DOLCI: Let’s make love and eat chocolate in the dark

Dolci likes its chocolate dark — and its decor darker. Nestled between walls painted the deepest shade of Bordeaux red, intimate candlelit tables provide the only source of light in the back room of this swanky new State Street bistro. Of course, that makes it difficult to read the long black menus printed in tiny white font, but Dolci wasn’t made for practicality — it was made for hedonistic indulgence.

Originally billed in the press as a “dessert bar,” Dolci is oh so much more. In addition to its platters of house dark chocolate and feather-light crème brulees, Dolci serves up typical American fare with a twist, in tapas-style portions that are perfect for sharing.

Dolci’s bar features swiveling leather-upholstered bar stools.
Jared Shenson
Dolci’s bar features swiveling leather-upholstered bar stools.

Dolci’s dishes live up to the reputation of its executive chef, John DePuma. After working as sous-chef at New York’s Tribeca Grill (owned by Robert DeNiro) and at New Haven’s own Union League Café (the perennial gold standard of local dining), DePuma decided to help out friend and Dolci owner Anthony Urbano in his new venture. DePuma — who will be appearing on the next installment of “Iron Chef” as sous-chef to former colleague and “Iron Chef” competitor Francois Kwaku-Dongo — said his culinary style is adventurous yet understated.

“I want to bring something to New Haven that people haven’t seen,” he said. “It’s modern American cuisine, but I just tweak it a little bit rather than try to overwhelm people.”

The offerings at Dolci certainly woo rather than overwhelm. The menu is a tasteful grouping of basic dishes with fresh, slightly unconventional ingredients and combinations. Seared rock shrimp is marinated in chili oil with ginger and soy foam for a zesty flavor and creative presentation. Cavatelli pasta comes topped with mushroom ragout and truffle essence (although the occasional dark green arugula leaf can leave a bitter taste in your mouth). The raspberry mochatini sounds more like a meal than a drink, but it somehow balances its apparently contradictory tastes in a fruity, earthy blend.

More conventional options include the sinfully luscious molten chocolate cake and the artisanal cheese plate. Try the morbier — a rare, semi-soft cow’s milk cheese of French origin — or one of the goat cheeses with a glass of hearty Chianti. Alternatively, the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is light, crisp and herbaceous with a citrus zing that cleanses the palate between bites and complements virtually any dish on the menu.

Dolci may be a trek up State Street, but anyone looking for the ideal setting for a Valentine’s Day date away from prying eyes need look no further. It requires a cab fare, or even a trip in the Yale minibus (which kind of defeats the purpose of going somewhere fancy), but the reasonable prices at Dolci and the excuse to escape campus for a night make it worth the effort and marginal expense. Plus, you can’t put a price tag on romance.

Comments

  • Alum

    Doesn't require a cab fare. It's a 20 minute walk from the campus. Are Yalies really that lazy?

  • TDC

    Living in New Haven County and working the heart of the city, I’m extremely exposed to the viral buzz about town when there is a hot new spot opening. When I heard about Dolci, a sexy, loungesque chocolate bar, I couldn’t wait to indulge!

    As a grand finale to a long week, I visited Dolci with high expectations to surrender to my cravings. At first glance, I felt like I was in a sinful sanctuary. I loved the décor— it was almost like being in a chocolate grotto—I immediately wanted to nestle in a corner, enjoy a glass of wine and relax. Interior Design = 8

    I was escorted to a charming table behind the bar. The table happened to be unset, but the server quickly scurried over with a flailing tablecloth and some napkins. After settling in, I began to study the menu which was a bit of a challenge. While I understand that reading practicality may not be at the top of the priority list, a bold font really never hurt anybody. I ordered a glass of Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc of Marlborough and narrowed down my food choices. Finally, I selected one of the specials--a risotto topped with duck confit, cherry tomatoes and fresh parmesan; the cavatelli and mushroom dish; and tempura battered shrimp with some sort of Asian sauce. (Note: I was not dining alone, so please don’t be misguided while trying to guess my jean size after reading all the food I ordered.)

    As I waited for my meal, I began to yearn for a better balance of music throughout the restaurant. When I had first walked in, I thought the sexy lounge music complimented the ambience. Sitting in the back room, the music was more of a distant echo, than the soothing blanket of rhythm that I experienced upon my arrival. This made my atmosphere score drop down to around a 5.

