Sunday, July 13, 2008

CRAVE the Good Life

Dolce Vita

As part of our endless quest for good food, my wife and I tried a new pizzeria for lunch today (new to us). Hearing it's Houston's best pizza, we had high hopes. Long story short, Dolce Vita's pizza delivered (no pun intended).

To accomplish a casual dining atmosphere, it's set inside a quaint historic house, where the first floor serves as the bar and the second floor as the dining room. The windows are the original antique glass, providing a slightly distorted view of the neighboring shopping center. White kitchen towels are used as napkins. The floors and stairs creak. The result is a step back in time to turn-of-the-century Houston.

Though we only had a few dishes, we didn't regret what we ordered (except the dessert). Dolce Vita's food is as simple and aromatic as what we enjoyed in Italy. Their focus on fresh ingredients avoids a dependence on spices. Each of our dishes were a balanced combination of a few natural flavors, which doesn't confuse the palette.

The restaurant's dining room. Warm and homey like grandma's house.

Pickled anchovies with marinated bell peppers, capers and Italian parsley. Unlike the anchovies on pizza, these pickled ones are slightly tart and salty and has a great meaty texture to balance out the soft, sweet peppers. The capers are overpowering, so avoid getting too many mixed in with each bite.

Eggplant and fresh basil in agro docle, a sour ("agro") and sweet ("dolce") sauce. Though I wasn't craving eggplant at the time (my wife's order), I could appreciate the preparation. Served chilled, the purple plant had been cooked just right. The agro dolce was also a nice balance, neither too sweet nor too sour, that complimented the eggplant instead of masking its flavor.

Taleggio pizza with arugula and pear in truffle oil - sounds weird, tastes great! No tomato sauce here, exactly how I like it. The thin crispy crust reminded me of Naples. This was our first time eating warm Taleggio. We're big fans of the cheese, but until now have only had it cold or room temperature. Though we refer to it as a "stinky cheese," its flavor is much milder than its smell. Serving it warm brings out more of its flavor, which seemingly reduces its saltiness. The mildly bitter arugula coupled with gently sweet pear on top of mildly salty Taleggio cheese worked wonderfully.

Pistachio, dark chocolate and mexican vanilla bean gelato. Despite sounding and looking good, the gelato wasn't great. The waffle cone was stale. The gelato was full of ice crystals, taking away from the creaminess we've come to love. However, the gelato had the expected density and rich flavors. Nevertheless, next time we'll try one of their other desserts.

Since my wife and I have an unhealthy need to end a meal with sweets that meet our satisfaction, the disappointing gelato lead us to try a new bakery in Houston that only makes cupcakes. We've been burned before by not-so-great cupcake-only places, so we approached this one cautiously.

To our surprise, the cupcakes are very moist and delicious. So moist in fact that, when peeling the paper off the cupcakes, a thick layer of cake sticks to the wrapper. This resulted in me spending several minutes scraping the residue off with my teeth. Also, another pleasant surprise was a crunchy ring around the edge of the cupcake just under the frosting where batter had overflowed and hardened on the pan. The additional texture increased the cupcake's Mm-Mmm Factor ®.

Our only quibbles are that (1) the frosting is too sweet and (2) there's too much frosting. We know we're in a small minority that enjoy mildly sweet desserts; but with such great cake, the frosting dulls the palette and takes away from the meticulous baking. After our first bites, we simply scrapped off the "excess" frosting.

Again, these are mere trifles in comparison to the deliciousness that is CRAVE.


Dark chocolate

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