“It was a dark and stormy night . . .”
-Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)
Forgive the quote. I’m just trying to explain how I finally got a table at Dolce Vita Pizzaria Enoteca. I have been trying to go to Marco Wiles’ pizzeria on lower Wetheimer for almost a year, but every time I call, they have an hour-plus wait. A few weeks ago, it was Tuesday and raining, and I finally got a table.
Dolce Vita did not just meet my expectations. It blew them away.
The first thing I noticed was that the music and vibe of the restaurant were ultra hip. Even on a rainy Tuesday, customers were casual chic. Speakers were blaring neo post-punk dance music from seriously cool bands like LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture. Since it was a slow night, our beautiful hostess relaxed and began grooving. Then our handsome, suave waiter appeared. His name was Jesus.
Jesus recommended we start with escarole salad, which came with a ceasar-like dressing, anchovies, shaved parmesan, and a lot of lemon juice. This refreshingly bitter salad was a perfect way to wake up my palate. And it was one of the best variations on a ceasar salad I have had since 17 took a Caesar salad and fried it. I was beginning to put my faith in Jesus.
Next, Jesus said the truffled egg toast was good. Actually, it was incredible. To make this brilliantly simple dish, the chef took a thick slice of country bread, cracked an egg on top, threw it in the pizza oven, and then sprinkled it with truffle oil. The egg came out over-easy and upside-down. When I touched it with a fork, the yolk spilled all over the bread, mingling with the truffle oil. The gooey texture reminded me of the classic breakfast dish, egg-in-toast. But the rich flavor of truffles put the dish over the top. After all, truffle oil is a gift from God.
Finally, Jesus said we might like a pizza with taleggio cheese, arugula, pears, and truffle oil. Dominated by arugula, this was one of those salad-on-a-pizza type dishes, which are becoming a little too trendy. But this one was outstanding. The crust was crunchy and thin, exactly like pizzas I tried in Italy. The cheese, taleggio, is a very pungent, stinky, creamy cheese that can be overpoweringly funky. On this pizza, though, it struck a nice balance with the bitter greens and sweet pear slices. I didn’t taste much truffle oil, but my truffle taste buds may have been overwhelmed by the previous dish. No matter. By this third dish, I was having my own kind of religious experience – culinary rapture.
Our food cost less than $30 for two. Jesus tried to push desert, but we were stuffed.
The wine list is one of the best specialized lists in Houston. It has a large, eclectic selection of interesting Italian wines, made from unusual varietals in rare regions like Umbria and Sicily. Most bottles cost between $15 and $50. If you need a recommendation, ask Jesus.
Some of Houston’s best chefs have had problems with their “second” restaurants when they tried to go casual. Dolce Vita proves that a second restaurant can work. It proves inexpensive food can be original and full of flavor. And it proves that a value wine list can be exciting.
I will be rushing back to Dolce Vita -- on the next dark and stormy night.