Now That’s Italian!

Dolce Vita Cucina Italiana & Wine Bar

“Dad’s going to inhale this pizza,” commented my daughter Danielle, as the “Darius” pie, adorned with baby clams, pancetta, slices of parmigiana cheese and baby greens trickled with lemon-infused olive oil arrived on the table. “If there’s any left,” I said. Danielle and I were dining at Dolce Vita Cucina Italiana, one of the most popular restaurants in Fairfax County, ranking in the Top 10 in Fairfax Restaurants. Voted best happy hour by readers of Northern Virginia Magazine in 2017, the restaurant recently added a wine bar. The new establishment thrust this place from a neighborhood favorite to a local obsession.

Danielle was freshly home from her study abroad program in Rome. There, she consumed more Italian food in five months, than most of us could in several years. My husband and I visited her, so naturally, we too sampled vast amounts of “real” Italian cuisine. This experience had set a high bar for measuring authenticity and taste in Italian food.

Fortunately, Dolce Vita’s chef Anthony Grasso is running a kitchen where Italian food is more than pleasing. He and owner Cyrus Coleman are constantly working to up their game. “We make a lot stuff from scratch here,” explains Coleman. “We use our brick oven for everything.” The restaurant’s ceramic oven resembles Augustus Caesar with his mouth open, fiery orange coals and charred wood tunneled inside the emperor’s pink lips. “It’s not just the pizzas, we put the lasagnas in there, finish steaks, fish, and other meats in there; we use that oven all the time,” Coleman adds. 

Although the restaurant opened in 1993 as Dolce Veloce, Coleman bought it three years ago and made a few changes along with the name. “We bought this restaurant because it was so successful, but we have added some new touches,” states Coleman. “Like making scratch pastas, and we do some sauces slightly differently. Where we have the most flexibility is on the wine bar side. This menu {on the dining room side} is a typical Italian menu. In the wine bar, we are allowed to do modern Italian fusion.”

The restaurant’s pasta is made entirely in house. “All our pastas are also scratch. Every single one,” states Coleman. “All the string pastas and even the ziti; we have a pasta machine that helps us. The ziti mechanism makes tubes, and then has a knife that cuts it. That’s one of the biggest things we changed when we bought the place.” All the dishes are made to order, or “cucinare da zero” in Italian. Several ingredients and nearly every garnish is grown in Dolce Vita’s indoor and outdoor gardens—they use their own tomatoes, herbs, zucchini, baby greens and even handmade mozzarella at the restaurant.

When Grasso became head chef two years ago, he joined a few Dolce Vita employees that had been there since the restaurant opened. “It’s a great place to work,” the hostess tells me when she overhears how impressed I am at their longevity. Coleman and Grasso had worked together in the past, and had often discussed doing something together. Clearly, this group seems sympatico, and the restaurant has countless regulars who would prefer that I keep this treasure quiet.

We watch as plate after colorful plate sails by, and our anticipation grows. Mercifully, our server soon delivers two artistically rendered appetizers; one is a tower of fried tomatoes, homemade mozzarella and sprigs of basil drizzled with handcrafted basil oil. Coleman calls this “cicchetti,” or Italian-style tapa. The second is an avocado stuffed with a broiled crab cake topped with lemon buerre blanc. These dishes are from the Wine Bar menu. Currently, you can order from the restaurant menu in the Wine Bar, but not chicchetti on the restaurant side. “The wine bar is about 6 years old,” says Coleman, as he motions around the room filled wall to wall with wine bottles. “We are going to make it all one restaurant. We aren’t open for lunch on the wine bar side now, but we are working to consolidate them.” They hope to have this completed by the end of 2018.

Danielle and I dig in, commenting on the combination of sweet, sour, crisp, soft and creamy textures that Dolce Vita Wine Bar has assembled. Next up was our beloved Darius pizza, named after Coleman’s young son, who must be an adventurous eater if he likes clams and pancetta. We bite into the oven roasted crust, and both agree, this is a match for any pizza we sampled in Rome. Other options on the wine bar menu include arancini, or fried risotto balls, and long stem artichoke hearts. Chef Grasso knows both his contemporary and traditional Italian food.

We couldn’t leave without tasting the homemade pasta, so we shared a Penne Arrabbiatta, short tubes bathed in rich tomato sauce, embellished with Kalamata olives, flaming cherry peppers, capers and sweet cherry tomatoes. The fresh noodles absorb the essence of sauce and spices considerably better than store-bought pasta can.

You would think after all this food, we would have abstained from dessert, but I’m glad we went for it. We ordered their chocolate lava cake—the molten ganache contrasted seductively with the raspberry coulis sauce. We also tried vanilla ice cream in a homemade tulip-shaped Madeline cookie.

After I share how much we enjoyed the meal, Coleman humbly comments, “We have very loyal guests. We’ve done very well the last two years. We even won a Wine Spectator award. So, it’s fun.” As two women who adore Rome, we can attest, Dolce Vita is especially fun for lovers of traditional and modern-day Italian cuisine.

Dolce Vita Cucina Italiana & Wine Bar is located at 10824 Fairfax Blvd, Fairfax, VA 22030.

Dolce Vita is actually multiple restaurants in one. The Wine Bar hosts tastings, wine pairing dinners, and sells flights of wine. They carry four local craft beers on tap and can do private parties and catering.

Dolce Vita Cucina Italiana & Wine Bar

10824 Fairfax Boulevard,
Fairfax VA 22030
(703) 385-1530


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