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 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.