When the warm weather hits, it quickly begins to seem like the days get longer in more ways than one, with each day packed from dusk to dawn with things to do, regardless of what’s been scheduled.
As if to prove that side-note hypothesis, last weekend somehow managed to be unbelievably busy, leaving us in desperate desire of a sanctuary of sustenance.
That’s where Provo’s La Vita Ristorante Italiano comes into play. The Daily Herald offices are just on the flip side of the block from the iconic dining staple, and if proximity wasn’t enough of a motivator, ever since a chat with Mario Garcia, who runs the restaurant, for a story about global eats in Utah County, I’ve had an undeniable desire to check it out for myself. I couldn’t be more grateful that I did.
According to Garcia, La Dolce Vita was opened in 1984 by Gianni and Susi Della Corte of Naples, Italy, who came to the area after joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“When they opened the restaurant, it was the only Italian restaurant in the city,” he said.
With that in mind, the cuisine is definitely Naples style and “southern Italian,” made even better by the fact “they brought their own recipes,” Garcia explained. “So they’re authentic recipes and it has a homemade touch.”
Between the homegrown recipes and the family-centric business structure, our motley crew felt right at home in the beautiful interior of the restaurant, which expanded in 1991 to take over the building next door and create a capacity of 150.
The decorations are beautiful, with exquisite, large landscape paintings, photographs of the past, and even statues and columns adding little bursts of style and authenticity to the venue, which was packed with lively patrons enjoying their weekend together.
We were seated near the entrance, and were quickly entranced by the many options available as well as the way they catered to all generations of diners, something the restaurant’s website notes as “delicate blends of simple, traditional ingredients (that) result in wonderfully complex flavors that are sure to satisfy both your nostalgic childhood love of Italian food as well as your more gourmet palate.”
This quickly proved to be true as the 6-inch mini cheese pizza our little ones ordered from Il Menu dei Bambini, the Kids Menu, made it to our table. With a 2- and 4-year-old, more time than I’d like is sometimes spent helping to encourage meal consumption to happen. However, entranced with my own food, I was surprised to look up and discover nearly the entire pizza already devoured with comments about how it was the best pizza ever. Not only did the little ones finish that, but they polished off a couple slices of delicious homemade bread and a fair sampling of foods off everyone else’s plates. I’ve never seen them quite so ravenous, and after snitching a bite of the pizza, I couldn’t blame them.
To maximize our dining options and minimize the price, our group decided to go with the La Dolce Vita special that’s long been advertised outside the building: two meals for $27.99, including a soup or salad, four slices of the delicious bread, two entrees, drinks and a dessert. The hardest part was narrowing it down to what to eat, because even the deal menu was loaded with delicious options.
Before I dive into the food too much, I feel it’s important to note that I seldom select pasta from a restaurant menu, especially when it’s not an Italian restaurant. I tend toward the frugal side, and knowing that I could easily make something at home for a fraction of the cost tends to destroy the joy of the meal for me.
With that out of the way, there is NO WAY I could easily make the delectable dishes we got at La Dolce Vita easily at home. The intricacies of the flavors alone, especially in the Ragu sauce, literally blew me away.
My mom is visiting us from out of town, and has been wanting spaghetti for quite some time, so she settled on the Spaghetti al Ragù with meatballs. Despite it being a classic, and spaghetti being a staple at our house, it quickly became a favorite. The meatballs were flavor-packed, tender and juicy and the sauce was simply incredible, with so many flavors melding in a perfect harmony of spice that you can tell has been cultivated with great care.
I felt nearly as passionate about the Pollo alla Parmigiana (chicken Parmesan) I got, which is covered in the same richly flavored sauce as well as mozzarella, with Pasta a Gratté (penne pasta baked in Alfredo sauce with provolone, Parmesan and salame) on the side.
My real envy came from sampling my friend’s meal, however. Her Cannellone was an exquisite flavor experience, and it took an ample amount of self-control to box up leftovers instead of continuing to eat, despite the stuffed nature of our bellies. The Cannellone is a pasta shell filled with ricotta, provolone, beef and Parmesan cheese, baked in ragù sauce and served with Pasta a Gratté, and it far exceeded expectations with a beautiful blend of cheeses and meat that offered a new explosion of flavor in every bite.
Hoping for something a little lighter despite the carb-loading nature of pasta, my husband settled on Penne al Pesto with grilled chicken added, a dish that includes penne pasta sautéed with a homemade pesto sauce using fresh basil, garlic and crushed pine nuts blended with extra virgin olive oil.
Despite being really picky about my pesto, I loved his dish, and the only reason I didn’t snitch his leftovers was the delicious helping that remained of my own dinner.
With Minestrone soup (so tasty and flavorful) or a side salad as a starter, breads to accompany the meal, the hefty portioned entrees themselves and the dessert to share at the end, our meal at La Dolce Vita was both filling and refreshing, with a waitress that catered to our every need with wit and ease, despite how scatterbrained we were from the heat and activities of the day.
As if the food wasn’t enough of a reason alone to return, I also loved the way the staff interacted with our wild children, even giving them suckers at the end as we tried to keep them to a level of tame that’s socially acceptable. It was a perfect and perfectly delicious ending to a long day, and with the care taken for each recipe apparent in every bite, it’s safe to say we’ve found a new downtown favorite that we’ll definitely be visiting again.