Votive candles flicker from a long slit of window. Behind the bar, flames seem to lick at the back of the shelved liquor bottles. Lean, muscular people, bellies and tattoos bared, populate the long stretch of bar. There’s a cluster of folks at the door, more stepping out of a bright yellow Humvee.
Welcome to Dolce, the new West Hollywood restaurant from the owners of Belly lounge and the designer of Katana, Linq and Avenue. Open only a couple of weeks, this Italian restaurant in the former Le Chardonnay location is already booked to the max and comes with all the attitude of the latest hot spot.
Dolce is the younger generation’s answer to Ago (the bustling West Hollywood show-biz haven partly owned by Robert DeNiro). For its chef, they’ve nabbed Mirko Poderno, who has worked most recently at Trio in San Marino -- a quiet, dignified place. Dolce, though, is a frenzied scene. Waiters are hoarse from shouting to be heard, and they assume everything -- every dish, every term -- has to be explained, which can make dealing with the large menu a chore. It includes enoteca, Dolce’s answer to tapas -- a series of small dishes to share -- plus antipasti, pastas and risottos, meats and fish and, finally, dolci (sweets).
Poderno is a competent chef, so the food is better than at most trendy places. For antipasti, he makes a fine fried calamari, a homey Tuscan bread and tomato soup and a lovely deconstructed Caesar with romaine hearts and a molded Parmesan custard. You can also order fresh ricotta with anise seeds or grilled cuttlefish from the enoteca menu. Among the pastas, though, his bombolotti all’amatriciana lacks character, outclassed by the crepes filled with ricotta and bitter greens or the risotto alla Milanese with braised veal.
Main courses follow the usual L.A. Italian lineup, with grilled prime rib leading the pack. It’s a good choice, because it gives you an excuse to open one of the big reds from the wine list compiled by former Valentino sommelier Alex Sbrendola.
As for the dolci, the restaurant gives star billing to tiramisu, made here with panettone instead of the usual ladyfingers. There is the very Italian fresh fruit with zabaglione, but from the number of tiramisus sailing out the kitchen doors, they’re clearly the dolce of choice.
Where: 8284 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood
When: Open 6 p.m.-2 a.m. daily; full bar; valet parking
Cost: Appetizers, $6 to $12; pastas, $14 to $19; main courses, $21 to $29; desserts, $7
Info: (323) 852-7174