While dining at Dolce Cafe, my husband and I got into an interesting conversation. When you open a menu at a restaurant and the prices of the dishes are more expensive than average, are your expectations higher for the meal? Such was the case with Dolce Café. Entering the restaurant, you are a bit confused. The tables and chairs look like they should be at a casual lunch café, the middle of the restaurant has an open prep area with tea boxes and pastry glass containers that looks like a counter at a coffee shop, and the front of the restaurant is a closed off area with an exposed sink and utility cart of canned food. Unsure about the motif of the restaurant and the ambience it was attempting to create, I was interested to see the menu. I must admit, I was completely surprised by the price point of the restaurant. With only ten options, most dishes were in the upper twenties to high thirties. This was a case of the menu not at all matching the décor and feel of the restaurant. However, I believe that the food is the most important aspect of a meal so I kept an open mind going into our dining experience.

When opening the menu, we noticed that appetizers or starter salads are not listed. Our waitress was quick to point this out to us and tell us our options available. We decided on the goat cheese bruschetta and were excited with how vibrant and fresh it looked when placed on our table. The tomatoes were perfectly fresh and juicy, and the strong goat cheese flavor came through wonderfully. The balsamic vinegar drizzle complimented the dish well. However, when I bite into a piece of bruschetta, I like the bread to be a bit firm and toasted – Dolce Café uses focaccia bread for their bruschetta, which is tasty on its own and in other dishes, but failed to hold up the tomatoes and cheese. It ended up tasty soggy and stale. With different bread, it could have been a top notch appetizer.

We split the soup of the day, the Pablano Cheese soup and are thrilled we did. It was perfectly creamy and filled with corn, peppers and cheese. It was like eating tomato bisque with the addition of a little spice and a lot of sweet corn. We fought over the last spoonful – which always is an indicator of a great soup.

An interesting plate was delivered to us in between courses that our waitress referred to as the bread plate. The same focaccia bread was cut into small pieces but now served with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar blend with a side of watermelon radish and sea beans. Intrigued by the sea beans, our waitress explained that they were long beans found off the Gulf of Mexico that absorb the salt of the ocean to make them crisp and salty. Salty was the key word. As a lover of all things salty, I found the taste interesting. I’m not sure I would want a plate full of them, but as a garnish, they were a welcome addition.

Following the unique bread plate were our main dishes. I ordered the Pistachio encrusted Alaskan Halibut and my husband ordered the seasonal Chicken Marsala, which is only available on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The presentation of the halibut was beautiful. It was served with a white wine sauce and heavily drizzled with a blackberry reduction sauce. The fish was served with basmati rice and caramelized carrots. I was excited to dive in and savor every aspect of it. After taking my first bite of the fish, I was surprised at just how sweet it was. If there was something called “dessert fish” this would be it. That’s not to say that it tasted bad. The fish was cooked perfectly and the pistachios added a wonderful crunch to the dish. However, my palate just could not get past the sweet taste. I then found myself predominantly eating the rice and carrots, which were a perfect complement to the meal.

My husband’s chicken marsala was a seasonal dish that boasted its use of local farm fresh meats and ingredients. I was thrilled when I bit into it and the meat was cooked perfectly and the sauce melted in your mouth. Served with semolina linguini and broccolini, I found myself digging my fork into his dish more than my own. However, we were both surprised that such a heavy dish was being served as a summer seasonal choice. My only wish was for them to save the dish until winter and bring out a lighter chicken option for the summer months. As delicious as it tasted, we couldn’t finish the dish because of its heaviness.

After the waitress cleared our plates, we had an opportunity to speak to Gina Sterns, the chef and owner of Dolce, who explained to us that the restaurant started out as a business making special occasion cakes and pastries. After going through health issues, she realized that she wanted to find dishes that were healthy and still appetizing to eat. She opened Dolce a year ago to provide a store-front approach to her healthy dining. In the next few months, they are planning to offer cooking classes and she told us that they still take great pride in themselves for their desserts.

With that in mind, we decided that it was our responsibility to taste these mentioned desserts. Our waitress recommended the White Almond Sour Cream Cupcake, and we are eternally grateful she did. The incredibly moist cake was perfectly matched with the lightness of the icing. Everything about it was light and flavorful. The owner was right – they do know how to do desserts. I’m not sure if they quite have figured out how to do dinners. I would love to see the food and décor match the price points they are asking – when that happens, Dolce Café stands a great chance of succeeding in the West Maple Street area. But one thing is for sure, they seriously know how to make a cupcake.

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