La Dolce Vita is to LA Dining as The Magic Castle is to the city’s entertainment: timeless, iconic, and perhaps majestic in its ‘hidden’ quality. Open for more than half a century, this Italian escape has remained essentially unchanged in both its intimate, homey ambiance and much of its classic menu. More A-listers have sat in the dozen or so tables than the restaurant can keep track of, and some loyalists have dined there regularly since the 60’s.
The place is everything you’d imagine in an old-school Italian spot. Deep red booths, dim lighting, wine bottles filling every inch of unoccupied space, and soothing live music* to tie everything together. Servers sport beige coats and thick Italian accents, and the entire staff makes you feel like family. Rumor has it that the first general manager helped Frank Sinatra—a Dolce Vita regular—evade the paparazzi by sneaking him and his wife out the back door, and then drove them home. As a thank you, Sinatra gave the GM the keys to his new BMW.
Anecdotes aside, the menu speaks to fine Italian. La Dolce Vita’s Classics are served the same way now as they were in 1966, while new additions modernize traditional fare with contemporary fusion. Start your meal off with excellent shrimp scampi that holds just enough smoky taste to meld harmoniously with rich lemon butter sauce. The seared foie gras doesn’t quite compete with that of a French spot down the road, but cocoa powder and chicken and parsley jus give it some character.
Risotto and ravioli change daily here; in this case, thick mushrooms and black truffle shavings made for a must-order risotto. The bucatini alfredo creates intrigue with an uni and blue crab sauce, though the dish leaves patrons wishing for more sauce, as well as its accompanying bacon and mussels.
Lamb involtini leads the mains not for the lamb [which is still bold and flavorful], but for the kabocha squash gnocchi. These huge, thick gnocchis in a heavenly gorgonzola garlic cream should absolutely have their own spot on the menu, and yes you can order them as such on special request. On the seafood side, the Sand Dabs have been a favorite for decades for good reason, boasting rich flavor and a buttery finish that surprisingly exceeded that of their Chilean Sea Bass.
A charming wine list features fine choices from across Italy, France and California, and the cocktail menu shares a story behind each of La Dolce Vita’s half-dozen specialty drinks. Desserts are homemade, highlighted by the flourless chocolate cake and some amazing tartufo.
Will this outing cost you? Absolutely. Portions essentially mandate a 3 – 4 course meal, but in true Italian fashion that’s the only way to take in the whole experience. If you’re looking to indulge in a revered LA destination, this could be a place for you.
*Live music on Tuesdays from 7 – 10 p.m.
La Dolce Vita is located at 9785 Santa Monica Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Open Sun – Thurs 5 – 10 p.m., Fri/Sat 5 – 11 p.m. Happy hour Mon – Fri 5 – 7 p.m., all day Tuesdays. Average out-the-door price for appetizer, pasta, main, dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$150/person. For more information or reservations call La Dolce Vita at (310) 278-1845 or visit La Dolce Vita online.