    After a very short while, the server brought over the tapas. The presentation was fine. (I use the term fine in the same connotation that a man would use it when you throw on a dress that he doesn’t really like but you’re already late, so who cares). I dabbled in the special risotto first. I was expecting a flavorful mouthful of the creamy rice dish with sharp hints of parmesan and chunks of tender duck. This, unfortunately, was not what I experienced. The risotto wasn’t the traditional thick texture; it was loose and bland, and quite honestly tasted like Rice-a-Roni. The “duck confit” made me question whether or not the meat was actually duck at all, it resembled and tasted like dark turkey meat – the kind that is left on the platter on Thanksgiving because it was too dry and mysterious looking to eat. Clearly, this dish did nothing for me, so I moved on to the cavatellis in a mushroom ragout and truffle oil. I took a bite and found myself chewing what could’ve easily been mistaken for mushroom flavored bubble gum. The pasta was simply drowning in what tasted like condensed mushroom soup from a can. This dish was the complete antithesis of al dente or anything Italian for that matter. Moving on (with dreary hope), I tasted the “tempura” shrimp which was definitely a slightly different preparation of popcorn shrimp. I am almost willing to bet that these shrimp came out of an economy size freezer bag from BJ’s Wholesale and were saturated with some sort of Asian soy glaze.

    I found the entire culinary experience to be so disheartening that I could not even bring myself to order dessert, regardless of my severe chocolate craving. I couldn’t imagine that it could make up for the meal that I had just endured. Rather than risk it, I asked for the check. Needless to say, food = 2.

    The server brought it over after a little while and when she asked our opinion, we couldn’t help but tell her a mild version of the truth. She seemed surprised, and instead of offering to talk to the owner or asking further details or requesting specific feedback that may be able to help whatever is happening in the kitchen, she simply shrugged it off and apologized without a second thought. (The service is another atrocity of the entire evening, but all in all she was a sweet girl that shouldn’t quit her day job.)

    I left Dolci that evening feeling upset, disappointed and hungry. Upset that I wasted hard-earned money on a meal that I could’ve easily made with a box of Rice-a-Roni, a turkey drumstick, a can of soup, frozen shrimp and soy sauce. Disappointed because I had such high hopes and was really excited to experience a quality meal and a decadent dessert. Hungry and craving chocolate to the point where I had to stop at the highway McDonald’s to get a hot fudge sundae from the dollar menu, and pathetically enough, it was the best treat that I indulged in all evening long.

  • knows better

    I dont understand this mans problem but I have eaten at some magnificant restaurants and think I know if its good and I have had three good experiences at this new place and wish them the best of luck. I highly recomend it…I'm not sure what the motive of this rude comment above is stemming from but maybe he should stay at mcdonalds.

  • Anonymous

    I had a recent experience at Dolci too where the food was really bad. Its a good concept and there is definitely a need for nicer places like this but hopefully they don't favor style over substance. The interior was really nice but the food left a lot to be desired. I'd rather eat somewhere else and keep Dolci as a drinks only type of spot.

  • Anonymous

    As I sat at an outside table, with my husband and two children, ensconsed by potted pines, I felt like I could have been sitting on Sacremento Street in San Francisco! The waitress was lovely and even brought two artfully decorated chocolates to my children while we waited. The children has dessert, while my husband and I had wine and a small plate each. I, the Spring vegetable risotto and he the portobello mushroom salad. Both were so amazing, with flavors that practically exploded in your mouth! The food was light, fresh and clean. We have waited the six years that we have lived here for a place like this. During that time we have tried many of New Haven's restaurants and Dolci tops the list. I can't wait to go back.

  • Anonymous

    Not nearly as good as we were hoping for. The server was clueless about the offerings on the menu, the wine list is extensive but with no descriptions and the server again was clueless. We were hoping to try a nice gluten free pasta, but no luck there either - they were out of it. We ordered a selection of cheeses, and even that was not presented well. Usually the server tells you which is which on the plate and what order to move through them. No info given and we are pretty sure it included one of the cheeses we specifically said we did not want. Oh, well. I've tried this chef's gluten free pasta which you can purchase frozen, and even with that I've had better. I hate the aftertaste that tapioca flour leaves in gluten free things.