La Dolce Vita: Italian in the Details

By Jan Walsh     

Photography by Beau Gustafson

Executive chef and owner Benard Tamburello

Tonight we get a taste of Italian heritage at La Dolce Vita. Here the Italian is in the details. Our bread starts baking when we sit down. The pasta we order is handmade and bursting with Old World texture and flavor. And the ingredients are authentically Italian — tomatoes from San Marzano, cheese from Parma, balsamic vinegar from Modena and olive oil from Tuscany.

The Place

Located at 1851 Montgomery Highway in Hoover, the restaurant is just up the road from Riverchase Galleria. We enter through the “trattoria,” a separate bar area with bricks, arches, rounded edges and touches of Milan. Heavy drapes divide the dining room into more intimate spaces and add warmth and romance to the restaurant. La Dolce Vita is open for lunch Monday through Friday and for dinner Monday through Saturday. They provide private dining at the restaurant for special events and offsite catering.

The Chef

Executive chef and owner Benard Tamburello has been cooking in his own restaurants for 20 years. His first eatery was Gus’s Hot Dogs in Inverness Corners, which he started in 1992. In 1996, he opened Bernie’s Grill in Chelsea, and in 2001 he moved the business to Columbiana, where he continues to operate Bernie’s on Main. In 2004, he and his wife, Sophia, purchased La Dolce Vita. And in 2012, his latest restaurant, Villagio, will open at Ross Bridge. Tamburello is Italian-American and has a background in Sicilian food.

Favorite Fare

To pair with dinner, we select an Italian white wine with a blend of Sicilian grapes, Regaleali Bianco 2009. A wide variety of culinary delights tempt us, both tonight’s specials and the dinner menu, which includes new options, such as gluten-free pasta. We start with their famous, fresh, hot bread with olive oil, as well as a crunchy tomato bruschetta. We discipline ourselves to have just enough delicious bread to whet the appetite without filling up. As an appetizer, we share an order of two handmade, sautéed crab cakes. The golden cakes arrive over dark-green, wilted spinach, brimming with fresh flavor. Unlike typical crab cakes plumped up with filler and other chopped-up veggies, these cakes are full of delicate, white crabmeat and little else. And each bite is a crab lover’s delight.

Tamburello has always impressed us with his inventive and classic salads, and tonight we order one of each — a gorgonzola wedge and a Caesar salad. The lovely wedge of romaine lettuce is topped with a touch of protein — pancetta and a bit of dairy-fresh gorgonzola cheese served under a house-made gorgonzola dressing. The traditional Caesar salad is a fresh mix of romaine tossed in house-made Caesar dressing. Both are delicious.

Entrée selections include tonight’s special of Seafood Pescatore and, from the dinner menu, meatballs over linguine. The pescatore arrives hot with a side of light-green, handmade basil pasta. This creamy seafood dish is a mix of milky grouper, succulent, pink shrimp and delicate scallops. The meatballs over linguine is a hearty bowl of comfort with handmade linguine topped with tasty, handmade meatballs cooked in Marinara sauce.

A dessert of white-chocolate bread pudding is a masterpiece. Incredibly moist, this soft bread pudding achieves a balance between cake and pudding textures. Flavors of white chocolate are integrated throughout. I’ve never had a better bread pudding.

From the bruschetta to the bread pudding, La Dolce Vita offers an authentic taste of the sweet life.

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