Dolce Italia, meaning “Sweet Italy” is a charming “mom and pop” authentic Neapolitan-Italian restaurant in the heart of Sarasota’s Bohemian Gulf Gate Village. Owners, husband and wife Filippo and Tiziana came to Sarasota from the beautiful “green island” of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples–an area known for excellent seafood, tomatoes, pasta, mozzarella, and family-style hospitality. From the owners: “A warm welcome from Dolce Italia, celebrating our fourth anniversary. Four years ago we opened with the dream of creating a little gathering place to enjoy good food and good company.” I enjoyed visiting Ischia two summers back and fell in love with the laid back vibe, the great food, warm hospitality, and the abundance of thermal springs and spas on the island–a great place to really get away. Filippo and Tiziana came to Sarasota to create their dream: to open their own restaurant and share their Neapolitan hospitality, ambiance, and flavorful, “wholesome Italian Cuisine from our family traditions.” Celebrating four years in Sarasota, and packed on a Thursday night off-season, the small restaurant definitely has a loyal following. In fact, one of my Sarasota area “foodie friends” and Advisory Board members highly recommended the place (despite spending a week every month in Sarasota and having lots of friends, family, clients, and Golden Palate Partners and Preferred Destinations in town, this one was under even my radar), so I always appreciate the referrals–this is how I get to try new things, meet new people, and welcome new establishments to my Golden Palate family of excellence. When I find a place to be up to my standards–then I award either the Golden Palate Certificate of Excellence™ or name it a Preferred Destination and help spread the word on my website/blog and social media so others can enjoy as well. In essence, we people of good taste help each other!
Pictured above: Italian Proverb: A good cook always has many friends.
The decor and ambiance, as well as the cuisine, transport you to the sunny shores of Ischia. Tiziana’s father created the sculpture of the enchanted Castle Aragonese on their wall, a symbol of Ischia where the couple was born and raised.
True to Italian “Old World” form, Tiziana and Filippo treat their guests like family== they mingle in the dining room, walk you through the nightly specials, and go in the back and prepare everything to order. Their motto is: “La Nostra Casa e la Vostra Casa.” — Our Home is Your Home.
The menu features a number of antipasti, including fresh mozzarella “Caprese” with luscious roasted peppers, or Burrata as a special (mozzarella filled with curds and cream), two styles of eggplant (Parmigiana or diced and sautéed with a scoop of warm, fresh ricotta in the middle (eggplant is practically a daily staple in Neapolitan culture), so I had to taste it–we went with the Burrata and the sautéed eggplant–both were great.
For pastas, Filippo recommended the house specialty, Penne (triangular shaped for an interesting and different mouth feel) with tomato, mushrooms, mozzarella, and a touch of cream–reminded me of a dish I enjoyed in Sorrento. The other specialty our server highly recommended was the linguine with mixed seafood or “frutti di mare”–another almost daily staple in the Neapolitan diet–pasta and seafood. The waters in the Naples-Sorrento-Amalfi Coast-Capri-Ischia area are pristine, despite the area being home to several million people and having been inhabited for thousands of years (I wonder what they’re doing that we’re not), so there is an incredible abundance of exquisite seafood. Using US-based products, Filippo did an excellent job re-creating this Neapolitan classic dish, which he personally came out to ask if I wanted it mild, medium, or spicy (southern Italians enjoy spice, especially in warm weather–it makes you perspire, which cools you off and revs your metabolism, something helpful especially if you are eating pasta and cheese). The pasta was al dente as it should be, and very little pasta to seafood, also as it should be. American-Italian restaurants have the bad habit of serving a mound of pasta (often mushy) and typically with too much soupy sauce or not enough condiment for the amount of pasta (think a pound of pasta with six clams). Several good twirls of pasta and a plate filled with fresh shellfish, calamari, and shrimp in a rich tomato brodetto with a touch of spice, a hint of garlic and white wine, as well as herbs made for an experience you’d want to “fare la scarpetta,” or clean the dish by absorbing the sauce with some bread–something Italians do all the time, especially at home, but is considered not the best etiquette when dining out in a nice restaurant. The sauce itself could be an excellent soup!
As for cocktails–the restaurant serves beer and wine–and the list is strictly Italian. While geared more towards “vini rossi” or red wines, there are some decent options of white and red by the glass that pair well with your meal. I started with a Falanghina white wine from Campania, near Naples (but of course), and finished with a Ripasso Valpolicella from the Veneto (the slightly lighter, though still robust second pressing from Amarone production).
Getting full, we tried the nightly fish special, local Red Snapper “Pizzaiola” which is in the style of a pizza-maker, with tomato and oregano–the fish was fresh, thick, moist, and excellent. The sauce was a once complement, it did not overpower the fish.
Dessert was tempting, but alas we left a little before full and decided to save temptation for the next time. The fact that we left looking forward to a next time is a good sign! Dessert choices included a chocolate soufflé, cannoli, and limoncello cake, among others. Upon leaving, I awarded Dolce Italia The Golden Palate Certificate of Excellence for their authentic cuisine and “hands-on” hospitality. See you in Sarasota, and please tell Tiziana and Filippo that Fred Bollaci sent you!
6551 Gateway Ave, Sarasota, FL 34231