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MLT Eats: Dolce Italian

At W Philadelphia’s New Eatery, Life Is Sweet

By Greg Salisbury, Food Editor

Photo courtesy of Dolce Italian.

Walking into Dolce, the new Italian restaurant anchoring the W Philadelphia hotel on Chestnut Street, it’s hard not to think that the name – Italian for “sweet” – likely applies to the cuisine and the emotions felt by the spot’s staff when they opened its doors after 18 months of COVID-related delays.

Just a few months after the resumption of indoor dining, sliding into a coolly comfortable corner banquette still feels like a sweet, small triumph, one that is quickly heralded by the arrival of grassy pools of extra-virgin olive oil and slick crests of herby butter blooming across warm focaccia, their introductory richness cut by the bracing astringency of a Negroni Bianco.

A sense of ease and easy expertise, no doubt hard-won, permeates the 170-seat restaurant that looks and feels like the direct descendant of a soundstage at Rome’s Cinecittá Studios in the 1960s, all earth tones, angles and energy.

Dolce’s menu is organized in traditional Italian style with five sections that suggest options for a multi-course dinner. The antipasti section is filled with classics like crudo (of bigeye tuna), carpaccio and, of course, antipasto.

Photo courtesy of Dolce Italian.

We had to try Dolce’s eponymous meatballs, which distinguished themselves at first bite, thanks to how Executive Chef Terry White and his team have ground each of the three meats – beef, veal, and pork – that go into the recipe. The barely-there gloss of tomato sauce gives acidic counterpunch to the almost-gamy meatballs and the smooth graininess of the polenta underneath. This dish underscores how comfort food doesn’t need to be elevated if you treat it with the respect it deserves; it reaches its own level on its merits.

Another early glimpse of the kitchen’s skill can be seen – or, more precisely, seen through– with the fritto misto. Tangles of squid tentacles and shrimp, waiting to be dunked in a lemony aioli, share a near-greaseless plate with paper-thin potato chips and zucchini shaved to translucence.

It’s tough to choose among Dolce’s five pizzas. On our server Alex’s advice, we dug into the Primo Amore, a slightly blistered, slightly floppy Neapolitan-style disk laden with creamy burrata, local cherry tomatoes, arugula and parmagiano – a nicely seasonal nod to the Italian flag’s green, white and red colors.

Photo courtesy of Dolce Italian.

As Dolce general manager Lynn Rinaldi proudly points out, virtually all of the restaurant’s pastas are made in-house, including a dish of tortelli filled with osso buco accompanied by crispy sweetbreads and mushrooms, all bathed in an orange gremolata and sauce.

Rinaldi, the former chef-owner of the late and much-loved Passyunk Ave. fixture Paradiso, made the leap from kitchen to dining room, where she oversees everything from Dolce’s service standards to its exceptionally well-chosen wine list. Naturally, the wine is list is heavy on Italian, but it includes smaller vintners and an exceptionally matchable by-the-glass program.

Watching Rinaldi glide from table to table, it’s plain that she is in her element. “My approach with Paradiso was so relationship-based – it was something I did every day, so the transition wasn’t that big a transition,” she explained. “I feel that relationships are a huge part of a restaurant. People don’t come just for good food. They continue to come back because they are loyal and they build relationships.”

And in a region replete with excellent Italian restaurants, Rinaldi adds, this is could be the secret ingredient to Dolce’s success. “Is there room for another Italian restaurant in Philadelphia? Of course,” she exclaims. “I think of a go-to place with a comforting vibe that makes you leave happy. That’s what I want to bring to Dolce. [Philadelphians] love to support restaurants, and they want to support restaurants they feel comfortable in.”

Reluctantly polishing off the last of a textbook tiramisu and crema-topped espresso, we knew just what Rinaldi meant.

Dolce

1437 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia

Dinner for two$200 with drinks
BreakfastTuesday – Sunday7:00 AM – 10:00 AM
LunchTuesday – Sunday11:30 AM – 2:30 PM  
AperitivoTuesday – Saturday3:00 PM – 5:00 PM
DinnerTuesday – Saturday5:00 PM – 9:30 PM

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Main Line Tonight is a new media network covering news, wellness, dining and style in Philadelphia and its suburbs.

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