Everything You Need to Know About the Return of La Dolce Vita
Los Angeles loves itself a revamp, and the trend continues apace with the blockbuster reopening of La Dolce Vita. Tucked away in Beverly Hills, this Italian American classic opened in 1966 with a menu of red sauce staples and a distinctly clubby vibe. Frank Sinatra and George Raft were investors; the Reagans were regulars. Martinis were sipped, spaghetti was swirled, and tiramisus were shared.
Up until its pandemic-induced hiatus in March of 2020, La Dolce Vita had only two owners over the course of its 50-plus years. Now, Marc Rose and Med Abrous, the duo behind Genghis Cohen and The Spare Room, have taken the reins and brought the Beverly Hills haunt into its next era.
Some things haven’t changed. For one, the bones of the compact room remain. There are still no windows. The mahogany red vinyl booths have not been altered, only patched up. But everywhere else, tweaks have been made to gussy up the space, from the design details to menu items to snazzy new uniforms for the staff. Still, the mood feels familiar: “With everything in this place, we aren’t reinventing the wheel,” says Rose.
We walked through La Dolce Vita with Rose and Abrous to get the rundown. Here’s everything you need to know.
1. The room might look familiar, but look a little closer.
Rose and Abrous partnered with Victoria Gillet of We Are Dada on the interior design, with the intent to personify everything that Beverly Hills evokes. The exterior brick walls that were once a neutral beige are now painted lilac, and the green awning was formerly red. Inside, they installed a burlwood bar with a soffit to make it pop, a cheetah print carpet, vintage sconces, and custom stained glass — also with cheetahs — set into the brick wall.
Cheetah shows up in several other places as well, from the handle of the restaurant’s front door to the borders on the menus. The big cat is the restaurant’s official mascot, inspired by Italian luxury cars (i.e., Lamborghini, Ferrari) with animals as their logos. The bathrooms feature two types of floral wallpaper, and the name plates associated with certain booths, including Frank Sinatra and Don Rickles, have been remade. “We took nostalgic cues from what we all know a red sauce restaurant looks like, but added a bit of chicness and ostentatiousness,” says Rose.
2. Cheeky details make the space.
For a small restaurant — seven bar stools, plus 70 seats spanning the dining and bar rooms — details abound. A curiosities case includes marble figurines, vintage vases, and a black horse head as a nod to The Godfather. Beverly Hills atelier Denis Frison is responsible for the bespoke staff uniforms — beige wool jackets with vintage gold buttons, forest green ties, and floor-length pleated aprons — which are modeled on the restaurant’s original garb. The most playful touch? A comically oversized pepper grinder, which is ceremoniously brought out to garnish tableside Caesars and pasta dishes.
3. You’re drinking a martini. And wine. And amaro.
The full-scale beverage program, led by bartender Michael Toscano (Dante) and sommelier Gabriel Perez (Michael’s Santa Monica, New York’s Le Dive), has been thoughtfully put together. Every guest that walks into the restaurant is greeted with a complimentary pour of Punt e Mes. “In the tradition of Italian American hospitality, we try to offer little extras where we can,” says Abrous. Classic cocktails are a focus, executed with laser precision. “We have a kick-ass martini,” says Rose. “And we’re calling our Negroni the Negroni Perfetto.” There will also be riffs and original cocktails, and plenty to offer in terms of wine. Perez’s list skews red and focuses on vintage Barolos and Barbarescos, California cabernets, and Champagne. “Given how big these booths are, and how many people will be at them, I want two bottles at every table,” says Perez. To finish, the bar has an extensive amaro collection and Toscano’s housemade limoncello.
4. The menu is classic red sauce, with a twist.
The chef is Nick Russo, an L.A. native of Italian descent, who honed his chops at Ink and Nightshade. His food here is classic Italian American with a bit of flair. The bone-in veal parm for two is an early front-runner for signature dish, as is the manicotti for four served in a gold-accented casserole dish. Instead of fried calamari, there’s a fresh seafood salad with bay scallops, shrimp, and octopus, which was influenced by an Italian restaurant on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Russo uses his grandma’s sauce in his spaghetti and meatballs, while a cheesy paccheri pasta incorporates prosciutto and can be ordered with caviar.
Most red sauce restaurants aren’t known for using top-notch ingredients or farmers market produce, but La Dolce Vita does. “For us, it really comes down to the products we’re working with in the kitchen,” says Abrous. Think dry-aged branzino for the fish offering, and maitake mushrooms and cipollini onions in the chicken marsala.
5. Don’t skip dessert.
On the sweet side, in addition to amaro and limoncello, expect spumoni, a tortoni budino, and a chocolate tart with espresso-caramel ganache. But the sleeper hit might be the cheese plate, curated by Dominick DiBartolomeo, the owner of The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, which opened in 1967 — just a year after La Dolce Vita.
Emily Wilson is a Los Angeles-based food writer from New York. She has contributed to Bon Appétit, Eater, TASTE, The Los Angeles Times, Punch, Atlas Obscura, and more. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Resy, too.