In what can only be described as serendipitous, my wife Trish and I, and our best friends Jill and Mike, both found ourselves with mothers and mothers-in-law who wanted to take our respective children overnight – on Saturday, Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.
So we made plans to have a nice dinner that night in honor of the romantic holiday. We wanted a place that was upscale, intimate, would allow us to linger and enjoy our dinner instead of tapping their feet waiting to clear the table, and, of course, had a reputation for good food.
We found all of that in Victor’s Dolce Vita, a restaurant specializing in Northern Italian cuisine. Just like you don’t judge a book by its cover, don’t judge Dolce Vita by its exterior. The restaurant is located in a strip mall along a busy section of Route 376 in Wappingers Falls, and when you first pull up you’ll wonder whether you’re going to an upscale Italian restaurant or to a hoe-down at Joe Bob’s.
With its maroon façade and arched roof, Dolce Vita looks like a barn from the outside, and the waist-high white fence out front doesn’t do anything to distract you from that feeling. Once inside, however, it was a completely different story.
If you’re looking for an elegant dining experience, this is it. Deep cherry wood and mahogany, along with soft lighting, give the restaurant an intimate, clubby feel. The bar is situated at the front of the restaurant, although there are only about a half-dozen seats. Still, it never seemed crowded and, even better, it didn’t appear as though the customers were just killing time waiting for a table. Instead, it seemed like they were there for a nice aperitif or an after-dinner martini.
Although there are plenty of tables, we asked for one of the high-back rounded booths, tastefully decorated in rich fabric. It gave the four of us a sense of intimacy, like we were the only ones in the room, and we took advantage throughout the night to talk, laugh and catch up. One quibble: in deciding where to go, we needed to pick a place that was amenable to four different sets of taste buds. In looking at the restaurant’s menu on its online site, there was a generous sampling of veal, steak, chicken, fish and pasta dishes.
The quibble? We were all slightly disappointed when the waiter handed us sheets of paper entitled “Special Valentine’s Day Menu.” Not only did the menu look like something my 8-year-old could have made on our home printer, and certainly out of character with the décor, but it had limited dinner selections – and prices that were jacked up a few dollars higher per entrée than what I had seen online.
But, again, that’s a small quibble. And, in fact, my wife made a good point – maybe the restaurant didn’t jack up the price. Maybe its web site featured an old menu that hadn’t been updated with any recent entrée or price change. Fair enough. With the service we received, and the beautiful setting, it more than made up for it.
Our water glasses were always filled, our bread basket was never empty, and it was all done in almost a stealth manner, without an interruption in conversation. We each ordered appetizers to split. Trish and I had the baked clams oreganato, and it was delicious. It had a terrific blend of garlic and lemon white wine sauce, but unlike other restaurants that smother this appy in breading, you could actually taste the clam in the baked clams.
Jill and Mike had the Maryland crab cakes. Now, Mike is something of a crab cake aficionado; he makes his own. So for him to say that these crab cakes were as good as his is something of a rave. For entrees, Jill and I both ordered the chicken marsala, while my wife Trish opted for stuffed shrimp and Mike had a grilled sirloin. The chicken was good, although Jill and I both agreed the marsala sauce was a little thicker than it should be and needed a touch more wine.
Mike said his steak was fabulous, grilled exactly the way he asked. My wife’s shrimp was so generous she took half of it home. All of our vegetables were excellent and perfectly cooked – not so underdone that they were raw, not so overdone that they were limp.
All in all, it was a lovely time. I base my restaurant experiences on the sum of the parts, including the ambience, décor, service, intangibles, the company of my dining partners, and more. And when visiting a restaurant for the first time, I always ask myself if I would I come back? For Victor’s Dolce Vita, they can reserve me another table right now.