or 7 tables at once.
I opened the menu, and immediately saw something I absolutely had to have: carpaccio. I had just watched Giada De Laurentiis prepare her version of it on my second-favorite FoodTV show — it was the first time I’d ever seen it, and it looked spectacular. Read an interesting history of the dish at wikipedia; but the gist is thinly sliced raw beef, topped with olive oil and citrus, served as an appetizer. I confess that, even being a long-time sashimi consumer, I was a teeny bit wary of the raw factor. But, you must keep in mind that it is cured beef — they’re not slapping a quarter-pound of red ground beef on your plate. The menu offered a host of toppings for the beef — everything from arugula to mushrooms. We went with the assorted sautéed mushrooms, citrus vinaigrette, and shaved parmigiano. And I must say — what a start. This was nothing short of mind-bogglingly good. We practically ate the serving plate, and I think we both stopped breathing for the length of time it took to completely consume the raw, cured, perfectly-balanced heavenly goodness. (Note: If you live in Athens, and go to La Dolce Vita, the menu offers a selection of fully-cooked carpaccio. DO NOT CHEAT YOURSELF. Get the raw. The cooked version is only a cheap, plastic, mirror-image of the real thing.)
After a few minutes of recovery (is it gauche to say I could’ve smoked a cigarette?), we looked forward to our entrées. With an appetizer like that, we were hungry for more of this Italian-superhero’s concoctions. It is with great sadness that I must write our disappointment. Our entrées arrived, and even their presentation was underwhelming. Tim ordered one of the specials — a Pork Tenderloin in a Port Wine sauce with Peaches and Pecans. I ordered the Gnocchi, with a simple bolognese sauce. The pork was simply not what I was expecting; I imagined an actual sliced tenderloin, topped with the sauce. But it was more breaded, pan-fried medallions that were part of a sauce that topped bowtie pasta. Good, but nothing noteworthy. And, my gnocchi — it was just plain bad. The actual potato dumplings were as good as I’ve had (not many times, mind you), but the sauce was thin, with grainy meat and an off flavor. The texture was sort of like a Cincinnatti chili, and the flavor reminiscent of a can of Spaghetios. Really. I honestly couldn’t believe how bad it was (Tim was in agreement), and all I could feel was utter disappointment. After the carpaccio, I was poised to find a New Great Place. This was, at best, a place we knew we could go and get great carpaccio (and, honestly, that’s not a bad thing to be, in my world) — but not much else.
Thoroughly disheartened, we glanced at the dessert menu, only to pass. It was filled with the usual Italian suspects: tiramisu, cannoli, gelatos, etc. I was so burned by dinner, I feared the worst. So we passed, payed our large sum of money to the nice server, and left longing for our next dinner with Hugh.
Which will actually be TOMORROW NIGHT. Yes, friends, Five & Ten has a table with our name on it, in celebration of Tim’s birthday. You gotta know I’m gonna kiss and tell.
My favorite season for food, at my favorite restaurant, with my favorite husband. What more could I ask for?