Farewell, Dolce Vita, and Thanks For the Memories
Guest writer Lisa Hopkins has lived in the Heights area for almost 10 years, and in Houston for almost 20. She says some of her favorite things about the city are its incredible food, restaurants and bars, and she’s proud to support local neighborhood spots and independent journalism. When she’s not following all of the latest food news, she works in digital marketing at Stacey E. Burke, PC.
It’s the end of an era: Dolce Vita has closed after 14 years. I still remember my first time dining in the old yellow house, introduced to the restaurant by a couple of college friends. We were in our early 20s, and felt like we were at the height of sophistication ordering our Black Truffle Egg Toasts and Blood Orange Spritzers. As the years passed, it became a go-to spot for drinks with the girls, special occasions or just a fun night out.
Our ordering grew bolder over the years, and ultimately, we tried just about everything on the menu. Seated at the tightly packed tables, on many occasions I found myself guiding new diners through the menu — a bit hard to peruse for first-timers – and making recommendations on what they should order. Sometimes they listened, sometimes they didn’t. It didn’t matter, because they were in for a delightful meal no matter what they selected.
Chef and owner Marco Wiles makes one last pizza at Dolce Vita.
My closest friends and I slowly settled into a routine, ordering our favorite “usuals” and only perusing the menu to see the day’s specials. The rest of the menu we knew by heart. The tangy shaved brussels sprouts, with that acidic vinegar dressing punching against the salty Parmesan cheese. The mushrooms with mint and ricotta rosa, always eaten slathered over warm pizza bread. The balls of creamy goat cheese and pumpkin filling, emerging piping-hot out of the deep fryer.
Then it was onward to the main course, which always — always — included a Taleggio pizza. Those long, interminable moments between the pizzas hitting the table and our server coming over to slice them for us were filled with the heady aroma of truffle oil. Each bite, filled with peppery arugula and gooey cheese, contrasted with a crisp and sweet warm pear slice on top. I’ve often said over the years that if I could only have one food for the rest of my life, it would be this pizza. I’m not sure that will ever change.
Of course, every pizza on the menu was special, from the paper-thin eggplant on the Melanzane to the crispy-edged cubes of butternut squash on the Zucca, to the utter perfection that was the classic margherita. It didn’t really matter which pizza you ordered, because each was all delicious in its own right.
And the crust! The crust was always the perfect mix of chewy and crispy; a sublime canvas for the toppings.
Let’s not forget the pastas. While I know many in Houston religiously ordered the Maccheroni, loaded with bright green peas and prosciutto, I was devoted to the Bucatini all’ Amatriciana. The dish was just the right amount of spicy, with the bright red sauce clinging to the substantial freshly made pasta noodles.
It wasn’t just the food that made this place special. It was also the relationships I developed. I made friends with the managers, who always introduced me to their successors when they moved on. I had favorite waiters who made sure I was seated in their sections, and befriended bartenders who spotted me from across the crowded waiting area and had my blood orange martini ready and waiting by the time I wormed my way through the Friday night crowd to reach the bar.
As time lapsed, I think the only employee with a longer tenure than me was the gentleman in charge of the valet. He always recognized me, called me “princess” in the most endearing way, gave me a big smile and a hug, and never handed me a claim ticket. He obviously learned which car was mine. He was there from my first visit to my last, and blew me a kiss as I drove off with my final Taleggio pizza.
Countless milestones were observed at Dolce Vita over the past decade, including the majority of my birthdays. Whether it was toasting the news of a new engagement, celebrating a new job, or simply enjoying a night out with good friends, every night truly lived up to Dolce Vita’s name: it was a sweet, luxurious life dining there.
I will miss the little yellow house dearly, not just for the delicious and unforgettable food, but also for the memories and friendships I found.
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